Mortar attacks, landmines and the destruction of schools in Papun District

e-mail
Published date:
Friday, August 22, 2008

SPDC abuses against civilians continue in northern Karen State, especially in Lu Thaw township of Papun District. Because these villagers live within non-SPDC-controlled "black areas", the SPDC believes it has justification to attack IDP hiding sites and destroy civilian crops, cattle and property. These attacks, combined with the SPDC and KNLA's continued use of landmines, have caused dozens of injuries and deaths in Papun District alone. Such attacks target the fabric of Karen society, breaking up communities and compromising the educations of Karen youth. In spite of these hardships, the local villagers continue to be resourceful in providing security for their families and education for their children. This report covers events in Papun District from May to July 2008.

The majority of villagers in Lu Thaw township of northern Karen State live in villages and areas not currently controlled by the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). Since this area is not currently under the consolidated control of the Burma Army, the SPDC has designated this region of Karen State a "black area". The SPDC stages attacks on local Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), shelling hiding sites or attacking civilians with heavy artillery. The villagers - often homeless and without food, water and other supplies - struggle daily. Despite living day-to-day in difficult conditions, most of the villagers in this area refuse to move to SPDC relocation camps where the SPDC demands payment of labour, money, food and other supplies regularly. Villagers instead stay in jungle hiding sites distant from SPDC bases where they can at least attempt to pursue their own livelihood activities.

SPDC attacks against displaced villagers

SPDC troop levels have steadily increased in northern Karen state, especially in areas west of the Yunzalin river such as Saw Muh Plaw, Kay Bpoo and Naw Yoh Hta village tracts of Lu Thaw township, which has in turn led to an increase in the number of attacks against local civilians.

From May 14th to May 18th 2008, SPDC Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) #507 entered Saw Muh Plaw village tract and attacked civilian hiding sites in the areas around Theh Hsa Kee and Theh Kee. On May 16th 2008, soldiers shot and killed Saw Gkaw Ghay, a twenty-seven-year-old villager from Saw Muh Plaw village. During the same period, another SPDC unit based out of Wa Gklay Dtoo launched five shells into an IDP hiding site at Theh Kee while villagers were sewing paddy seeds in a local hill field. Items destroyed by the attack included: 30 baskets of rice belonging to Saw Maw Dtoh Dteh, 10 big tins of paddy seeds belonging to Saw Saw Thay Ber and 6 big tins of paddy seeds belonging to the mother of Wah Hseh Moo.

In the KHRG field report Burma Army attacks and civilian displacement in northern Papun District (June 2008), KHRG reported an SPDC attack on Tay Muh Der village. Included below are newly researched details about this attack. On June 4th 2008, SPDC Infantry Battalion (IB) #240, operating under MOC #16, attacked Tay Muh Der village and burnt down three flat field farm huts and destroyed 120 baskets of rice. Villagers whose materials were destroyed by the SPDC include: 55-year-old Saw Gkaw Lay, whose hut was destroyed along with rice and a sugar cane juicing machine; 40-year-old Saw Gkyaw So, whose flat field and farming equipment were destroyed; Saw Gkweh Lih Moo, a 43-year-old whose flat field and farming equipment were destroyed. That same day, soldiers entered upper Tay Muh Der and ransacked villagers' residences, searching civilians and looting farms, taking pigs, chickens, goats, ducks and rice. SPDC mortar fire destroyed two houses and also made a hole in the church roof, destroying two speakers, one Yamaha keyboard, four microphones, one guitar and two amplifiers. They also destroyed the fences around fields, allowing cattle to wander off and eat nearby crops.

"When the Burmese came, we would have died if we hadn't run away. We are afraid of them [the SPDC] because they will beat us, shoot us, or stab us to death. We cannot endure that kind of torture and I don't want to die yet. The Burmese come just to kill people. Last year, I [harvested] 120 baskets of rice. I couldn't even take a handful of rice from those 120 baskets because I fled to [Gk--- village] when the SPDC came."

- Naw D--- (female, 45), Gk--- village, Lu Thaw township (June 2008)

Injured and killed villagers

Many villagers have been injured or killed as a result of increased SPDC attacks and landmines. KHRG field researchers have compiled a list of the injured and dead from January 14th 2006 to June 6th 2008 in Papun District. Among the 51 villagers listed, 24 were killed and 27 were severely injured. There are 7 children listed ranging from 4 to 17 years old.

#
Name
Age
Date injured
Village
Killed/ injured
Note
1
Saw Thoo
48
Jan 14th 2006
Htee Baw Kee
Killed
Shot to death
2
Saw Dtaw Lay
32
April 13th 2006
Gk'Leh Loh
Killed
Stepped on landmine
3
Saw Tha Weh Gklaw
30
April 4th 2006
Pla Koh
Killed
Shot to death
4
Saw Ree Say
17
April 24th 2006
Bpaw Muh Der
Killed
Shot to death
5
Saw N---
18
April 24th 2006
Myit Soe
Injured
Shot
6
Saw M---
40
May 31st 2006
Bp---
Injured
Shot
7
Saw Hs---
42
July 21st 2006
Ht---
Injured
Shot
8
Saw Maw Dter
46
December 26th 2006
Ht---
Killed
Shot to death
9
Saw Maw Ngeh
34
February 23rd 2007
Gkwee Dtoo
Killed
Shot to death
10
Saw Baw Kah
18
March 16th 2007
Dtaw Koo Muh Der
Killed
Shot to death
11
Saw Hser Nay Htoo
20
March 16th 2007
Dtaw Koo Muh Der
Killed
Shot to death
12
Saw Th'Roh Htaw
40
March 21st 2007
Gkuh Day
Killed
Shot to death
13
Saw Dtar Yeh Ghay
40
March 21st 2007
Dtee Thoo Der
Killed
Shot to death
14
Saw Pah Hta Loo
47
March 21st 2007
Dtee Thoo Der
Killed
Shot to death
15
Saw Aw Kah
67
March 22nd 2007
Htee Bway Kee
Killed
Shot to death
16
Saw P---
18
March 25th 2007
T---
Injured
Shot in the leg
17
Saw N---
40
March 25th 2007
Sh---
Injured
Shot in the stomach
18
Saw Aye Kay Moo
12
March 27th 2007
Leh Kee
Killed
Shot to death
19
Saw E---
12
April 28th 2007
Y---
Injured
Shot
20
Saw Dt---
52
April 28th 2007
T'---
Injured
Shot
21
Saw Pah Ghaw
40
April 28th 2007
Gheh Yuh Der
Killed
Stepped on landmine
22
Saw Lay Muh Say
30
April 25th 2007
Dtaw Koo Muh Der
Killed
Shot to death
23
Saw Mee Thay
28
May 12th 2007
Gkaw Hter Der
Killed
Shot to death
24
Saw Pah Bih Tra
17
May 22nd 2007
Dtar Keh Der
Killed
Shot to death
25
Saw Bw---
35
May 25th 2007
T---
Injured
Shot
26
Saw H---
20
May 31st 2007
L---
Injured
Stepped on landmine
27
Saw N---
26
May 9th 2007
Ht---
Injured
Stepped on landmine
28
Saw Gk---
27
May 16th 2007
Th---
Killed
Shot to death
29
Saw P---
30
July 2nd 2007
K---
Injured
Stepped on landmine
30
Naw S---
4
July 9th 2007
L---
Injured
Shot
31
Saw Th---
27
August 19th 2007
L---
Injured
Stepped on landmine
32
Saw Nay Thaw Heh
38
October 7th 2007
Bih Koh Der
Killed
Stepped on landmine
33
Saw T---
25
October 10th 2007
M---
Injured
Shot
34
Saw Thay Gkler Moo
58
October 25th 2007
Thay Baw
Killed
Shot to death
35
Saw Y---
49
October 25th 2007
Th---
Injured
Shot
36
Naw Gk---
46
October 25th 2007
Th---
Injured
Shot
37
Naw M---
44
October 27th 2007
Ht---
Injured
Shot
38
Naw R---
13
October 27th 2007
N---
Injured
Shot
39
Naw E---
18
October 27th 2007
N---
Injured
Shot
40
Saw Ht---
62
October 27th 2007
T'N---
Injured
Shot
41
Saw L---
25
October 27th 2007
Ht---
Injured
Shot
42
Saw Ht---
20
October 27th 2007
Th---
Injured
Shot
43
Saw Bler Htee
22
October 27th 2007
Thoo Kler
Killed
Shot to death
44
Saw Hsoo Doh Wah
28
November 18th 2007
Dtar Baw Gkoh Der
Killed
Shot to death
45
Naw D---
16
March 15th 2008
Ht---
Injured
Stepped on landmine
46
Saw Plah See
45
March 23rd 2008
Kay Bpoo
Killed
Stepped on landmine
47
Saw B---
18
April 4th 2008
K---
Injured
Stepped on landmine
48
Saw Hs---
18
May 1st 2008
T---
Injured
Stepped on landmine
49
Saw Gk'---
20
May 3rd 2008
K---
Injured
Stepped on landmine
50
Saw P---
18
May 17th 2008
Gk---
Injured
Stepped on landmine
51
Saw Gkler Htoo
39
June 6th 2008
Hih Po Der
Killed
Stepped on landmine

SPDC and KNLA Landmines

According to KHRG researchers, the SPDC and KNLA have both continued to plant landmines throughout northern Karen State. IDPs in the area have been severely affected by these landmines, with several civilians gravely injured or killed. The KNLA claims to use the landmines to protect civilians (usually informing villagers of the landmine locations). Regardless of the KNLA's intentions, though, villagers who follow KNLA forces for protection often step on them (even KNLA soldiers have stepped on landmines they had forgotten had been planted). SPDC forces rarely, if ever, inform civilians when or where they plant their own landmines. More reports of the SPDC using Karen villagers as human mine sweepers have emerged recently. Local villagers reported that on June 10th 2008, SPDC LIB #343 battalion commander Myo Min Aung entered H--- village and demanded that five villagers porter army materials to Gk'Hee Gkyo hill.

"When LIB #343, led by battalion commander Myo Min Aung, entered the village, he demanded I go to Gk'Hee Gkyo Camp. I told them that I dared not go because I was tired, having just returned from [portering for the SPDC in] another village. He kept demanding that I go [to Gk'Hee Gkyo Camp] along with the SPDC. [After arriving at Gk'Hee Gkyo camp] we were told to move a second time and [the SPDC] demanded five villagers to porter for them. I told them that we dared not go because there are a lot of landmines on the way. He pled with me to go and I couldn't do anything and I thought 'I will lead them one last time'. I told them we could conscript only four villagers [to porter] and they accepted and we went. On the way, I heard a bomb explode and I looked and saw that one villager had stepped on a landmine. I told them to send the villager to Papun hospital for medical treatment, but they said it wasn't easy and that they would send him first to the camp and then send him back to Papun. It was on June 9th 2008, Tuesday at 9:50 am. When we arrived at the camp, they gave him treatment and on the same day, at 7:00 pm, the villager died. They asked 'what shall we do?' and I told them, 'You have to send him back to the village'. [This man's] family members had to bury him according to Karen tradition. We buried him on June 11th 2008."

- Naw M--- (female, 40), H--- village, Kaw Bpoo village tract, Buh Tho Township (June 2008)

After another Lu Thaw villager, Saw Kl---, died, his surviving family faced many difficulties. His wife, who now cares for her young children by herself, reported to KHRG that,

"I have had to face a lot of problems since my husband died. My children can't work very well. I can't work for our survival very well myself. I have five children: three girls and two boys. The youngest child is one year and seven months old. Two children go to school. The oldest one had been working with his father and couldn't work very well yet but, since his father died, he has had to work alone. He doesn't know much about the work yet. The crops have become worse and my son told me he doesn't know what to do. If his father was alive, he would know how to rejuvenate the crops."

- Naw L--- (female, 37), H--- village, Buh Tho township (May 2008)

Women, children and education

As a result of increasing SPDC attacks in northern Karen State, village communities struggle to ensure that their children have access to at least rudimentary educations. It is difficult to provide the security and stability necessary to build and maintain schools (which are often destroyed by SPDC attacks) and when villagers move their schools to different, more secure areas, it is difficult for them to find teachers or provide salaries. Classes are frequently split up when villagers flee SPDC advances. In addition, wives have to assume increased responsibilities when their husbands are killed by SPDC attacks. These widows are often also asked by the community to take care of orphaned children or to take up teaching whilst also trying to provide food for their own families. One woman described her life trying to earn a living for her family after her husband was killed:

"We asked the mothers that couldn't go to work outside the village to stay at home and teach in the school. A mother whose husband was shot dead [by the SPDC] looks after the children who are of school age. These school teachers also have many difficulties because they also have to look for food themselves. Some teachers have to be mother and father to their children and also give their time to teach children in the school."

- Naw Gk'--- (female, 39), Gk--- village, Lu Thaw township (May 2008)

Increased responsibilities for women, combined with the food shortages and other hardships associated with displacement, have made it difficult for children of Nah Yoh Hta and Ler Muh Plaw villages to obtain educations. In particular, many students have had to stop their schoolwork and help their families earn their livelihoods.

"I feel sad. We are children, we should study in the school peacefully and smoothly but now we have to run and stay in the forest and study in the forest instead. Even though we are in the forest, we are still afraid of the enemies [the SPDC]. They have come and disturbed [sic] our rights and I wish this kind of army would not exist in the world anymore. I heard that armies protect their people, but this army frightens its own people. They came and attacked the village, arrested villagers and killed the villagers and burnt down the village. They shelled Hta La Koh with six mortars and five of the mortars exploded. Villagers and animals were injured and killed. Six villagers were injured, including two students and myself [also a student]. At that time, I was walking and the mortar hit my waist, my upper bladder and my thigh."

- Naw S--- (female, 14), Ht--- village, Lu Thaw township (May 2008)

Older students who have had to deal with constant displacement sometimes become frustrated that they are not advancing to higher grades and will often stop their educations altogether. These students instead often marry young and work with their parents to help support their families. One young man who had to help support his village and was injured by an SPDC landmine told KHRG,

"We stay in our village and do not disturb the SPDC, but they disturb us. It becomes difficult to do our work because we normally have to move around. Moreover, when we flee, our food runs out. We have to protect ourselves and support our village but, on the other hand, our villagers dare not work. Villagers who don't collaborate with the KNU [Karen National Union] soldiers are afraid to stay in their villages. So, we, the house guards [village militia], cooperate with the KNU in order to receive protection for our villages and villagers. We [the villagers] face a big problem when the enemies [SPDC soldiers] come to our village. We have to carry our food through the fighting, which is dangerous for us. All boys and girls have to climb the mountain [in order to temporarily flee] and hardly have time to do the farming. But if we don't do the farming, we don't have any food to eat."

- Saw B--- (male, 18), K--- village, Lu Thaw township (June 2008)

Conclusion

The current SPDC offensive in northern Karen State has been responsible for a myriad of abuses, including the injury or murder of hundreds of civilians. Survivors have had to make do with very little and children are often taken out of their schools in order to help support their families and communities. Malnutrition, scarce livelihood opportunities and limitations on education make life difficult for the villagers. However, residents living throughout Papun District continue to find means of survival in the face of these continued attacks.