Papun Interview: Saw H---, March 2011


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Papun Interview: Saw H---, March 2011

Published date:
Wednesday, February 8, 2012

This report contains the full transcript of an interview conducted during March 2011 in Bu Tho Township, Papun District, by a villager trained by KHRG to monitor human rights conditions. The villager interviewed Saw H---, a 34-year-old hillfield farmer and the head of N--- village. Saw H--- described an incident in which a 23-year-old villager stepped on and was killed by a landmine at the beginning of 2011, at the time when he, Saw H--- and three other villagers were returning to N--- after serving as unpaid porters for Border Guard soldiers based at Meh Bpa. Saw H--- also detailed demands for the collection and provision of bamboo poles for construction of soldiers’ houses at Gk’Ter Tee, as well as the payment of 400,000 kyat ((US $ 519.48) in lieu of the provision of porters to Maung Chit, Commander of Border Guard Battalion #1013, by villages in Meh Mweh village tract. These payments were described in the previous KHRG report "Papun Situation Update: Bu Tho Township, April 2011." Saw H--- also described demands for the provision of a pig to Border Guard soldiers three days before this interview took place and the beating of a villager by DKBA soldiers in 2010. He noted the ways in which movement restrictions that prevent villagers from travelling on rivers and sleeping in or bringing food to their farm huts negatively impact harvests and food security. Saw H--- explained that villagers respond to such concerns by sharing food amongst themselves, refusing to comply with forced labour demands, and cultivating relationships with non-state armed groups to learn the areas in which landmines have been planted.


[1] 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.

[2] In order to increase the transparency of KHRG methodology and more directly communicate the experiences and perspectives of villagers in eastern Burma, KHRG aims to make all field information received available on the KHRG website once it has been processed and translated, subject only to security considerations. As companion to this, a redesigned website will be released in 2012. In the meantime, KHRG's most recently-published field information from Papun District can be found in the Report, "Papun Situation Update: Bu Tho Township, May to June 2011," KHRG, February 2012.

[3] A viss is a unit of weight equivalent to 1.6 kg. or 3.52 lb.

[4] A cubit is a standard measurement of the length commonly referred to in Karen as the length from one’s finger tips to one’s elbow, about 18 inches / 45.7 cm.

[5] All conversion estimates for the Kyat in this interview are based on the fluctuating informal exchange rate rather than the government’s official fixed rate of 6.5 kyat to US $1. As of January 11th 2012, this unofficial rate of exchange was US $1 = 770 kyat . This figure is used for all calculations above.

[6] In Karen the term normally used to describe non-commissioned officers (NCOs), such as corporals and sergeants, is Thu Thra.

[7] Set tha is a Burmese term for forced labour duty as a messenger stationed at army camps or bases and serving as a go-between to deliver orders from army officers to village heads, but also involving other menial tasks when no messages are in need of delivery.

[8] According to a KHRG researcher, when villagers refer to ‘dta keh dtaw tha’ or ‘the incident’ they mean an incident in which the village was directly attacked, as a result of the scorched earth policy of ‘pya ley pya’, literally ‘cut the four cuts’, which was a counter-insurgency strategy employed by the Tatmadaw as early as the 1950’s, and officially adopted in the mid-1960’s, aiming to destroy links between insurgents and sources of funding, supplies, intelligence, and recruits from local villages. See Martin Smith. Burma: Insurgency and the Politics of Ethnicity, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999 pp. 258-262.

[9] The 1994 split in the KNLA resulted in the formation of the DKBA, the subsequent fall of KNU headquarters at Manerplaw and, according to a KHRG report published at the time, impacted the lives of tens of thousands of villagers in the surrounding areas, as villages were destroyed or forcibly relocated and villagers fled across the border to seek refuge in Thailand. See SLORC’S Northern Karen Offensive, KHRG, March 29th 1995; KHRG Commentary, KHRG, February 5th 1995. For background information, see Ashley South, Ethnic politics in Burma: States of conflict, p. 57 – 58.

[10] Bo is Burmese prefix meaning ‘officer’.

[11] In a report previously published by KHRG in September 2011, a villager trained by KHRG to document human rights abuses described the levying of 200,000 kyat porter fees on Meh Mweh Hta village tract, following a meeting with Battalion Commander Maung Chit from Battalion #1013. See "Papun Situation Update: Bu Tho Township, April 2011 ," KHRG, September 2011: "If I have to describe the problem in detail: a unit of the DKBA [Democratic Karen Buddhist Army] who agreed to become Border Guard Battalion #1013, led by Battalion Commander Maung Chit … came to Meh Nyaw monastery to hold a meeting on January 15th 2011. Every village from Meh Mweh Hta … had to come and attend the meeting. In the meeting, Battalion Commander Maung Chit from Battalion #1013 decided that Meh Mweh Hta village has to pay money [in lieu of providing] two porters and the total amount of money is 200,000 kyat (US $271). The village would have to pay this every month. There are about 50 households in Meh Mweh Hta, so this has become a big problem for the villagers."

[12] 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 military, 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 conducted the interview and interviewee, and "SPDC" is therefore retained in the translation of this interview.