Interview | Saw H--- (male, 34), N--- village, Meh Mweh village tract, Bu Tho Township, Papun District (March 2011)
The following interview was conducted by a villager in Papun District who has been trained by KHRG to monitor human rights conditions. It is presented below translated exactly as it was received, save for minor edits for clarity and security. This interview was received along with other information from Papun District, including ten other interviews, one situation update and 98 photographs.
Marital Status: Married
Occupation: Farming a hill field
Position: Village head
How long have you been serving as village head?
I started in 2011, about three months ago.
What are your responsibilities as village head?
I don’t know. I’ll know once I’ve worked [as village head] for a longer time.
Was it your wish to become village head or did the villagers or an organisation appoint you?
When I started [as village head] in 2011, the Border Guard demanded [villagers] to go and porter. We went and, after we’d come back and had slept two nights, I was asked to take over the position [as village head]. The previous village head was afraid to continue in the position after a villager suffered an injury when we were returning [from portering].
How’d he get injured?
He got injured by a landmine. His name was K---.
Did he die and how old was he?
Yes, he died. He was about 23 years old.
Did he have a family?
Yes, he had a family. He had two children.
Did he get injured on the Border Guard’s hands [under their responsibility]?
Did the Border Guard take care of him?
No, they didn’t take care of him.
So his wife and children will be in big trouble now?
Yes, very big trouble.
Don’t the Border Guard look after them [K---’s wife and children]?
Do the villagers look after them?
Yes, the villagers look after them.
Do the three of them rely on anyone or does anyone support them?
She [K---’s wife] relies on her parents.
How many days has it been since he died?
It’s been three months.
What problems have you seen K---’s family face since he died?
His children became ill. She [K---’s wife] can’t work. The [youngest] child was a month old when he went [to porter for the Border Guard] and got injured. His youngest child was only a month old. The older child is a year old.
Did he die instantly when he stepped on the landmine?
No, it took an hour and 45 minutes [before he died].
Where was he injured?
He was injured at Ny---, in the jungle on the old road. He was returning [to N---village] when he was injured.
Where did he have to porter [the supplies for the Border Guard]?
To Meh Bpa [Border Guard camp].
How many people did he go with?
He went with three [other] people, slept for seven days and came back.
Did people [the Border Guard soldiers] hire [pay] him to go and porter?
Did you go too?
Did any fighting take place along the way when you were portering?
No fighting occurred.
What did you have to porter?
We went to porter and guard baskets of gklo tha [bullets and mortar rounds].
How heavy was [each basket]?
About ten viss (16 kg. / 35.2 lb.) and over.
Were bullets the only [things you carried]?
Bullets and [cooking] pots.
Do you know the Border Guard unit’s battalion number?
It was Company #5 led by Ba Yoh.
Were any Burmese [Tatmadaw] soldiers with you when you portered?
Did they arrest you to get you to porter or ask permission from the village head?
They asked several village heads to each send four villagers [to porter] from their villages.
Did the Border Guard come and send you back [to N--- village]?
No, they didn’t send us back. We started to head back by ourselves and went back to get them [after K--- stepped on the landmine] and then they came.
How far is it to where the incident took place [at Ny---] from the Border Guard [camp at Meh Bpa]?
It’s a two hour walk.
How far is it to where the incident took place from your village?
I don’t think we can reach the hill [at Ny---] in a day from our village.
Do you know who planted the landmine he stepped on?
I don’t know, but they [the Border Guard soldiers] accused the KNU [Karen National Union].
Didn’t you come back by the same way when you went?
We went back along an overgrown shortcut. We came back on the old road. They [the Border Guard soldiers] said: "You don’t need to worry, we already cleared the road." K--- stepped on the landmine at 7:00 am.
How large is the hole of the blast?
About one cubit around.
Which of his legs was injured?
His right leg.
Did the Border Guard provide medical treatment when he got injured?
Not right away, but they did after one and a half hours. About ten minutes after he started to receive treatment, he died. He died on the way when we were carrying him back [to N---].
Did you bury him along the way or when you reached your village?
We buried him [along the way] at C---.
How far is it from where you buried him to your village?
Maybe a ten or eleven hour walk.
Why didn’t the Border Guard come back along with you?
I don’t know.
Do they work together with the Tatmadaw and get their salaries from the Tatmadaw?
How much do they get paid per month?
I heard [someone] say an officer will get over 400,000 kyat (US $519.48) starting from this month [March 2011].
How much did they get before?
Before, they got 360,000 kyat (US $467.53).
How much do privates get?
A private got 66,000 kyat (US $85.71) before, but now they get 160,000 kyat (US $207.79).
What about a position of Thra [non-commissioned officers in the army]?
I don’t know. I just heard what I know from other villagers when I went and portered.
How many people [soldiers] were there when you went and portered?
The group we went and stayed with didn’t have a lot of people [soldiers]. There were about 20 or 25 Border Guard soldiers.
Did they [the Border Guard soldiers] tell you what their objectives were, where they would go and what they would do?
They said they had to go and guard the [Burma-Thailand] border. They said they’d set up checkpoints and collect taxes. Then, they said, KNU [activities] will decrease [become weaker or halt].
There wasn’t any fighting when you went to porter?
Did they provide you with food when you portered for them [the Border Guard]?
Yes, they did, like pork and goat meat.
Did they buy it [the food]?
Yes, they bought [the food] when I portered for them. I don’t know about after, whether they bought or not.
Did they let you sleep in a good place?
Yes, they did.
Did [Border Guard] soldiers follow you back after you went to porter?
No, they [Border Guard] soldiers didn’t follow us back. We went on our own. I don’t know about set tha this month. [They] said they’ll stop [demanding set tha]. I won’t hire [other people to go as set tha instead] whether they stop [demanding] or not. I can’t afford to [pay other people to go] anymore.
Have you gone [to porter] for them [the Border Guard] since that person stepped on the landmine?
What did you do instead?
I hired other people [to go instead].
How much do you have to pay [in lieu of portering]?
They said we could pay 200,000 kyat (US $259.74) per month.
How much does your village have to pay per month?
My village pays [to avoid sending] three people.
Just your village?
We pay together with another village, so it costs a total of 400,000 kyat (US $ 519.48).
How much does your village pay?
130,000 kyat (US $168.83).
How many households are there in your village?
There are seven households.
How much money do you collect from each household?
13,000 kyat (US $16.88). No, not 13,000 kyat, because there are just seven [full] households. There are ten households [if you] include those of widows.
I want to ask you more about the person killed by the landmine. What’s the biggest problem his family’s now facing after he died?
The biggest problem they face is [lack of] money. They also don’t have enough food and can’t even afford things like salt and chilli, but there’s nothing they can do.
Does the Border Guard not provide any support to the family after he died?
Do active [armed] groups in the area use landmines a lot?
I don’t know about that.
What about the areas around you? Are there many places that you were told not to go?
I dare not to say anything about the other side of T--- because T--- is a different [area], but around here, we can still move about [freely]. Neither black nor yellow [Karen National Liberation Army, KNLA, nor Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, DKBA] use [landmines]. We can still travel. They let us know if they plant [landmines]. So far they’ve said nothing.
Is your village named N---?
Yes, it’s called that by Burmese. We call it E--- [in Karen].
Are there ten households?
How many people live in the village?
I don’t know. I can’t tell you because I didn’t bring my notebook. There are many villagers.
What do they do to make a living?
They cultivate hill fields and cut and sell bamboo. They don’t do logging but they harvest bamboo.
Do they all have enough food?
No, they don’t all have enough food. Most of them don’t have enough food.
Where do villagers who don’t have enough food go and get food?
They cut bamboo and sell it to earn money. Sometimes people buy it, but sometime people don’t buy it. So they just have to go and borrow food from their brothers and sisters [friends and families]. They just look after each other in this way.
Is there a way to do business?
No, there’s no way.
When was N--- village founded?
The village was founded after dta keh dtaw tha [literally, ‘the incident’] occurred. Before, when L--- village was established, people were already living here. Then people came [from L---] and founded the village when the DKBA was formed.
Has your village faced problems since the time you became a village head?
No, there’ve been no problems.
Have the Tatmadaw and Border Guard come here?
No, they haven’t come, but they did come in the past.
Have you heard of the Border Guard or Tatmadaw killing any villagers within the past few months?
There were no killings, but they beat [a villager].
Who’d they beat?
His name’s Pa G---. He’s 22 years old.
Who beat him, the Border Guard or Tatmadaw?
It was the one who defected and a lin way [literally ‘entered the light’; the phrase ‘joined the legal fold’ is also used commonly used in this context to refer to soldiers that defect from the KNLA and join government or government-allied troops] to Bo Tu Ghaw [a DKBA officer]. I think, maybe he [the one who defected] was a local force commander or second in command. It happened in 2010 when people attacked Ta Bper Pa [area]. He beat him [Pa G---] while he was carrying a wooden plank.
When did they beat him?
I don’t remember the month. It was DKBA [soldiers that beat him].
Yes, it was in 2010.
Have they abused your villagers since you became the village head?
Did you enter any villages when you went and portered for the Border Guard?
We entered to Nyat Tat Law, Wah Muh Law, Htee Ghay Law and Wah Day Mu village.
Did you see or hear that they looted things from villagers when they entered the villages?
Did they rape any villagers?
No fighting happened when you went and portered for them?
Can you tell me more about the Tatmadaw’s and the Border Guard’s operations; like if they’re planning anything?
Now, I’ve heard nothing about that. When I went and portered, they [the Border Guard soldiers] said: "I eat [get] Burmese salary, so I’ll do what I want. Villagers have to give [me things] when I ask."
Is there any [army] camp close to your village?
No, there’s no camp [nearby]. Their [the Border Guard’s] camp was abandoned when they went to Meh Bpa.
Was the camp named Meh Mweh Hta [Daw Mweh]?
Yes, it was Meh Mweh Hta camp.
When did they move?
They moved about four months ago because it was almost a month before we had to go and work for the Border Guard. So it’s at least three months ago.
Do any forced labour demands still occur for things like cutting bamboo and delivering thatch shingles?
Yes, yesterday they [the Border Guard ordered us to cut trees and bamboo. My village has to cut 100 bamboos poles, but the KNU said not to give them to them, so we won’t do it.
Where did they say you’d have to carry the bamboo poles to?
To Gk’Ter Tee [Ka Dtaing Dtee].
Will they pay you if you deliver them?
They said they won’t pay.
Would the KNU [KNLA] let you go to deliver the bamboo if they paid you for it?
Yes, they’d let us go if they paid.
How far is it from your village to Gk’Ter Tee?
It takes about two hours by boat. It takes half a day on foot.
Do you know the name of the [Border Guard] leader in Gk’Ter Tee?
I don’t know whether the leader’s changed or not now. I haven’t been there [for a long time].
They asked you to cut bamboo. What are they going to use it for?
They said they’ll build houses for the soldiers’ wives and children.
Do you think what they’re doing is correct?
No, I think it’s wrong.
I think that they should do [those things] on their own because they receive a salary.
What should they do when they ask for things from you?
I think they just oppress civilians.
What should they do when they ask you for something?
They just oppress civilians.
Should they buy things because they receive a salary?
Actually, they should do when they take from civilians, but it seems like they’re trying to kill civilians and destroy civilians’ lands and the KNU organisation.
Can they destroy the KNU?
No, it’ll never be destroyed.
Do you think they [the Border Guard soldiers] will get a salary from the government for their whole life or not?
It’s like a small fish being fed to grow bigger. People will eat it when the time is right to eat it [meaning the Tatmadaw will use the Border Guard soldiers whenever they need them]. They won’t [get a salary] forever.
Do they [the Border Guard soldiers] still demand set tha and porters’ fees?
They said they’ll stop [making these demands], but I’m not sure whether they’ll stop or not.
Who said they’ll stop?
Pa U---, he said he’ll stop.
What’s Pa U---’s [real] name?
His [real] name’s Pa U---.
Have you gone to meet him since you came back from portering?
How many times have you collected money [to pay porter and set tha fees]?
Once to cover two months’ payment.
How much is a month’s fees?
200,000 kyat (US $259.74).
Does just your village have to pay?
No, my village gave 130,000 kyat (US $168.83) for each month and 270,000 kyat (US $350.65) came from R---, so it added up to 400,000 kyat (US $519.48) [each month].
Who did you go and give the money to?
I went and gave the money to a villager, a set tha. He went and gave it to Maung Chit [Commander of Border Guard Battalion #1013].
How will they use the money? For something else, for themselves or for hiring porters?
I don’t know whether they’ll hire porters or not. He said there are porters. He just needs money [to pay the porters].
Is there a school in your village?
Yes, the school goes up to the third standard.
Who founded the school, was it the villagers?
Yes, the school was founded by the villagers.
No other organisation was involved?
How many teachers are there?
Before, there were two teachers. There’s only one now.
Where did the teachers come from?
They came from E--- [N---].
They weren’t from an organisation or the SPDC government?
How much do you pay for a year’s student fees?
Each student has to pay 10,000 kyat (US $12.99) for a year.
Is the teacher single or married?
Is there any special support [for the teacher]?
Yes, the teacher receives support from above [groups], but I don’t know how much.
How many students are in the school?
There are 13 students.
Can they study freely? Have there been any disruptions to their schooling?
I have two children. My youngest child’s schooling has been disrupted due to illness. My oldest child hasn’t been disrupted since he began school. He went to school until he finished all the standards.
Do KNLA, Border Guard or Tatmadaw soldiers come and give you trouble?
Can they [the children] go to school if those groups come?
Yes, they can.
Can they teach Karen language in school?
Yes, they teach Karen, Burmese and English.
Do the students get support from outside, like pens and notebooks?
Yes, it [support] comes from above, from the KNU.
Is there a medic in your village?
No, it had one. But it was K---, the one who already died. He could cure people and we know him as medic.
How did he become a medic? Is he from the Tatmadaw or did he learn on his own?
He’s a civilian.
Can you work freely in your village? Can you travel freely?
We can move around [freely], but not too far.
Why don’t you dare go too far?
Because of the obstacles posed by the Tatmadaw and the Border Guard. They question you and they close the river, like they did recently, so we can’t visit places downstream.
What about your work? Are there any obstacles to go and do your work?
There is no obstacle now.
Could you go and sleep at your farm hut last year?
No, we couldn’t go and sleep at our farm huts in 2010.
Who stopped you?
The Border Guard, although they hadn’t yet become the Border Guard at the time. They were still the DKBA.
What did they say if you went and slept at your farm hut?
They’d say that you were the spy of the black scarves [the KNLA]. They’d shoot you if they saw you. They’d kill anyone who tried [to sleep in the huts]. You could only bring enough food for yourself [to the huts].
Could you leave food in your farm hut?
No, you couldn’t. You had to bring back the pot too. They didn’t allow you to build walls on your farm hut [so they could easily see in].
Do you think what they did was correct?
No, they shouldn’t do this. As I believe, the way the fighting is done must be done in a different way. They can’t say they fight for the country if they fight in this way. Actually, we live and we have to work to make a living, farming and sleeping in our huts. This is our job. As we know, they’re fighting to destroy our livelihoods.
Do they really fight to destroy civilians’ livelihoods?
Yes, my farm crop’s been nearly totally destroyed.
Was your crop a success or was it destroyed by natural [causes]?
No, it’s not going well. It was destroyed by rain and eaten by wild pigs. People also are afraid to go and harvest their crops. Nature [the weather] isn’t the same as it’s been before. So it’s become a root cause of the problems villagers face. A lot of paddy has been lost. People who normally get 100 baskets (2090 kg. / 4608 lb.) are now only getting 70 or 80 baskets (1463 kg. / 3225.6 lb. or 1672 kg. / 3686.4 lb. respectively) whereas some people who used to get 140 or 150 (2926 kg. / 6451.2 lb. or 3135 kg. / 6912 lb. respectively) are now only getting 100 baskets. It’s not the same as before. There isn’t enough food. As for my farm, it was eaten [by wild pigs] and destroyed by heavy rains, so I didn’t get any rice at all.
Have you seen the Tatmadaw or the Border Guard come and do development projects in your village in any way?
Are there any other issues you want to tell me about?
I have many things that I want to say about my village. I’m always faced with difficulties like sickness. I don’t have money to buy medicine or enough food. The other problem is the Tatmadaw. They oppress [villagers]. Recently, they ordered me to meet them and then they demanded a pig. I had to pay for the cost [of buying the pig].
When did [the meeting] happen?
A few days ago.
Have you already collected the money [to pay for the pig]?
Yes, I already collected 1,000 kyat (US $1.30) from each household.
Was it [the Border Guard Commander] Pa U--- [who demanded the pig]?
Yes, it was Pa U---.
How many villages do you pay together with?
We’re three villages: O---, R--- and E--- village.
How much does a pig cost?
50,000 kyat (US $64.94).
[Two questions redacted for security purposes.]
How much does a big tin of rice (16 kg. / 35.2 lb.) cost?
Last year, a big tin of rice was 7,000 kyat (US $9.09).
How much does a viss of chicken cost?
One viss of chicken costs 5,000 kyat (US $6.49).
What about a viss of pork?
A viss of pork costs 2,000 kyat (US $2.60).
What about [a viss of] goat meat?
2,500 kyat (US $3.25).
Is there anyone raising animals in your village?
But you raise animals for yourself?
No, even me, I don’t keep animals. I don’t have many chickens. I just have one or two. I don’t have a pig, goat or cows. Some people have one or two to plough their farm. They don’t have any animals they can sell.