On January 17th 2010 the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) Army set up a camp at Kheh Der village tract, Kyauk Kyi Township, Nyaunglebin District. At least 1,000 residents of the ten villages that made up Khe Der tract have fled to avoid attack. KHRG has also confirmed that these SPDC troops have killed two villagers, including a village head, from Kheh Der.
Khe Der is located in central Kyauk Kyi Township, in an upland area south of the The Loh River. The SPDC has been attempting to consolidate control of this area since beginning an offensive in northern Karen areas in early 2006. This offensive has included forced relocation of thousands of villagers to government controlled lowland areas. Thousands more villagers who seek to evade relocation continue to be subjected to targeted attacks in which they are shot on sight and their farms, villages and food stores are destroyed.
Villagers began fleeing on January 17th 2010, when soldiers from Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) #367 arrived in the area around Kheh Der village tract. Though villagers often prepare hiding sites and hide food stores in anticipation of SPDC attacks, at least some villagers from Kheh Der villages had to return to retrieve food and other necessary materials following flight. KHRG has confirmed that LIB #367 killed one of these villagers as he attempted to retrieve food from a hiding place near his village. The victim, Saw My---, 40, is survived by his wife Naw M--- and six children.
Two days later, on January 19th 2010, LIB #367 shot and killed Saw E--- near Tu Ghaw village. Tu Ghaw village is not a part of Kheh Der village tract, but it is in the Kheh Der area. Saw E--- was headman of Tu Ghaw village, and a KHRG researcher in the area reports that he frequently used a two-way radio to monitor SPDC Army movements and warn his villagers of approaching attacks. Saw E--- is survived by his wife Naw S--- and five children.
It is not clear if the SPDC Army presence in Kheh Der village tract is permanent. Though SPDC Army activity in Nyaunglebin District was intense from early 2006 until the end of 2008, troops withdrew from some frontline positions in December 2008. Troops continued patrols and harassment of villagers in hiding during 2009, but more established positions were confined to lowland areas and locations near permanent roads. Kheh Der village tract is well south of a major east-west road crossing central Nyaunglebin, which links Pegu Division to Kyauk Kyi Town and on into Papun District. Notably, LIB #367 is controlled by Military Operations Command (MOC) #10. KHRG has most recently documented activities by battalions from MOC #10 to the north in Toungoo District, to where it was deployed in November 2007. KHRG has also documented battalions from MOC #10 committing abuses in Nyaunglebin and Papun districts.
If LIB #367 establishes a permanent presence in Kheh Der village tract, 1,000 residents from these ten villages face permanent displacement. Primarily subsistence farmers, this will mean lost access to vital land and agricultural equipment, not to mention personal possessions and infrastructure like village schools. In spite of villagers' best efforts to continue farming, this type of displacement often results in intense food shortages for villagers.
Underscoring the importance of access to farmland, even villagers forced to move to relocation sites by the SPDC Army often continue returning to their former fields, at great risk of personal injury. On January 18th 2010, for instance, a group of villagers from the Aung Soe Moe relocation site in Kyauk Kyi Township returned to Hsaw Mee Lu village to do agricultural work. The villagers did not have permission to leave Aung Soe Moe or return to their former village. The group was subsequently attacked by troops from LIB #370. KHRG has not confirmed whether any villagers were killed or wounded. Though many of the villagers were able to escape and return to Aung Soe Moe, two men and one woman remain missing. The missing villagers are Saw P---, age 40, Naw G---, age 38 and Saw T---, age 21.