Thaton Interview: Saw L---, October 2010

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Thaton Interview: Saw L---, October 2010

Published date:
Saturday, June 2, 2012

This report contains the full transcript of an interview conducted during October 2010 in Bilin Township, Thaton District by a community member trained by KHRG to monitor human rights conditions. The community member interviewed 24-year-old Saw L---, a motorboat driver from P--- village, who described being forced to transport rations and ammunition by boat to a Tatmadaw camp at Waw Mu village four or five times a year. He also described restrictions on the transportation of goods such as petrol and machinery, specifically along routes where gold-mining takes place, and taxes levied at checkpoints along the river by DKBA and Tatmadaw troops. The presence of seven DKBA and three Tatmadaw checkpoints on the stretch of river between Waw Mu and Bilin, mean that Saw L--- can incur costs of approximately US $122.25 on a single return trip. Villagers from P--- are reportedly required to perform set tha, or messenger duties, at Waw Mu and Meh Pray Kee camps; villagers have responded to this by establishing a system whereby such duties are shared, with villagers paying a fee of around 30,000 kyat to the villager serving as set tha on behalf of the village for that particular month. However, the forced labour demands reduce the time that villagers have to spend on their own work. Information is also provided on the transformation of DKBA battalions into the Tatmadaw Border Guard, with DKBA soldiers in Bilin Township described as reluctant to cooperate. Saw L--- also described events leading up to the November 2010 National Election in Burma, including a meeting in which P--- village leaders were required to sign documents provided by the Tatmadaw indicating support for the Burma government at that time on behalf of all P--- villagers over 18 years of age.

Footnotes

[1] KHRG trains community members 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, community members are trained to use loose question guidelines, but also to encourage interviewees to speak freely about recent events, raise 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 Thaton District can be found in the report, "Sustained Tatmadaw resupply operations in Thaton, Nyaunglebin and Papun during ceasefire," KHRG, May 2012.

[3] Loh ah pay is a Burmese term now commonly used in reference to forced labour, although traditionally referring to voluntary service for temples or the local community, not military or state projects.

[4] 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 report and "SPDC" is therefore retained in the translation of this report.

[5] As of June 1st 2012, all conversion estimates for the kyat in this interview are based on a rate of 818 kyat to US $1. This reflects new measures taken by Burma's central bank on April 2nd 2012 to initiate a managed float of the kyat, thus replacing the previous fixed rate of 6.5 kyat to US $1.

[6] 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.

[7] While Tatmadaw and DKBA units have for years operated together, this operational hierarchy became formalised with the DKBA's transformation into a 'Border Guard Force' under control of the Tatmadaw and containing a fixed number quota of Tatmadaw officers. This transformation dates to at least May 2009, when commanding officers stated in high-level meeting of DKBA officers that the DKBA would transform itself into a 'Border Guard Force.' Leaked minutes from the May 2009 meeting are retained by KHRG on file. Ceremonies attended by Tatmadaw commanders officially announced 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.