Thaton Interview: Naw L---
Thaton Interview: Naw L---
This report contains the full transcript of an interview conducted in February 2011 by a villager trained by KHRG to monitor human rights conditions. The villager interviewed Naw L---, a female village head from Bilin Township, Thaton District. Naw L--- described being interrogated and threatened at meetings with local Tatmadaw officers, including at times when she was pregnant. She described the killing of her son-in-law by then-DKBA Brigade #333 soldiers, and the defection of a Tatmadaw soldier to the KNLA, after which Tatmadaw soldiers arbitrarily arrested and tortured villagers and ordered Naw L--- to provide a firearm to replace the one taken by the defecting soldier. She also described how Tatmadaw soldiers forced H--- villagers to banish persons suspected of being KNLA soldiers and burn down their houses. Naw L--- explained that villagers face ongoing demands for forced labour, including forced portering of military rations, messenger and guide duty, for Tatmadaw, Border Guard and KNLA troops, but that she and her villagers employ a multitude of strategies to resist or mitigate abuse, including partial-compliance with forced labour demands; cultivating relationships with different, and oppositional, armed groups; lying about non-state armed groups’ soldiers and their operations; and successfully raising complaints to commanding officers about abuses perpetrated by their inferiors
 KHRG trains villagers in eastern Burma to document individual human rights abuses using a standardised reporting format; conduct interviews with other villagers; and write general updates on the situation in areas with which they are familiar. When conducting interviews, villagers are trained to use loose question guidelines, but also to encourage interviewees to speak freely about recent events, raise issues that they consider to be important and share their opinions or perspectives on abuse and other local dynamics.
 When these documents have been processed and translated by KHRG and when sufficient information has been compiled and analysed, a full Field Report on the situation in Thaton District will be available on the KHRG website. Until then, KHRG's most recent analysis of the situation in Thaton District can be found in the recent Field Report, Exploitative abuse and villager responses in Thaton District, KHRG, November 2009.
 In Karen, the Burmese phrases Na Ah Pa (SPDC) and Na Wa Ta (SLORC) are commonly used to refer to the Burmese government or to Burma's state army, the Tatmadaw. Many older Karen villagers who were accustomed to using the phrase Na Wa Ta (SLORC) before 1997 continue to use that phrase, even though the SLORC has not officially existed since 1997. Similarly, despite the official dissolution of the SPDC in March 2011, many Karen villagers continue to use the phrase Na Ah Pa (SPDC) to refer to the Burmese government or to the Tatmadaw; see: "Mission Accomplished as SPDC 'dissolved' ," Myanmar Times, April 4-10th 2011. The term Na Ah Pa was used by the villager who wrote this conducted this interview and interviewee and "SPDC" is therefore retained in the translation of this interview.
 Although Naw L--- did not provide her age during this interview, a KHRG researcher who has met with her estimated her age at the time of this interview to be over 50 years old.
 It is probable that Naw L--- is here referring to the role frequently adopted by village heads of negotiating, or attempting to negotiate, with military officials to secure the release of villagers from military custody. This may involve serving as 'guarantor' for the detained villager's behaviour after their release or may necessitate the payment of an arbitrary fine. Village heads also tend to serve as the intermediary between military officials and local villagers when demands for forced labour or payment are issued and often face threats of violence as they attempt to balance the interests of their own community with demands issued by multiple and oppositional armed groups. For more on negotiation tactics employed by village heads in eastern Burma, see: Civilian and Military order documents: March 2008 to July 2011, KHRG, October 2011; "Village heads negotiate with Tatmadaw, armed groups to forestall human rights threats amid continued conflict in Dooplaya District," KHRG, August 2011; Village agency: Rural rights and resistance in a militarized Karen State, KHRG, November 2008, pp. 93 – 95. For a recent example of villagers released from military custody following the payment of arbitrary fines, see: "Papun Interview: Maung Y---, February 2011," KHRG, September 2011.
 The term DKBA has been used in this interview by both the villager who conducted the interview and the interviewee to refer to DKBA units and soldiers prior to their incorporation into Border Guard units and to those DKBA units and soldiers which now form Border Guard forces. In this case, it is likely that Naw L--- is referring to DKBA units prior to the transformation of large portions of the DKBA into Border Guard Forces in September 2010; see for example: "Border Guard Forces of South-East Command formed in Paingkyon of Kayin State," New Light of Myanmar, August 22nd 2010; and "Border Guard Force formed at Atwinkwinkalay region, Myawady Township, Kayin State," New Light of Myanmar, August 25th 2010.
 Set tha is a Burmese term for forced labour duty as a messenger usually stationed at army camps or bases and serving as a go-between to deliver orders from army officers to village heads. However, it can also involve other menial tasks when no messages are in need of delivery as well as when villagers are tasked within villages to provide messaging, guiding, portering and other services to incoming armed groups.
 A KHRG researcher who met with the interviewee explained that the metaphor used here is an oblique reference to women's vulnerability to rape when they have to guide soldiers unaccompanied, the thorn being the male soldiers and the leaf being the woman who has to guide them. The use of the vulnerable 'leaf' metaphor may also refer to the villagers themselves, caught in between numerous armed groups and exploited from all sides.
 KHRG has on several occasions reported incidents and abuses involving Bo Moe Kyo, a former commanding officer within DKBA Brigade #333 and Gk'Sah Wah Special Battalion #777. He and the soldiers with him have become notorious across Thaton, Papun and Pa'an districts for their brutality towards villagers; see: Surviving in Shadow: Widespread Militarization and the Systematic Use of Forced Labour in the Campaign for Control of Thaton District, KHRG, January 2006; and Central Papun District: Abuse and the maintenance of military control, KHRG, August 2010.
 KHRG has previously reported abuses committed by Column Commander, Bo Than Htun of DKBA Brigade #333; see: Exploitative abuse and villager responses in Thaton District, KHRG, November 2009.
 Thingyan is the Burmese name for the water festival marking the Buddhist New Year, which usually falls in mid-April. In Thailand, the same festival is called Songkhran.
 While Naw L--- did not clarify any further as to when 'in the past' she was referring, the KHRG researcher who translated this interview into English believed she was referring to times before the KNLA split and the DKBA was subsequently formed in 1994, when DKBA soldiers were part of the KNLA.
 It is likely that Naw L--- is referring to the transformation of large portions of the DKBA into Border Guard Forces in September 2010; see for example: "Border Guard Forces of South-East Command formed in Paingkyon of Kayin State," New Light of Myanmar, August 22nd 2010; and "Border Guard Force formed at Atwinkwinkalay region, Myawady Township, Kayin State," New Light of Myanmar, August 25th 2010.
 The expression 'three hooks in their hearts' is used in Karen to suggest that acts of kindness should be perceived as dishonest and/or manipulative.
 Seh aye mu is a Burmese term describing a person who holds an authoritative position below that of village head and village secretary with control over ten households. These positions are commonly found within larger villages with many households.
 Naw L--- is not here implying that the KNLA will steal things from the Tatmadaw, rather that they will do what is in their nature to do.