Proliferation of SPDC Army camps in Nyaunglebin District leads to torture, killings and landmine casualties

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Proliferation of SPDC Army camps in Nyaunglebin District leads to torture, killings and landmine casualties

Published date:
Thursday, July 7, 2005

Since the January 2004 ceasefire between the SPDC regime and the Karen National Union (KNU), the SPDC has established seven new Army bases in Nyaunglebin District, sent in more troops, and since May it has also taken over most of the former Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) bases in the district while DKBA forces have been forced to partially withdraw from the area. All of these SPDC camps have been launching extended patrols throughout the remoter parts of the district. Not only does this increased activity violate the terms of the ceasefire, it is also intensifying the climate of fear and leading to further displacement as the SPDC patrols detain, torture, and shoot to kill villagers in many areas.

Since the January 2004 ceasefire between the SPDC regime and the Karen National Union (KNU), the SPDC has established seven new Army bases in Nyaunglebin District, sent in more troops, and since May it has also taken over most of the former Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) bases in the district while DKBA forces have been forced to partially withdraw from the area. All of these SPDC camps have been launching extended patrols throughout the remoter parts of the district. Not only does this increased activity violate the terms of the ceasefire, it is also intensifying the climate of fear and leading to further displacement as the SPDC patrols detain, torture, and shoot to kill villagers in many areas.

The terms of the January 2004 informal ceasefire agreement between the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) military regime and the Karen National Union (KNU) specified that SPDC forces in Nyaunglebin District were to limit their activities to patrolling the main roads.  Instead, between January 2004 and June 2005 the SPDC has established seven new Army bases in the district as well as taking over several camps formerly controlled by the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), greatly increasing the militarisation of this strategic region which straddles the hills of western Karen State and the plains of eastern Pegu Division (see map).  These camps have been used to send SPDC patrols further into remote areas throughout the district, to force villagers into SPDC-controlled areas and consolidate the regime's control.  Between March and June 2005 SPDC incursions have led to fighting between KNLA and SPDC units, and villagers in areas where SPDC forces are trying to gain control have been tortured, killed, and seriously wounded by landmines.

In southern Nyaunglebin District, the SPDC has established seven new Army camps in Shwegyin (Hsaw Tee) township since the January 2004 ceasefire, at Meh Th'Nah, Saw Beh Der, Wah Koh Law Dteh, Pa T'Hla mountain (the site of a Thai-run silver mine), Meh Teh Hta, Po Loh, and Kwin G'Lay.  At the other end of the district in northern Mone Township, twenty truckloads of soldiers from Pyi-based Light Infantry Division #66 arrived at Tha Pyay Nyunt on May 5 th 2005.  Two days later, troops from two more battalions in the same Division arrived at Maw Lay.  On May 8 th they moved north to the K'Muh Loh / Yaw Loh area along the border with Toungoo District and began patrolling there.  On May 15 th , SPDC Light Infantry Battalions #264 and #351, Light Infantry Division #33, and DKBA forces formed joint columns.  Three days later these columns began patrolling the hills of eastern Mone township - one column around Htee Yah Kee village, another near Maw Taw, and a third column in the Htee Ler Baw Hta area.  Since then these columns have steadily increased their activity.

SPDC units have also been taking over former DKBA bases in Nyaunglebin District.  In April, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA, armed wing of the KNU) attacked and overran DKBA bases at Kyaw Pya and Maw Lay in Mone township.  DKBA soldiers stayed in these camps together with some of their families, so both soldiers and civilians were wounded in the attacks.  After the KNLA withdrew, Maw Lay camp was occupied by SPDC Light Infantry Battalion #264.  DKBA soldiers remained in the area, but only operated as part of joint columns with SPDC Light Infantry Division #33.  Then on May 22 nd , the DKBA sent twenty trucks to withdraw DKBA soldiers and their families to the DKBA headquarters at Khaw Taw (Myaing Gyi Ngu) in Pa'an District, approximately 200 kilometres to the southeast.  The same day, SPDC Light Infantry Battalion #264 set up a permanent base at the former DKBA camp of Maw Lay.  According to reports from the Free Burma Rangers, a Karen relief movement operating in the area, at this time all other DKBA troops were also withdrawn from Mone (Mu) and Kyauk Kyi (Ler Doh) townships, leaving a DKBA presence only in Shwegyin (Hsaw Tee) township.  All DKBA camps in the area were taken over by units from SPDC battalions, though a KHRG researcher in the area reports that some DKBA soldiers have now returned to the area to assist these SPDC units.

The incidents mentioned below are typical of the behaviour of the SPDC units now patrolling through most of Nyaunglebin District.  Over the past few months, villagers have been tortured, killed, and forced out of their villages as a climate of fear is created throughout the district.

In Mone township, the platoon of Light Infantry Battalion #599 based at Kyun Bin Seik camp has been patrolling the villages in the area and regularly abusing villagers with impunity.  On March 25 th 2005,  led by their camp commander Warrant Officer Grade 2 Thaung Kyi, they arrested Saw Tha Ner, a 30 year old villager from Way Sweh, beat him badly and took him to their military camp.  On April 1 st , SPDC Light Infantry Battalion #351 Second Lieutenant Yeh Win led 20 soldiers into Oo Chit Kin village, where they detained villager Soe Nyu and took him to their operations command base; as of mid-June, local people had received no news of his fate.  On March 14 th , SPDC Light Infantry Battalion #351 troops based at Saw Mi Lu village in Mone township stopped Saw Sha Kaw Thaw and Saw Gay Lay, two men from the village who were carrying their chillie harvest back home, and murdered both of them.

In Kyauk Kyi township, a column from SPDC Light Infantry Battalion #111 patrolled throughout the Kheh Der, Ler Wah, and Kwih Lah village tract areas from April 1 st to 22 nd 2005, causing most of the villagers in the area to flee into hiding in the forests for several days while the column was nearby.  When the column arrived at Kwih Law Ploh village on April 2 nd they saw villager Saw Deh Deh from Mu Kee village and shot him on sight.  He was hit in the arm but managed to escape.  On April 22 nd the column arrived at Peh Po Kee village in Kwih Lah village tract, where a KNLA unit blocked their way.  Three firefights followed, after which the column continued on to K'Baw Tu camp.  On April 16 th , a patrol of Light Infantry Battalion #264 captured villager Saw Pah Dta Beh in the Meh Koh forestry area in Kyauk Kyi Township and beat him so badly that he had to go to hospital.

In Shwegyin township, twelve villagers from Saw Dee Klee Hta village set out on May 16 th down into the plains to the west, where they hoped to buy food, salt and other needs from Mu Say Koh village.  However, they did not know that the crossing of the Baw Loh river had been mined by SPDC Light Infantry Battalion #349, who have a camp nearby at Wah Tho Ko village.  One of the group, Saw Pah Ter Ler, triggered a tripwire connected to a concealed Burmese-made MM1 mine mounted on a stake at waist level, and was severely wounded by shrapnel in the face, hands and chest, leaving him blind.  When the soldiers at the nearby LIB 349 camp heard the landmine explode, they fired an M79 grenade at the river crossing.  The twelve villagers had to flee, carrying Saw Pah Ter Ler to Yah Aw village in fear.  They later took him to the Shwegyin township hospital.  He has three children and lives by farming hillside rice fields, but as he is now blind and can no longer do this work his family is facing problems.

Simultaneously to all these abuses, all of the new SPDC Army camps are demanding forced labour, food and extortion money from nearby villages.  Some examples of these and other SPDC activities in the district are described in Nyaunglebin District: Food supplies destroyed, villagers forcibly displaced, and region-wide forced labour as SPDC forces seek control over civilians (KHRG Report from the Field #2005-F4, May 2005).  Photos of SPDC attacks on civilian villages in late 2004 and the resulting displacement are presented in Section 1 of KHRG Photo Set 2005A , and other sections of the same photo set show evidence of forced labour and other abuses committed since the ceasefire agreement by SPDC forces.

Not only is the SPDC military violating the terms of the ceasefire with these actions, it is also severely worsening the human rights situation for villagers.  As a result, villagers throughout the district still flee whenever SPDC soldiers are near their village, and many have fled the district entirely since the ceasefire came into effect.