Militarization, Development and Displacement: Conditions for villagers in southern Tenasserim Division

e-mail
Published date:
Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Villagers in Te Naw Th'Ri Township, Tenasserim Division face human rights abuses and threats to their livelihoods, attendant to increasing militarization of the area following widespread forced relocation campaigns in the late 1990s. Efforts to support and strengthen Tatmadaw presence throughout Te Naw Th'Ri have resulted in practices that facilitate control over the civilian population and extract material and labour resources while at the same time preventing non-state armed groups from operating or extracting resources of their own. Villagers who seek to evade military control and associated human rights abuses, meanwhile, report Tatmadaw attacks on civilians and civilian livelihoods in upland hiding areas. This report draws primarily on information received between September 2009 and November 2010 from Te Naw Th'Ri Township, Tenasserim Division.

Tenasserim Division is Burma's southernmost region, bordered by the Andaman Sea to the west and Thailand to the east. No more than 60 miles (97 km) across, the 400 mile (644 km) long Division constitutes a narrow peninsula, shared with Thailand and pointing southwards towards Malaysia. Human rights conditions in northern Tenasserim have recently received media attention due to preparations for the development of a large deep-sea port project in Tavoy. This area has also received extensive international attention for human rights abuses related to gas extraction projects. In addition to these issues, KHRG has also documented abuses in Tenasserim including the use of forced labour in Ler Mu Lah Township in the central-eastern area of Tenasserim Division and forced relocation campaigns in the central-western area around Palauk, Palaw, Mergui and Tenasserim towns.

Forced relocation of civilian settlements was a widely-used Tatmadaw practice in Tenasserim Division during the mid-1990s, particularly concurrent with offensives against Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) positions in Tenasserim Division and Dooplaya District beginning in February 1997. The operations weakened the KNLA 4th Brigade substantially, which no longer holds extensive territory but remains active as a 'guerrilla' force. The operations also brought a large population of civilians into areas where they could be easily monitored and controlled. According to the most recent estimates by the Thai-Burma Border Consortium (TBBC), relocation sites in the area are currently home to 62,100. This figure represents almost half of the total estimated population of 125,000 civilians in relocation sites in eastern Burma and is indicative of the singularly extensive nature of the forced relocation campaigns in Tenasserim Division.

"At that time [in 1997], the Burmese military killed about 200 people in the villages which were located along the beach [in the Kyunsu area of Te Naw Th'Ri Township]. Villagers in the lower sea [coastal areas] had to leave their villages and go to live in other places."

- Villager, Tenasserim Township (2009)

This report is primarily focused on the extended territory to the south and east of Tenasserim Town, in the lower centre of the division, which is referred to in Karen as Te Naw Th'Ri Township. This includes all or parts of the government-delineated Kyunsu, Tanintharyi, Kawthoung and Bokpyin townships, as well as the Lenya and Tanintharyi national parks. Te Naw Th'Ri Township can also be sub-divided into four areas referred to as Gkay, Te Keh, Pewa and Ma No Roh. Villagers living in government-controlled and mixed-administration areas of Gkay, Te Keh, Pewa and Ma No Roh interviewed for this report described abuses including: harassment and arbitrary arrest of civilians as alleged supporters of the Karen National Union (KNU) or KNLA; the imposition of movement restrictions; the forced registration of civilians for identification purposes; the forced attendance of Tatmadaw military training and the creation of Tatmadaw-organised militias; uncompensated forced labour, including road-maintenance, the fabrication and delivery of building materials, guide duty and forced portering; frequent and arbitrary demands for 'taxes' or other cash payments; and land confiscation to facilitate implementation of business ventures or development projects.

"We have to avoid relocation sites. After people relocate you, you are not so different from when people breed chickens. They can take you out, and kill you and eat you when they want. They can oppress you. You have to give them when they demand things that they need."

- Pah T--- (male, 59), Ma--- village, Te Naw Th'Ri Township (2010)

Despite forced relocation campaigns and abuses like those listed above, and detailed below, which often serve to facilitate control of the civilian population, civilians in at least some areas of Te Naw Th'Ri Township continue to hide in difficult-to-access upland areas where they can evade abuse. In November 2010, TBBC estimated a population of 1,240 at hiding sites in the government-delineated Tanintharyi Township, as well as 520 people at hiding sites in Bokpyin. In order to document living conditions for displaced civilians hiding in Tenasserim, KHRG conducted research in seven distinct hiding sites in three areas of Te Naw Th'Ri Township: Te Keh, Pewa and Ma No Roh, at which a total population of 636 people were staying as of June 2010. Also included in this research were three additional villages, L--- and S--- villages in Pewa and K--- village in Te Keh. These three villages, though known to the Tatmadaw, are sufficiently beyond immediate Tatmadaw control that they face abuses similar to those described by villagers in hiding. The second section of this report details information from civilians in these ten locations, who reported abuses including the burning of houses and food stores and deliberate firing on civilians by Tatmadaw patrols. Civilians in these areas also registered serious concerns relating to food security and disruption of education as a result of these abuses and prolonged or repeated displacement.

"One thing I feel is happiness and another thing I feel is hardship. I can feel a little freedom here, but we have problems with food, and more fear…. If possible, we don't want to move. We're further and further away from our birth place. We can't do it anymore… We want to go back to our village but we don't dare to go back, because the SPDC Army [Tatmadaw] can enter the village easily… We have the things that we need. We have our land and plantations, but we don't dare to go back and stay."

- Pah T--- (male, 59), Ma--- village, Te Naw Th'Ri Township (2010)

 

Conditions for villagers in areas of consolidated Tatmadaw control

This section details abuses against civilians living in previously established relocation sites or in mixed-administration areas, which the Tatmadaw can consistently access but where the KNLA 4th Brigade continues to conduct infrequent operations or where the Tatmadaw believes KNLA operations might occur. Abuses detailed below appear to aid Tatmadaw efforts to consolidate control over civilian populations in relocation sites and mixed-administration areas, limiting the KNLA's access to a potential support base. Importantly, the abuses detailed below also facilitate extraction of resources from the population and countryside, by the Tatmadaw, government authorities, and businesses operating in cooperation with them. Abuses of this latter type are also included in the section below.

Harassment and arbitrary arrest

Suspicion of civilians leading to harassment or arbitrary arrest by Tatmadaw forces has been previously documented to attend the escalation of hostilities between the Tatmadaw and non-state armed groups in mixed-administration areas in eastern Burma, as well as to accompany tensions between the Tatmadaw and various racial and religious minorities.

"They do abuse, like punching and beating, but they haven't killed villagers. One time, they SPDC Army [Tatmadaw soldiers] gathered all villagers in the village together at the school. They picked out anyone who they needed [from the group]. After that they beat, punched, kicked, and beat them with guns. The Burmese [Tatmadaw] soldiers stood [one] up and kicked him in the left side. I don't' know why they did this. The Burmese soldiers tied up four of them [villagers] together tightly. They punched one and all four of them fell down. They gathered us at 3:00 pm and let us go at 8:00 pm. No one could stay at home. Many people were crying… I don't remember the date and time when the SPDC Army [Tatmadaw soldiers] came to my village. They come whenever they heard that revolutionaries [KNLA soldiers] had come down [to the village]. They also came up and told us 'If it's just [KNLA] officer Hsa Wah, he can come [to the village], we don't care about that.' But if Muslim soldiers were included, then they care."

- Saw G--- (male, 45), Ma--- village, Te Naw Th'Ri Township (2010)

On October 5th 2010, the village heads of H--- and Th--- villages in the Gkay area were arrested by Tatmadaw soldiers from LIB #591, following suspicion that they were in contact with the KNLA. Elsewhere in Te Naw Th'Ri Township, three Muslim residents of Na--- village were arrested on October 21st 2010 by soldiers from Tatmadaw LIB #561, under the command of Than Tee, as they were going to the mosque to pray. According to a KHRG researcher, local militia leaders cited security concerns regarding the upcoming elections when asked why the three had been arrested; however local sources told KHRG that the three men had been arrested in reprisal for a previous refusal to cooperate with LIB #561.

"They can take action if these three people are guilty but it is not suitable to go and arrest them in a mosque."

- Na--- villager, Tenasserim Division (2010)

Movement restrictions

The imposition of movement restrictions on certain villages by Tatmadaw officials has often been carried out ostensibly to cut off support for armed opposition groups, and for security while Tatmadaw units are active in a given area. In the case of incidents documented in Te Naw Th'Ri Township, this also appears to be the case: according to a KHRG researcher, on April 18th 2010, the head of C--- village in the Ma No Roh area was accused of contacting the KNLA and subsequently forced to swear an oath of loyalty to the Tatmadaw. A local source reported that, shortly thereafter, on April 26th 2010, LIB #561 was preventing C--- villagers from leaving the village and had planted landmines around the village, though detailed information about the location of landmines was not obtained by KHRG.

A KHRG field researcher also reported that Tatmadaw troops clamped down on villagers' movements and augmented troop strength in Te Naw Th'Ri Township during Burma's November 2010 elections. On November 7th 2010, villagers in Te Naw Th'Ri Township reported that all travel between villages in the area was banned, and that Tatmadaw forces maintained positions at all 30 polling stations in government-controlled areas, stationing additional troops in every village in which there was a polling station. KHRG's researcher also reported that security concerns regarding polling stations resulted in the forced closure of all schools, including nursery and high schools. Similar closures in other parts of the country were also evident in Te Naw Th'Ri, as the closure of the Karen Baptist University in Yangon forced some students hailing from Te Naw Th'Ri Township to return to their homes. Disruptions to religious worship were also reported by several community members across Te Naw Th'Ri Township, who told KHRG that they were banned from attending church ahead of the elections.

Registration

The expansion of Tatmadaw control in Te Naw Th'Ri Township has been facilitated by the mandatory registration of civilians for identification cards. On October 17th 2009, according to a KHRG researcher, Tatmadaw officials began requiring civilians over the age of 12 to register for identification cards in Tenasserim Township. The reason given was that registration would facilitate voting procedures in the 2010 elections; local villagers, however, have reported that they believe identification cards are a mechanism to consolidate control over civilians living in Tatmadaw-controlled areas.

"This [registration] is a way to sanction [punish] the village head, villagers and parents. If some issue is happening, it will be easy for them to take action against the village head and parents."

- Village leader, Tenasserim Township (2009)

Forced military training and conscription

Villagers in Te Naw Th'Ri Township have also reported incidents of forced participation in Tatmadaw military training and conscription of villagers into local militias. Forced conscription and military training are forms of forced labour, and deprive families and communities of individuals who would otherwise participate in livelihoods activities. Demands for military service are also frequently backed by implicit or explicit threats of violence for non-compliance.

On November 29th 2009, a total of 60 villagers from 11 villages in the Te Keh area were forced to attend unpaid military training with Tatmadaw officers and heads of police in Te Keh village for 30 days. A KHRG researcher reported that the purpose of this training was for villagers to "defend their own places". Villagers were selected to attend military training from the following 11 villages: W---, K---, L---, A---, T---, M---, U---, V---, W---, P--- and O---. Elsewhere in the Ma No Roh area, following clashes between the KNLA and the Tatmadaw in the C-- area on January 23rd 2010, Tatmadaw soldiers from LIB #559 entered C--- village and threatened the residents that, if they could not obtain and hand over one gun from KNLA forces, the soldiers would kill five C--- villagers. When the villagers responded that they didn't have any guns, the Tatmadaw forced C--- villagers to agree to resist the KNLA and to form a local militia group of 15 people for that purpose.

"Burmese [Tatmadaw] soldiers find a way to make conflict between Karen people. The villagers are afraid and now they [the Tatmadaw] do this again and again, and always coerce villagers. If the militia is formed, there'll be more tax that the villagers have to pay, more food that they have to give [to the Tatmadaw], and the SPDC [Tatmadaw] soldiers will always be able to enter and leave the village."

- Saw P---, N--- village, Ma No Roh area (2010)

Forced labour supporting infrastructure for military operations

Villagers in Te Naw Th'Ri Township have reported to KHRG frequent demands from locally-deployed Tatmadaw troops for various forms of forced labour that inhibit villagers' ability to pursue their own livelihoods effectively. The frequency of Tatmadaw troop rotations, in some cases occurring as often as every three months, exacerbates the burden placed on rural communities, as new troops regularly arrive and issue new demands for labour.

Forced labour abuses often support infrastructure necessary to Tatmadaw operations. For example, in the Gkay area during April 8th 2010, a KHRG researcher reported that Tatmadaw soldiers from LIB #597, led by Battalion Commander Za Lay, ordered villagers to clear brush from both sides of the road between M--- and N--- villages. KHRG has documented frequent instances of villagers being forced to clear brush near roads across eastern Burma in areas where the Tatmadaw fears ambush by non-state armed groups.

According to a KHRG researcher, on October 29th 2009, Company #1 of LIB #554, led by Captain Win Kyaw, demanded five thatch shingles from each household in Pewa village tract. Local sources told KHRG that LIB #554, headquartered at Aung Kain military base on the Thailand-Burma border, has every year for the last ten years ordered villagers to produce and deliver thatch whenever roofs on the buildings at their camps require repair. The villagers that spoke with KHRG explained that such demands are almost always prefaced by the assertion that compliance is necessary to promote development. KHRG's researcher explained, however, that the frequency of such demands, and the limited improvements in services or infrastructural benefit for local communities, has led some villagers in Pewa to doubt Tatmadaw claims that labour demands support development.

"On October 30th 2009, all these villages in Pewa had to go and send thatch to the battalion office: Q---, B---, H---, I---, D--- and X---. Nowadays, the Tatmadaw soldiers in Te Naw Th'Ri Township demand things without stopping. Anytime when they ask for help from the villagers, they say all the things they're doing are for development."

- Saw W---, Pewa village tract, Te Naw Th'Ri Township (2009)

Forced labour during military operations

In Te Naw Th'Ri Township, Tatmadaw forces have used villagers to support Tatmadaw forces during military operations, both in combat and during non-combat activities. In addition to being illegitimate involuntary labour, these abuses place civilians in danger of harm from ongoing conflict between the Tatmadaw and non-state armed groups.

According to a KHRG researcher, a Yuzana Company dam project in an area of unconsolidated Tatmadaw control, at Blaw Seh on the Te Keh River, was reportedly recommenced on August 14th 2010, after being discontinued in 2004. Shortly thereafter, the headman of E--- village was forced to guide and accompany a group of 50 Tatmadaw soldiers from LIBs #558 and #581, based at Aung Kain in the Te Keh area and under the control of 2nd Lieutenant Than Htun. The soldiers were serving as a security force for three engineers from the Yuzana Company; the purpose of the trip was to visit and inspect a potential site for the proposed dam. During the journey, a Tatmadaw soldier was severely injured when he stepped on a previously-laid landmine, highlighting the grave danger to which the headman of E--- had been exposed during his forced service as a guide accompanying the Tatmadaw units.

KHRG's field researcher in the area also reported that, following the completion of their preliminary analysis of the site, the Yuzana engineers took one viss (1.6 kg. / 3.6 lb.) of earth away for further analysis. Before the group departed the site, the soldiers from LIBs #558 and #581 took inventory of the E--- village population and specifically recorded which villagers possessed motorboats and motorbikes. The villagers said they were told this information was being gathered in order to prepare for the November 2010 elections. However, inventory of village populations has been previously used by Tatmadaw personnel to fix labour demands according to the village's population of able workers, while surveys of land and villagers' possessions has preceded such items' confiscation or use in support of Tatmadaw militarization and development initiatives. Elsewhere in eastern Burma, human rights abuses, including the loss of land due to flooding, land confiscation and forced labour have been documented to attend dam development projects and the subsequent increased militarization of the dam development sites.

"If this dam project succeeds, it will destroy many civilians' plantations, and people will be faced with many kinds of problems."

- KHRG field researcher, Te Naw Th'Ri Township (2010)

"It has been over ten years since Ma No Roh [village tract] was forced to relocate by the Burmese military [Tatmadaw]. We have to carry [porter] and pay tax to the Burmese military government without stopping. Now, we have to go and carry things and rations for the Burmese military but they don't say where we have to go."

- Villager, Ma No Roh village tract, Te Naw Th'Ri Township (2009)

Villagers in Te Naw Th'Ri Township also reported being forced to porter Tatmadaw supplies and equipment in areas not accessible by vehicle.

According to reports from KHRG field researchers, beginning on October 5th 2009 soldiers from Tatmadaw LIB #559, under the command of Aung Myo Lin, demanded two people from each village in Ma No Roh village tract to serve as porters. Villagers are often also required to provide their own carts and draft animals to porter supplies and equipment for the Tatmadaw. On October 15th 2009, for example, troops from Company #2 of LIB #554, led by Colonel Kyaw Shin Ya, demanded and confiscated four carts from residents of N--- village in the Gkay area of Te Naw Th'Ri Township; local sources told KHRG the carts were used to transport Tatmadaw rations to R--- village. It is important to note that October corresponds with the beginning of the paddy harvest season, highlighting the potentially severe consequences for civilians forced to labour for the Tatmadaw rather than tend to their fields at a crucial point in the agricultural cycle.

"The Burmese army [Tatmadaw] always asks for porters like this. Sometimes they don't go anywhere or go very far, they just go on patrol around the village. Even though they can carry their own things or loads, they still ask for porters to carry them. Now is the time for people to harvest their farms. The farms will be destroyed if people have to go and carry for a long time. Now, civilians always have to live with these complaints."

- Relief worker, discussing Ma No Roh village tract (2009)

Arbitrary taxation in lieu of forced labour

Villagers in Te Naw Th'Ri Township continue to report the levying of frequent demands for cash payments by Tatmadaw troops. KHRG has generally described payments of this kind as 'arbitrary,' because they vary in frequency and amount according to the discretion of local officials and are distinct from the systematic and formally authorised levying of taxes by agents of a civilian government. These cash payments are often demanded either in lieu of the provision of porters or on the grounds that they are required to support provision of services or infrastructural benefits for the region.

"They are always doing this [demanding porters]. At least twice in a year, we have to go and carry things to the military bases on the [Thailand-Burma] border. Even if people have already paid a salary [tax] for the hire of other porters, when the Burmese [Tatmadaw] troops enter the village, we still have to arrange to provide porters for the troops. They often ask for a salary [tax] for porters, so it makes us wonder if they use that salary [tax] to hire other porters or not."

- Village head, L--- village, Te Naw Th'Ri Township (2009)

Villagers in Tenasserim Division have previously reported to KHRG that they are required to both make payments for Tatmadaw forces to hire porters, and work as unpaid porters themselves at least twice a year. Fees levied for the provision of porters compound the impact of forced portering on local communities and livelihoods, as they strain villagers' limited financial resources, often without actually alleviating Tatmadaw demands for civilian porters.

"On the border of Tenasserim [Division], there are five new military [Tatmadaw] camps that have been set up. In those five places, there are now more than 200 people who go and carry rations to each place. In all the villages around Tenasserim Town, the Tatmadaw demands 10,000 kyat (US $11.36) from each household. Even if the villagers don't have money, they have to give 10,000 kyat from every household. On January 5th 2010, the village heads from the Gkay and Te Keh areas already went and gave the 10,000 kyat that they collected from every house."

- Village head, T--- village, Te Naw Th'Ri Township (2010)

Cash payments in lieu of porters represent a significant burden to local villagers, many of whom are dependent on subsistence or near-subsistence livelihoods activities and possess limited surplus financial resources. According to reports submitted by KHRG researchers, in January 2010 villagers in N--- village in the Gkay area reported that they had been forced to pay 40,000 kyat (US $45.45), 'in lieu of' providing two porters to a local Tatmadaw unit. In the Pewa area, villages that had been instructed to send residents to porter military equipment and supplies to Aung Kain camp for Tatmadaw LIB #557 were subsequently informed, in a message sent to village heads at the beginning of January 2010 by LIB #557 Commander Soe Win Kyaw, that they no longer needed to provide porters. The village heads were ordered, however, to collect 10,000 kyat (US $11.36) from each household in their communities, in lieu of providing porters. By January 3rd 2010, nine villages in Pewa had collected and delivered 450,000 kyat (US $511.36) to the LIB #557 Commander. According to a KHRG field researcher, these nine villages were Ba---, Ha---, He---, Ma---, Ka---, Wa---, Ca---, Pa--- and Hi---.

Elsewhere in Te Naw Th'Ri Township during January 2010, village heads in Te Keh, Bawh Lawh and Nyaw Pay Gkway village tracts had been instructed by LIB #561, based at Tone Daw in the Te Keh area, to send two people from each village to porter Tatmadaw supplies and equipment to Ler Ker military base, near the Thailand-Burma border. According to a KHRG researcher, the village leaders subsequently received an order issued by Battalion Commander Aung Lwin stating that LIB #561 would hire other porters, but that the villagers were obliged to pay for their hire. There are 20 villages in each village tract in this area, meaning that each village tract had been ordered to supply 40 porters: a substantial diversion of labour from village livelihood activities. Village heads were instructed to pay 40,000 kyat (US $45.45) for every porter that they did not send, so each village was required to pay 80,000 kyat (US $90.90) in lieu of providing two porters. Collectively, each village tract reported that they had paid 1,600,000 kyat (US $1,818).

Arbitrary taxation for local development projects

Villagers living under Tatmadaw control in eastern Burma have reported being required to make cash payments for services, infrastructure projects or other local development initiatives that were either already being provided before payment was demanded, or that remained unimplemented long after payment was made. Although such projects are often framed by Tatmadaw officers or government officials as supporting development of local communities, villagers have complained that money is taken by officials involved or spent on projects designed and implemented without local input.

At a meeting between Company Commander Than Tee of LIB #561, based at Tone Daw, and village heads and village tract leaders in the Te Keh area on October 27th 2010, for example, the villagers were informed that the Tatmadaw was planning to plant paddy in the area, but required use of the villagers' cows and buffalos to plough the new paddy fields. The officials said, however, that because it was too difficult to bring the cattle to the fields, each villager was required pay a tax in lieu of providing cattle. Villagers who owned a cart had to pay 1,000 kyat (US $1.14) each, while villagers who owned cattle had to pay 1,500 kyat (US $1.70) each. According to a source present at the meeting, the paddy had already been planted a month before these taxes were demanded.

Elsewhere, in the Pewa area, local villagers told KHRG that repeated demands for financial support were levied by Ministry of Education officials during the protracted construction of new schools in the area, on the grounds that the payments were necessary to expedite the construction process. KHRG sources reported that, during October 2009, local officials demanded 300,000 kyat (US $341) from each of the following six villages in the Pewa area: Ba---, Ha---, He---, La---, Ta---, Ye---.

According to a KHRG researcher, candidates campaigning in Te Naw Th'Ri Township in the run-up to the November 2010 elections also levied arbitrary taxes to support their campaigns or to secure political support for the development of local educational infrastructure. For example, Saw Ha Bay, a former State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) Education Department Vice-Coordinator and Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) candidate in the 2010 election, demanded 40,000 kyat (approximately US $45.45) from every village in Tatmadaw-controlled areas of Te Naw Th'Ri Township in order to cover the cost of paper to make ballots, and promised to support villagers with funds to cover school-building costs in return. During his campaign in Te Naw Th'Ri Township, Saw Ha Bay was accompanied by Tatmadaw officers and representatives from the Yuzana Company, which has close links with the Tatmadaw. Local sources have told KHRG that a school in Ho--- village cost residents 500,000 kyat (approximately US $568) to build themselves and that no government funds or material support have since been forthcoming.

"People tried to [build the school] as Saw Ha Bay guided us, but nothing is different. It's just like pouring water on the sand. Our hopes are just dreams. We already paid 40,000 kyat (US $45.45) to him for our dreams to become true, but his words and his actions didn't match."

- Village elder, Ho--- village, Te Naw Th'Ri Township (2010)

Land confiscation

During 2010, KHRG received reports of land confiscation, facilitated by Tatmadaw-backed coercion, to support business and development projects in Tenasserim Division. According to a report submitted by a KHRG researcher, on October 2nd 2010, U Thaw Kyi and U Chit Oo, representatives from the AIS Company, came to the Gkay area of Te Naw Th'Ri Township and announced plans to develop date palm plantations in R---, N--- and Y--- villages. Gkay is the area of Te Naw Th'Ri Township in which Tatmadaw-control is most firmly established. According to Saw C---, a local land-owner, U Thaw Kyi and U Chit Oo surveyed 13 acres of his land and subsequently forced him to sell the land to AIS. Saw C--- said he was unwilling to sell, but did so after he was told by U Thaw Kyi and U Chit Oo that the Tatmadaw soldiers would make 'a problem' for him if he did not agree to the deal. In exchange for his land, Saw C--- received just 50,000 kyat (US $56.81) per acre for his land.

Land confiscation, without compensation, has also been reported elsewhere in Tenasserim Division. According to reports received from a KHRG researcher, on October 14th 2010, 20 villagers from the Na---, Te--- and Do--- areas of K'Ser Doh Township reported to local Tatmadaw officials that a coal mining company had destroyed their lands, without paying them any compensation for the damage. The villagers reported the matter to authorities from Tatmadaw Tactical Operation Command (TOC) #2 at the Mee Tah army camp, but had not received any response after their complaint was forwarded to the Headquarters of the Tatmadaw Coastal Region Command, under which TOC #2 operates.

 

Conditions for villagers outside areas of consolidated Tatmadaw control

 "Not every villager has enough food to eat. I don't know about those who don't have enough food, because I am a new arrival here… Now I've decided that I will [do] as the people here do: I will farm a hill field, I will do a plantation, I will plant as people plant."

- Saw L--- (male, 29), Te--- village, Te Naw Th'Ri Township (2010)

The following sections detail conditions for 127 households, totaling 636 internally displaced people (IDP), staying at seven hiding sites in the Te Keh, Pewa and Ma No Roh areas. Population information on these areas is provided in the table below. The following section also includes information from L--- and S--- villages in Pewa and K--- village in Te Keh. These additional three locations, though known to the Tatmadaw, are sufficiently outside of Tatmadaw control that they face abuses similar to those of villagers in the hiding sites detailed in the below table:

No.
Location
Village hiding site
Dispersed population numbers
Total population numbers
1
Te Keh
Ht--- village
25 individuals [6 households]
286 individuals
Gh--- village
165 individuals [28 households]
Gk--- village
96 individuals [21 households]
2
Ma No Roh
Dt--- village
183 individuals [39 households]
183 individuals
3
Pewa
P--- village
23 individuals [5 households]
167 individuals
W--- village
56 individuals [11 households]
D--- village
88 individuals [17 households]

 

Villagers in areas delineated above reported that they continue to face serious human rights abuses and threats to their physical security and livelihoods. Incidents reported in the past year include Tatmadaw soldiers firing on civilians, attempting to forcibly relocate civilians to areas of consolidated military control, and destroying homes and food stores at hiding sites. The imposition of movement restrictions on civilians in Tatmadaw-controlled areas, described in the preceding section, also further exacerbates food security concerns for IDPs in hiding, by undermining communication links between villages and cutting off food and supplies to hiding sites in areas of unconsolidated Tatmadaw control. In addition to long-term threats to food-security, villagers interviewed for this report also expressed concerns their children's education, which is both interrupted by displacement or the threat of attack and undermined by constraints on household capacity to subsidise schools and teachers.

Deliberate attacks on the civilian food supply

"Usually the [Tatmadaw] soldiers come from Battalions 224, 24, 280, 557, and 558, and I don't know who the leaders of these battalions are. One column will have 24 people [soldiers], and one battalion 48 [soldiers]. When they attack us, a column will have 15 soldiers."

- Saw G--- (male, 45), Ma--- village, Te Naw Th'Ri Township (2010)

According to a KHRG researcher, on May 1st 2010 a patrol of Tatmadaw soldiers from LIB #594, led by Battalion Commander U Zaw Tin, entered K--- hiding site in the Te Keh Kee area, forcing villagers to flee their homes. After the villagers fled, the soldiers burned down three houses, destroying all the property and food stores inside. The houses belonged to Saw R---, Saw Y--- and Saw P---. Saw R---'s house had held 68 baskets of paddy (1,421 kg. / 3,065 lb.), Saw Y---'s house had held 80 baskets of paddy (1,672 kg. / 3,606 lb.), and Saw P---'s house had held 89 baskets of paddy (1,860 kg. / 4,012 lb.). A pig belonging to Saw P--- was also killed during the attack on K---.

Disruption to livelihood activities

Villagers in hiding in both the Ma No Roh and Pewa areas of Te Naw Th'Ri Township have reported that prolonged displacement due to Tatmadaw military operations has prevented them from spending sufficient time at their hill fields, and resulted in damage to their hill fields by animals in their absence. Limited ability to tend to hill fields has in turn led to decreased paddy crop yields and heightened food security concerns for villagers.

According to a report submitted by a KHRG researcher, on August 29th 2010 following clashes the previous day between the Karen National Defense Organisation (KNDO) and the Tatmadaw in the Pewa area, Tamadaw commanders from LIB #582 told village heads from L--- and S--- villages that both communities were required to relocate to sites proximate to a vehicle road in the area. The villages were instructed to relocate without fail before August 31st 2010, or risk being treated as military targets. Columns from LIB #582 conducting patrols in the Pewa area subsequently shot at villagers that had refused to heed the forced relocation order, including two incidents on October 31st 2010 at L--- village at 10 am and S--- village at 12 pm. No villagers were reported to have been injured in the attack.

The threat of immediate harm posed by LIB #582 prevented L--- and S--- villagers from returning to finish harvesting their paddy crops during the 2010 harvest season and, in the villagers' absence, much of their remaining unharvested crops were destroyed by wild animals. The window of opportunity for harvesting paddy crops in eastern Burma typically opens in October and closes by January each year, depending on local growing conditions and strain of paddy. Villagers in Pewa who were unable to complete their harvests in 2010 will have to survive on the yield of their partial harvests and whatever other food and economic resources they can access until the 2011 harvest.

Restrictions on access to external food supplies

"We trade with villagers in the SPDC [Tatmadaw] controlled area secretly. They sometimes exchange things and we sometimes exchange things secretly with each other. There are some who love us and [some who] hate us."

- Pah T--- (male, 59), Ma--- village, Te Naw Th'Ri Township (2010)

The imposition of movement restrictions on villagers in relocation sites can undermine food security for villagers in hiding, since communities in hiding frequently rely on food resources acquired from Tatmadaw-controlled areas to address food shortages caused by Tatmadaw military operations against civilians beyond military control, and resulting livelihoods constraints.

According to a KHRG researcher in the Gkay area, on April 29th 2010, Tatmadaw troops based near S--- and R--- villages were reported to be preventing residents from leaving the villages; communication between residents of these villages was subsequently cut off. On May 2nd, the regular presence of Tatmadaw troops in relocation sites at Ta--, C--- and Ma--- was reported to be preventing villagers from leaving their villages, which in turn was preventing food supplies from reaching communities in hiding in the Ma No Roh area.

"Nowadays, it isn't easy for IDPs [villagers in hiding] to get food because the enemy [Tatmadaw forces] regularly occupies the relocation sites at Ta---, C--- and Ma--- and they don't allow villagers to go out outside the villages. As possible, we'll find a way to help them."

- KHRG field researcher, Te Naw Th'Ri Township (October 2010)

Consequences for education

"In the past, the children couldn't attend [school]. Now parents have found teachers so they can go to school, and they can study very well [without any problems]. But we don't know what will happen in the future."

- Pah T--- (male, 59), Ma--- village, Te Naw Th'Ri Township (2010)

Villagers in hiding in Te Naw Th'Ri Township have expressed serious concerns about disruption to their children's education during displacement. Villagers in K--- village, in the Te Keh Kee area, for example, told a KHRG researcher that the school in K--- village had had two teachers for 30 students during the 2009 – 2010 school year, and had been partly subsidised by the children's parents. However, repeated displacement and physical security threats in K--- village in the past year have meant that, for the 2010 – 2011 school year, the school in K--- village now has only one teacher; according to KHRG's researcher, the residents of K--- are actively seeking another teacher so that the school can provide the same standard of education as before. In the Pewa area, meanwhile, as of June 29th 2010 no school was reported to have been established in any of the three hiding sites recorded by a KHRG field researcher, where 43 households, totalling 167 villagers and an unspecified number of school-age children were living. In the Ma Noh Roh area, as of January 2011 offensive military operations by three Tatmadaw battalions against communities in hiding were causing further displacement; according to the Free Burma Rangers, attacks on hiding sites at Htee Poe Meh Gkeh and Lah Peh T'Gkee included the burning of a school and 17 homes in those communities.

 

Conclusion

"The SPDC Army [Tatmadaw] knew about our plans [to flee], but as long as there are forests and secrets in the world, there's no problem [for us]. The SPDC Army [Tatmadaw] knows everything about us, but there's a world and we can flee. We know this."

- Pah T--- (male, 59), Ma--- village, Te Naw Th'Ri Township (2010)

The abuses documented in this report follow more than 15 years of forced displacement of civilians, which has led to approximately 62,100 villagers living in government-controlled relocation sites throughout Tenasserim Division. Forced relocation has depopulated upland regions and consolidated populations in lowland areas more accessible to Tatmadaw forces; areas which, geographically and strategically, facilitate Tatmadaw control. Communities in relocation sites and villages under military control interviewed for this report subsequently reported a range of abuses made possible by Tatmadaw access to and control over their communities, including demands for forced labour and arbitrary taxation, forced conscription, movement restrictions and land confiscation. Such abuses are consistent with abuses documented by KHRG in relocation sites and government-controlled areas elsewhere in eastern Burma. These abuses appear designed to serve the dual purpose of preventing non-state armed groups from extracting support from the civilian population, while consolidating military control sufficiently to facilitate the use of civilian populations as a support base for extensive Tatmadaw infrastructure and troop deployments.

The cumulative effect of these abuses is to seriously undercut the ability of villagers in government-controlled areas of Te Naw Th'Ri Township from pursuing their livelihoods freely and effectively. Forced labour, forced conscription and movement restrictions inhibit or prevent villagers' own livelihoods activities and may have long-term consequences for food-security, as when demands for forced labour come at key junctures of the agricultural cycle. Additional arbitrary and unpredictable demands for taxation drain villagers' resources and threaten to drive livelihoods below subsistence level. Land confiscation, meanwhile, cuts villagers off from the lands on which their livelihoods depend, often with long-term economic consequences. Individuals deprived of their land typically have limited or no opportunity to recover food and economic resources already invested, or to prepare financially for the cost of starting new livelihoods projects on new lands.

Militarization also acutely impacts the security and livelihoods of communities in hiding and actively avoiding Tatmadaw control in Te Naw Th'Ri Township. Access to upland hiding sites by Tatmadaw patrols has resulted in deliberate attacks on civilians, civilian agricultural projects and food stores. Movement restrictions enforced on villages under Tatmadaw control, meanwhile, limit covert trade in food items to hiding villages, undermining a vital safeguard against food insecurity for communities where research was conducted for this report. Although not viable for many civilians in relocation sites and militarized areas under Tatmadaw control in Tenasserim, strategic displacement remains an important strategy villagers use to protect livelihoods and human rights in those parts of Tenasserim where evading Tatmadaw control is still possible – despite the unique physical security, livelihoods and humanitarian concerns attendant to life in hiding.