Interview | Saw S--- (male, 17), Ko--- village, Ler Doh Township, Nyaunglebin District (May 2011)
The following interview was conducted by a KHRG researcher. It is presented below translated exactly as it was received, save for minor edits for clarity and security. This interview was received in May 2011 along with twelve other interviews with villagers from Nyaunglebin District.
Marital Status: Single
Where did you live before?
Ko--- village. We moved to Ka--- for three years, and we came back to stay [in Ko---] about two years ago
Can you tell me about the situation in your old village, before you were forced to move?
When we lived in our village we worked, but the situation wasn't good. Sometimes, the SPDC Army [Tatmadaw] came. They came and demanded things when they arrived at our village.
Did you go to school when you lived in Ko--- village?
Yes, I was a student at that time. I had to attend tenth standard. We went to attend school at He--- [town]. There is only a primary school in Ko--- so we had to go to He--- when we went to higher standards.
How far is it from Ko--- to He---?
[When we went to school in He---] we had to rent a house and stay there [in He---]. We couldn't travel because it took too much time. The trip took us about one or two hours on our bicycles.
How many houses are in Ko--- village?
There are [number censored for security] houses in Ko---. There are over [number censored for security] people.
What do villagers do for their livelihoods while they live in Ko---?
They farm, pan for gold, and plant peanuts. Ko--- is located in a flat area. It's close to He--- Town.
Do villagers face any disruptions when they try to work?
There are many kinds of disruptions. They can't do their work very well because ta soon ta sa [literally 'there is illness'] and the SPDC Army [Tatmadaw] comes to the village with demands for food and money. You have to work the whole day. You have to start your work at 6:00 am in the morning, but your farm is very far away. You have to travel to your farm at sunrise, and return from your farm at 5:30 pm. It's noon time when you arrive at your work place, and you have to be back at the village before 6:00 pm. You can't work very well. If you come back later, the Burmese [Tatmadaw] will punish you. Some farms are close to the village, but some are very far away.
Can people whose farms are far away leave at 5:00 am?
You can't go at 5:00 am. They have limited times. You can only leave for your farm after 6:00 am. Also, you have to arrive back to the village by 6:00 pm. If you don't follow [abide by] the limited times they will punish you.
Have they punished anyone?
Yes, villagers were put in stocks [wooden or metal restraints that lock around the legs] and forced to pay money. The only way to get them out of the stocks was to pay money.
How much money do they ask for?
If they demand 10,000 kyat (US $12.80), you pay 10,000 kyat. If they demand 2,000 kyat (US $2.56), you pay 2,000 kyat. They only release the person when you give them the money they demand. You also have to go and do loh ah pay for them. You have to go and clean their base. They force one person to kaw gkay [perform sentry duty] each day.
Do you have porter when you go and do loh ah pay?
Yes, we have to go and carry things for them [the Tatmadaw]. There are many kinds of loh ah pay. We have to carry rations for them, be sentries and clean up their camp. One person [from the village] has to do loh ah pay each day.
Can people refuse when they don't want to go do loh ah pay?
No, you have to go.
Can they pay money when they don't want to go?
You have to hire someone. People who are poor go and work [for you]. You give them money and they go to do loh ah pay for you.
How much do you have to pay if you hire people?
One day costs about 1,500 kyat (US $1.92). The people who do loh ah pay [for wages] are poor. Other villagers pay them to go [perform loh ah pay] instead of them.
Do they demand things like logs and bamboo?
Yes, for example if you set up a log separating machine [a sawmill], they order you to pay a tax. You have to pay them once a week. You have to pay the tax when you go and get a work permission document. You also have to report to them if you go and catch fish in the river. You have to give them money to be allowed to catch fish. [If you want to catch fish], they make you come to the camp once a week to get a signed work permission document and they ask you for fish too.
How much do you have to pay once a week?
They order you to go and get a signed work permission document once a week. They ask you to bring them fish once a week.
How much [tax] do people have to pay for a log separating machine [sawmill]?
It depends on how many tons of logs you separate. You have to pay them according to the amount of logs.
Do they ask villagers to provide logs, thatch pieces and bamboo poles?
Yes. For example, if you go to the jungle to collect wood, you have to pay them 3,000 kyat (US $3.84) per month.
Do you have to get a permission document to go outside [the village]?
Yes, you have to get a permission document and carry the document with you if you go to the city or anywhere outside [the village]. For example, we live in Ko--- and if we go and buy things in the city we have to get permission. We don't need to pay money for this because we receive it from the village head.
How many days can you stay outside [the village] with a permission document?
If you go and sleep outside for two nights, they will write a letter allowing you to go for two nights.
If your permission document is out of date, do you dare to come back?
Yes, villagers dare to come back [if that happens]. They [the Tatmadaw] don't know that you went to the city. Only the village head knows. The village head doesn't tell them, because the army camp and the village are separate. The army only occasionally comes to the village. When they come, they take chickens or ask for chickens, and you have to kill a pig and provide curry for them.
Do you know how many times you have to go and cut bamboo for the SPDC Army [Tatmadaw] each year?
It depends on the timing [season]. Villagers cut bamboo during the summer time [the hot season], not in the rainy season, because during the summer people repair and build their houses. Some people have no money, so they cut bamboo to make money.
So they don't demand logs and bamboo poles to build their camp?
No, they just ask for money. They don't ask for logs and bamboo. They just ask for money. We go and do all the work by ourselves, but they demand money from us.
Does your family also have to pay money?
We have to pay money every month. We have to pay 3,000 kyat (US $3.84) every month. This is the situation every year. There are [number censored for security] houses and each house has to pay 3,000 kyat. This is in Ko--- village. The Burmese [Tatmadaw] occupy Ka--- army camp. It takes a two or three hour long walk to reach Ka--- from Ko---.
What about killing? Have any people been killed?
There's no killing. But, if they hear that you are communicating with outside people, they kill you.
Have they killed anyone in Ko--- village?
Yesterday [in the last couple of months], they came and followed someone. His name was brought to the attention of the Burmese and they came to arrest him. He escaped, so he wasn't arrested. For example, if the Burmese knew that we were here [at the interview location], they would arrest us. We came here secretly. Yesterday [in the last couple of months] they killed one De--- villager in Ha--- village tract. His name is Sh---.
Why was he killed?
He came and worked in [location censored for security] and they [the Tatmadaw] found out.
When was he killed?
Not so long ago, maybe one or two months ago, during this year. He was in Ha--- village tract. It's near our village tract, beside Ko--- village tract.
Is Ha--- village close to Ko---?
It is the same village, but it is divided in the middle [into two parts].
Does he have a family?
Yes. He has a wife. His child is three years and four months old. He [Sh---] got married recently. He's poor, so he came to work in [location censored for security]. He went back and talked about stupid things when he mey hay [was intoxicated] and the Burmese [Tatmadaw] found out and arrested him. I don't know what date this incident happened on. I just heard people say he was killed. It's true that he was killed.
Can you guess the date?
I think it was in February, because people cooked sugar cane in February.
Do you know which army unit came to kill him?
I don't know which army unit it was. The army group went back and stayed at their base. Now, they have already rotated [out of the area].
How many armed groups are active in Ko--- village?
There are many armed groups, but just one group came and stayed near Ko---. One group came to occupy the land close to our village.
Was it the DKBA, the BGF, the KNLA or the SPDC Army [Tatmadaw]?
It was the SPDC Army. But, the KNU [the KNLA] comes occasionally.
Did the KNLA ever arrive at your village before your village was forced to move?
They always came and stayed.
Did they create any problems for villagers when they came?
Did they demand things and abuse villagers?
No, we are the same ethnicity so they didn't abuse us.
How do they [the Tatmadaw] demand things? Do they write letters or arrive in person?
They write letters. You have to go and send the information to them every day. You have to go and tell them if the KNU came to you. There is a guard [a villager serving as a sentry or messenger], who has to go and deliver the messages back and forth between the village head and the Tatmadaw.
What do they ask people to go and carry, when they ask for porters?
People go and carry rations like rice, salt, and chilli.
How many people do they ask for at one time?
For example, if three people go one time, the next time another three people have to go. Ten people don't go at the same time. But if it's important, like when they order you to go work in their camp, every house has to go. When they ask for people to work in the camp, one person from each household must go each day. They have to go and clean up [cut down trees and clear brush in] the camp.
Do villagers flee to the jungle as a result of the fighting in the village?
Yes. People flee to the jungle all the time [when there is fighting]. In the early summer [hot season, between February and April], the Burmese Army [Tatmadaw] soldiers in our village tract began fighting. The fighting happened beside T--- village. It happened between T--- and Ky--- village. The SPDC [Tatmadaw] came and the KNU [the KNLA] attacked them.
What happened after the fighting?
The villagers fled. One person was arrested. People had to go and provide a guarantee [promise to take responsibility for his actions] and the person was released.
Did they [the Tatmadaw] abuse the villagers and burn down villages?
No, they didn't.
Was the fighting close to your village?
Yes. They punish the villages closest to where the fighting happens.
Do you remember the date when you were ordered to move [to the relocation site]?
I was in Fourth Standard and I was about to step up to [begin] Fifth Standard when we were forced to move. It was four years ago, in June 2006. I don't remember the date because I was young. People told us to move, so we moved.
Who came and ordered Ko--- village to move?
The SPDC Army [Tatmadaw]. I don't know who their army unit commander was. They occupied Ka---. That unit has already rotated. They [Tatmadaw Battalions] rotate once a year.
Do you know why they ordered villagers to move?
Fighting began in Th---, and the KNU [the KNLA] entered our area. The KNU came back to our village tract and [the Tatmadaw] saw that we were connecting [communicating or meeting] with the KNU. So, they ordered us to move close to their camp.
Did the KNU really come and stay in your village tract?
Yes. They came and stayed when they were patrolling.
Did [the Tatmadaw] write an order or come in person to order the villagers to move?
They came in person and notified us of the date when we had to move. They came and told the chairperson. They told the chairperson and the chairperson told us. We moved and we weren't going to dismantle our house, but they said that they would burn down our houses if we didn't dismantle them. After, we went back to our dismantled houses and built small huts.
Did all the villagers move immediately after receiving the order, or did they stay and pretend to chet ta er nah [literally 'pretend to be deaf']?
No, no one stayed. Bpwa lu ler say [literally 'people followed with money', meaning the village heads collected money to try to bribe the Tatmadaw]. We tried to pay the [Tatmadaw] leaders to stop the relocation process. We tried this but we didn't succeed. We had to move.
You said the village head had to go with money. How much money did the village head give to them?
This was based on their requests. For example, if they had demanded 400,000 kyat (US $512) then we'd have had to pay 400,000 kyat. If they had demanded 500,000 kyat (US $640), we'd have had to pay 500,000 kyat. But, they said no to our offer [to pay money to avoid relocation].
Did they still take money?
The lower-ranking commanders took money. The higher-ranking commanders didn't receive any money [so we had to move].
So you had to give money, and got nothing in return?
Yes. They [the Tatmadaw soldiers] stayed in their army camp and ordered people to move.
Does this mean that the lower-ranking commanders took the money and allowed the villagers to stay, but the higher-ranking commanders wouldn't allow the villagers to stay?
Yes. We didn't have enough money to give the higher-ranking commanders.
Did all of the villagers move to the relocation site or did they [some of them] flee to different places?
There were villagers who fled to different places. Villagers with successful businesses went and stayed in the city. Some people went and worked at other places.
Did more people go to the relocation site, or did more people flee?
Less people fled. Most people went and stayed in the relocation site.
Were there families who fled to the jungle?
Yes, some families fled. I don't know how many families went to the jungle.
Were other villages forced to move too?
Ha---, De---, Ko---, Wo---, Bp---, Gk--- and K--- villages were all forced to move to the same place.
What is the name of the relocation site?
The name is Ka---. It is known as the su see [relocation] village region. We all stayed there together, so they called it su see village.
Was there a village in Ka--- before your village was forced to move there?
Yes. There was Ka--- village and Su--- village.
How many years did you live in Ka---?
Three years. After three years, we came back to stay here [in Ko--- village].
Did the Army [Tatmadaw] allow you to come back and stay?
We bribed them with money. We gave them money and they allowed us to come back. Every house had to pay 20,000 kyat (US $25.61).
How many households came back to stay?
Currently, there are [number censored for security] households. In Ko--- village, there are about [number censored for security] households that came back to stay. The total cost for the households [to return] was [number censored for security].
How many villagers from the seven villages were relocated?
I don't know. I can't guess.
How many armed groups were in the relocation site?
Did you ever see the KNU [the KNLA] in Ka---?
No, [but] we occasionally see the KNU since we've come back here [to Ko--- village].
What kind of work did villagers at the relocation site do?
They came back [to Ko--- during the day] and did their farms here. They came to work here during the day and went back in the evening. But you had to get a permission document to do this. You had to pay 3,000 kyat (US $3.84) per month. You couldn't stay and sleep here [in Ko---].
Is this [current] 3,000 kyat per month payment the same payment each house had to pay when you lived in Ka---?
We paid 3,000 kyat (US $ 3.84) regularly to the local SPDC Army [Tatmadaw] authority at Ka--- to travel to Ko--- for work. We had to pay the 3,000 kyat to work around Ko--- village. The people who didn't come back and work in Ko--- didn't need to pay the extra 3,000 kyat. Some of the people who didn't travel to Ko--- to work sold goods in Ka---. These people who didn't leave Ka--- didn't have to pay the travel tax. When we moved back to Ko---, after negotiating an agreement, we still had to pay 3,000 kyat every month to live and work in Ko---.
How far is the distance from Ko--- to Ka---?
Two hours on foot.
You mean villagers got permission documents from the SPDC Army [Tatmadaw] and came back to work in their village? How often did they have to pay, every month or week?
They had to pay the SPDC Army once a month. They couldn't sleep at their workplaces. If you came back late, you had to swim [across the lake, as punishment]. There was a lake in front of their army camp. You had to come in front of their camp to show yourself. You couldn't come back secretly behind the camp.
What are the other challenges that villagers faced in the su see [relocation] village?
It was very hard for villagers to do their daily work. The first year that we moved, it was during the rainy season and there were heavy rains. Because our houses had short legs [stilts], some houses were flooded and destroyed. We had to stay on the road.
Did you have to do loh ah pay in the relocation site?
Yes. We had to construct roads, work in the army camp, and repair the army camp. We had to do these activities every year.
Did other villages have to do loh ah pay, or was your village exclusively targeted?
All villages [that were forcibly relocated] had to do loh ah pay. They [the different villages] were sent to do work in specific places. [For example,] Ko--- villagers had to do work from here [gestures] to here [gestures].
When did you have to go and do loh ah pay?
I had to go, but I don't remember the dates. We had to go every day. It took a month to finish the road.
You went and stayed at Ka--- for three years. Which years did you have to do loh ah pay, the first year, the second year or the last year?
We just had to work on the road until it was finished.
Did you have to construct the road as soon as you arrived?
We had to build our houses immediately after arriving. Then, we had to construct the road. We had to dig a well and make a fence around our houses. Next, we had to come back and take bamboo from Ko--- village. We had to carry everything ourselves.
Did they provide food when you constructed the road?
They didn't. We came back and ate at our homes.
Did they pay you money?
No, we had to go and do it all for free. They came and watched, and if there was a need, they told you to do certain tasks. You had to go back at noon to eat. We began work again when they said it was time.
What time did you have to go?
We went in the morning after we ate rice. We had to go in the morning and come back at 12:00 [noon]. We came back and ate at home [in Ka---] because it was close [to the location where forced labour was performed].
What time did you stop working?
We stopped at 5:00 pm.
Did the whole village have to go?
Yes. Also, other villages like Ko---, K---, Wo--- and Bp--- villages had to go.
Was there fighting when you lived in Ka---?
No, there was no fighting. You had to fence your house while you lived there. If you didn't, the Burmese Army [Tatmadaw] would arrest and beat you. They gave you a deadline to build your fence. The fence had to be finished within two days.
Did they ever beat anyone?
Yes, they did.
Do you know the villager's name?
Yes, his name is W---. He is a Ha--- villager. They beat him, and demanded that he finish the fence.
Was the beating serious?
Yes, it was serious.
Did you know the person doing the beating?
He was Burmese. I don't know what army unit he was from. It was the army from Ka---.
Was the place you lived in Ka--- close to the Burmese Army [Tatmadaw] camp?
Yes, they were connected. The army camp was located in the middle [of several villages] and the villages were located on the outside perimeter. They ordered you to go and be sentries at the village entrance. They patrolled to see how we lived, and checked to see if we were digging a toilet. They'd beat you if you didn't finish [digging a toilet or building a fence]. They patrolled every day.
Is there any difference between the situation in Ko--- and the situation in Ka---?
Yes, there's a difference. We're happy living in our place [Ko--- Village]. We weren't happy to stay there [in Ka---]. The weather was hot and we had to build our houses in the farm. There were no trees or bamboo. It was very hot. There was no place to find vegetables. All around were fields. It was hot because we stayed in the fields. [So] we came back to our village [Ko---]. People who didn't come back are still staying in Ka---.
You had to go and carry things, help build the army camp and pay money to the army when you lived in Ko---. Did the same things happen when you lived in Ka---?
Yes, we had to do the same things for the army in Ko--- and in Ka---. Before we came here [the location of the interview], we had to make three layers of fence around the camp for them.
When did this happen?
March 2nd 2011.
How many days did you have to go do loh a pay?
We had to do loh ah pay until we were finished. If we didn't finish the task, we were punished. We finished it within three days.
Were the logs or bamboo ready [for the fence construction]?
No. We had to come back to our village to cut bamboo, and brought the bamboo back to our houses. Then we carried the bamboo poles by cart when we built the camp for them.
Did they feed you rice when you were building the camp for them?
We came back home at 12:00 pm to eat. We went back at 2:00 pm and took a rest for a while before starting work again. All the villages which were relocated had to come and build the camp. They didn't give any money.
What age were you when you first had to go and work for the Tatmadaw?
We always had to go and work for them. I was in Sixth Standard when I first had to go and work for the Burmese [Tatmadaw].
Which place did you have to do more for the Burmese Army: in Ko--- or in Ka---?
We had to do more work when we were close to the SPDC Army [Tatmadaw] camp at Ka---. They asked you to work and ordered you to meet with them. When we came back here [to Ko---] they ordered Ka--- villagers [to work] instead of us because we stay far away and Ka--- villagers stay close to them.
Do villagers find ways to reduce human right abuses?
So, the villagers do as they are ordered?
Do villagers ever go to the Camp Commander and offer a chicken or a bottle of alcohol?
Yes, we bring a chicken or beer when they order us to meet with them.
So, they don't ask you to work anymore when you bring them chicken and beer?
They do ask us to work, but their demands decrease. For example, if they ask you to finish the work within one day, when you bring them chicken and beer, they will give you another day to finish.
Do villagers plan to stop going to work for the SPDC Army [Tatmadaw]?
No, they don't plan this.
Is there a clinic in Ko--- village?
No. we go to He--- town when we get sick. When we can, we cure sicknesses in the village. But, if our sickness is serious, we go to the hospital.
Is there a health worker in Ko--- village?
Yes, there's a health worker. But you have to pay money for their services. They're Karen but they graduated from a Burmese medical school.
How much would you have to spend if you went to He--- hospital?
You'd have to pay about 100,000 kyat (US $128) if your disease is serious.
Do people go to the hospital?
Can you get treatment for free?
No. You can't get it for free.
How far is Ko--- from He---?
Some people go on foot, or by bicycle or motorbike. It takes two hours with a bicycle and one hour with a motorbike. Most people travel with bicycles. There is no waterway to travel on.
Is there a clinic in the relocation site?
No. The government comes from He--- once a month to give medicine injections for disease prevention.
Did you have to go to He--- if you got sick at the relocation site?
They had a clinic. You could get some cures there if your disease wasn't serious. If it was serious, you had to go to He--- town. If you couldn't be cured there, you'd have to go to Toungoo [Town].
Is there any support from the outside?
Yes, support from the outside has come once or twice. We're students, so our parents go to get the medicine. I went once when I was sick. I had to go outside the village.
Is there a school in the village?
Yes, there's a school but it only goes up to Fourth Standard. After we graduate Fourth Standard, we have to go to Bo---. It was a big village in the past. The villagers [in Bo---] were forced to move many times. There are about [number censored for security] households in Bo--- now. Villagers came back and stay in huts now. There's a big school in Bo--- which goes up to Eighth Standard. After graduating Eighth Standard from Bo---, you have to go to He--- town.
Who built the school in Ko---? Was it the villagers, the KNU or the government?
The government gave the order to build the school in our village. They provided bricks and cement. Villagers were on their own for the remaining materials and labour.
How many students are in Ko---?
There are about [number censored for security] students and [number censored for security] teachers.
Can the students learn Karen?
No. There's [location censored for security] in Wo---, beside our village. They teach Karen. There are a few [information censored for security] people in our village. Most villagers are [information censored for security]. We have no money to build a [location censored for security]. There are two [information censored for security] families in Ko---. I never learned Karen. I can't [read or write] Karen.
Are school materials provided?
No, we have to buy materials by ourselves. We receive no support from outside [the village].
Where do the teachers come from, the government or the village?
Teachers come from the village. They graduated Tenth Standard in the city and have come back to teach in their village.
What about the school teachers' salary?
Their salary is 60,000 kyat (US $77) per month. It's provided by the government, so villagers don't need to pay.
Is there anything else that you'd like to say?
There are many things that I want to say. The situation isn't good. We have to move every time the fighting begins.
How many years have you stayed in Ko---?
Does the SPDC Army [Tatmadaw] come to your village?
They always come. The KNU [the KNLA] also comes.
Have you had to go and work for the SPDC Army since you came back?
Yes, we always have to go and work at the Ka--- army camp. We have to go be sentries every day.
Did the work you have to do for the army decrease when you came back to your village?
Yes, it decreased.
Do you have to go and work for the KNU [KNLA]?
Who demands more: the KNU or the SPDC Army?
The Burmese Army.
What does the KNU ask for?
They ask for rice. Each house has to give one basket. This happens once a year.
Do villagers face food problems in Ko---?
Yes, there are many villagers who face food problems. This also occurred in the su see village, but the situation was more serious in the su see village. We have more time to work in Ko---. We can come back at 7:00 pm instead of 6:00 pm.