PHOTO SET 2005-A: Attacks on Villages and Village Destruction

You are here

PHOTO SET 2005-A: Attacks on Villages and Village Destruction

Published date:
Friday, May 27, 2005

Most of the photos in this section document the SPDC Army's attacks on undefended villages with the objective of bringing the population under control. The main conflict in Burma is not between the SPDC and opposition political parties or armed resistance groups, but between a state attempting to impose total control over people's lives, and a civilian population resisting that control. In the cities this resistance takes the form of active political dissidence and noncompliance.  In rural areas, it manifests as the flight of villagers to escape SPDC control, evasion of forced labour and forced relocation orders, cooperation with resistance forces and human rights organisations, and in some cases armed resistance.  Most of the SPDC's military operations are therefore directed not against resistance armies or political parties, but against the ordinary civilians who are the regime's greatest enemy.

The main conflict in Burma is not between the SPDC and opposition political parties or armed resistance groups, but between a state attempting to impose total control over people's lives, and a civilian population resisting that control.  In the cities this resistance takes the form of active political dissidence and noncompliance.  In rural areas, it manifests as the flight of villagers to escape SPDC control, evasion of forced labour and forced relocation orders, cooperation with resistance forces and human rights organisations, and in some cases armed resistance.  Most of the SPDC's military operations are therefore directed not against resistance armies or political parties, but against the ordinary civilians who are the regime's greatest enemy.  In regions where the Army cannot bring civilians under direct control, it tries to force them to move to places it does control – first through forced relocation orders, and then through attacking and destroying villages, food supplies, and the other necessities of survival.  Meanwhile, people living under SPDC control face a constant stream of demands for their labour, their money, and their belongings, and an increasingly rigid and repressive system of restrictions on every activity, all of which asserts the SPDC's power and control over them and places them in a subservient relationship to the Army.  Villages which resist this hierarchy in any way find themselves under military attack.

Most of the photos in this section document the SPDC Army's attacks on undefended villages with the objective of bringing the population under control (for example, photos 1-1 to 1-3 and 1-23 to 1-26 ).  In some cases, these are preceded by the issuance of forced relocation orders warning villagers to move to SPDC-controlled sites within one to two weeks or be killed ( photos 2-37 to 2-40 and 2-41 and 2-42 ; see also Section 3 [ Forced Relocation and Restrictions ] ).  Often, though, a heavily armed SPDC column of 300-400 troops moves into the area to be 'cleared' and attacks villages one by one without warning, firing on the village while the villagers flee and then looting and burning the houses.  In such cases, villagers found still in the village are often shot (see photos 5-6 to 5-8 , 5-52 to 5-57 , and 5-64 to 5-66 ).  The column particularly targets food supplies needed by villagers to survive ( photos 1-1 to 1-3 and 2-31 to 2-36 ), their farmfields and farming huts ( photo 2-12 ), and the schools, churches and temples which are centres of community solidarity ( photos 2-11 and 2-37 to 2-40 ).  The soldiers loot the village while destroying it ( photo 7-79 ), and often lay landmines before leaving to prevent villagers from returning to rebuild ( photos 1-27 and 2-15 to 2-17 ).  Local SPDC-allied armed groups like the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) and Karenni Solidarity Organisation (KnSO) sometimes assist SPDC forces in these attacks (see photos 2-4 , 2-21 , 2-28 and 2-29 , and 2-30 , and 10-5 and 10-6 ).

The result has been the flight of tens of thousands of villagers in order to retain control over their own lives.  Many of them set up temporary villages in hiding in the forests, but SPDC columns try to find these and attack them as well ( photos 10-5 and 10-6 and 2-31 to 2-36 ), forcing the villagers to remain on the move.  If the troops withdraw they can return and rebuild their villages, but these are often attacked again as soon as the SPDC learns of their presence ( photos 2-13 , 2-26 , and 10-115 ). 

People living under SPDC control are not exempt from being attacked by the SPDC Army.  The stream of demands for forced labour, money and materials they face is often impossible to meet, and when they fail their village leaders are arrested (see Section 4 [ Detention and Torture ]) or soldiers come and shoot up their village ( photos 2-1 to 2-3 ).  Soldiers also attack villages to retaliate for Karen resistance activity in the area ( photo 2-20 ), or simply in order to loot the village ( photo 2-14 ).  In some villages this is so common that villagers build bunkers underneath their houses ( photo 2-20 ).

Photos directly related to this subject can also be found in Sections 3 ( Forced Relocation and Restrictions ), 5 ( Shootings and Killings ), 7 ( Food and Livelihoods ), and 10 ( Flight and Displacement ).