SPDC shelling destroys villagers' rubber plantations in Dooplaya District

Published date:
Thursday, May 20, 2010

Two villagers have lost nearly 3,000 rubber trees in a fire started when SPDC soldiers from IB #548 fired mortars into their plantations as the men fled in anticipation of fighting between IB #548 and a patrol of KNLA troops on April 23rd 2010. The men will attempt to replant their plantations, but have each effectively lost four-year investments of labour and money.

On April 22nd 2010 two columns of soldiers, consisting of 70 men in total, from State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) Infantry Battalion (IB) #548 arrived in P1--- village, Waw Raw (Win Yaw) Township in Dooplaya District as part of a larger series of patrols through the area around P1---. The next day on April 23rd the columns, led by Commander Aung Kyaw Soe, entered P2--- village, a one-hour walk from P1---. At approximately 10 am they approached two field huts near rubber plantations belonging to Saw T---, 27, and Saw M---, 37, two villagers from P2---.

Saw T--- and Saw M--- said they saw a group of five soldiers from Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) Battalion #16 patrolling near their plantations immediately prior to the arrival of the group of soldiers from IB #548. KNLA Battalion #16 is active in the area around P2--- village and, although most of Dooplaya has been under SPDC control since a large-scale military offensive in 1997, the KNU/KNLA remains active in all townships in the district. Saw T--- and Saw M--- told a KHRG field researcher that they fled from their field huts because they were worried that they might be endangered by a clash between IB #548 and the KNLA patrol.

Saw T--- and Saw M--- may also have feared being accused of providing support to the KNLA. Field huts belonging to farmers and plantation owners are sometimes used as shelter by KNLA patrols. In response, SPDC soldiers have accused plantation owners, particularly those that own field huts, of allowing KNLA soldiers to take shelter on their lands. Villagers accused of such actions, particularly following clashes with the KNLA or injury of SPDC soldiers by KNLA landmines, have been beaten, tortured or had their belongings destroyed. SPDC soldiers have also burned or destroyed huts, or demanded that villagers dismantle them. Following an engagement with the KNLA south of Pa Pra in Lay K'Er village, for instance, troops from SPDC IB #36 threatened a family living near where the skirmish occurred and burned a hut containing all of their possessions. As a strategy for protecting themselves from such reprisals, villagers have sometimes made appeals to the KNLA requesting that they not engage SPDC soldiers or lay landmines in their area.

As Saw T--- and Saw M--- escaped from possible fighting through their plantations, they were spotted by troops from IB #548; the soldiers shot and fired mortars at them as they fled. Though KHRG could not confirm why IB #548 fired on the villagers, IB #548 appears to have taken the villagers' flight as an admission of guilt. That this was sufficient to warrant an attack indicates that the SPDC continues to view some parts of Dooplaya District as 'free fire' zones.

April is the dry season in Karen State; leaves that had fallen from the rubber trees and grass covering the ground between the trees were extremely dry and caught on fire when some of the shells fired by IB #548 landed in Saw T---'s and Saw M---'s plantations and exploded. The fire spread rapidly, engulfing both men's plantations. Although the trees themselves were not totally burned, they were effectively destroyed because they will now not be able to produce rubber and must be replanted.

The men told KHRG that Saw T--- had 1,370 rubber trees and Saw M--- had 1,600 trees on their respective plantations. Both men had been maintaining their plantations for the last four years and their trees were just a few years from maturity, at which point they could have been tapped to produce rubber. This means that they have lost not only their initial financial investment in their plantations, but also an investment of four years of labour. Saw T--- and Saw M--- said that they would now start their plantations again, but they expect to have to wait another six or seven years before they are able to harvest rubber from their new trees.