Dooplaya Situation Update: Kawkareik Township and Kya In Township, April to June 2012

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Dooplaya Situation Update: Kawkareik Township and Kya In Township, April to June 2012

Published date:
Friday, September 14, 2012

This report includes a situation update submitted to KHRG in June 2012 by a community member who described events occurring in Dooplaya District during the period between April 2012 and June 2012, specifically in relation to landmines, education, health, taxation and demand, forced labour, land confiscation, displacement, and restrictions on freedom of movement and trade. After the 2012 ceasefire between the Burma government and the KNU, remaining landmines still present serious risks for local villagers in Kawkareik Township because they are unable to travel. Details are provided about 57-year-old B--- village head, Saw L---, 70-year-old Saw E--- and Saw T---, who each stepped on landmines. During May 2012, Tatmadaw soldiers ordered three villagers' to supply hand tractors to transport materials for them from Aung May K' La village to Ke---, plus Tatmadaw soldiers ordered five hand tractors to transports materials from Kyaik Doh village to Kya In Seik Gyi Town. Also described in the report are villagers' opinions on the ongoing ceasefire and whether or not they feel it is benefiting them, as well as village responses to land confiscation by Tatmadaw forces. After a village head was informed that any empty properties found would be confiscated, villagers in the area stayed temporarily in other peoples' houses on request of the owner.

Situation Update | Kawkareik Township and Kya In Township, Dooplaya District (April to June 2012)

The following situation update was written by a community member in Dooplaya District who has been trained by KHRG to monitor human rights conditions. It is presented below translated exactly as originally written, save for minor edits for clarity and security.[1] This report was received along with other information from Dooplaya District.[2]

The affiliation between Burmese soldiers and the DKBA

On April 25th 2012, I went and met with a 38-year-old DKBA Democratic Karen Buddhist Army[3] Headquarter Commander named Saw Hp---. I asked him about the affiliation between Burmese soldiers [Tatmadaw] and the DKBA. He told me that they [DKBA soldiers] get better opportunities,[4] but they have to reside under the control of the Tatmadaw. If they need something, they order it from us, then we have to organise [it] for them. For instance, if they need hand tractors for transportation, they order us to find one for them.

As for my point of view regarding the affiliation between the Tatmadaw and the DKBA, I went amongst the villagers, listened to what they had to say and thought about it. Then, I realised that it seems like the Tatmadaw try and convince the DKBA to act the same as the Burmese [Tatmadaw]. The DKBA travel back and forth meeting many people and have a close relationship with the Tatmadaw, and the way they live is not the same as Kaw Thoo Lei[5] soldiers [Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA)].

The landmine predicament after the January 2012 ceasefire[6] 

On April 29th 2012, I followed a route where I travelled from Kaw Hser to Htee Ther Leh and then followed a trail onto K'Law Ghaw. I saw that DKBA soldiers had stuck two red warning signs to two separate trees along the way, the warning signs were to signal that landmines had been placed there. The signs and landmines were put there by DKBA Battalion #907 soldiers, who are under the control of general Na Kha Mwe. On April 29th 2012, I met with 42-year-old Saw M---, from P---village. I saw two signs along the path from Htee Ther Leh to K'Law Ghaw village, so I asked him whether landmines definitely existed under the two signs. He replied to me that landmines were definitely placed there, plus, that landmines also existed at the source of the water channel on the Wah Hsguh Poo Mountain as well.

Between Htee Ther Leh and Waw Lay, and Waw Lay and U Kray Hta, there are smaller amounts of landmines; this is due to the fact that these places are situated close to the Tatmadaw Phyu Ha Kon army camp. If someone were to say, 'landmines are not there,' this would not be true. DKBA Battalion #907 and Kaw Thoo Lei planted those landmines whereas Burmese soldiers [Tatmadaw] just plant landmines around their camp. Htee Ther Leh, Waw Lay and U Kray Hta are close to the Tatmadaw army camp named Phyu Ha Kon.

There are more landmines between U Kray Hta village and Wa Mee Hta village. Between these two places there are t'la aw la trees.[8] Since 2010, villagers, especially from Shwe Aye Myaing and U Kray Hta have dared not go there to gather t'la aw la leaves due to the placement of landmines by DKBA Battalion #907.

It can be said that landmines are planted around almost the entire area of Kawkareik Township. Landmines exist in the KNLA Battalion #18-held area, situated to the east of the Dawna mountain range, or Taw Naw Muh Htaw,[9] and the KNLA's Battalion #103-held area, which stretches from Kya K'Wa village to Per Kler village. The Battalion Commander for #18 is called Khoh Htoo.

The consequence of landmines

I reported that landmines exist in Taw Naw Muh Htaw because I met with a D--- villager in Noh Poh Refugee Camp on May 13th 2012. I asked him whether or not villagers dare travelling back and forth through the forest along the path from Kaw Hser [village] to Ta Uh Hta village. Saw K--- told me, "Not yet, landmines are there. Landmines exist under the path, beside the path and on the mountains. People have not dared travelling back and forth because of these dangerous landmines." The Landmines were put there by DKBA soldiers and KNLA soldiers.

Villagers' views on the ceasefire

On May 2nd 2012, I met with a 60-year-old N--- village head named Saw A---. I asked him what he thought about the ceasefire between the KNLA and the Tatmadaw. He replied that, "The SPDC [State Peace and Development Council] has untied the political problem which they have tied only a little bit. If they don't do this, foreign countries pressure them in many ways."[10] On May 5th 2012, I met with a 50-year-old refugee named Saw D--- from section #9, Mi--- Refugee Camp. I asked him what he, as a refugee, thought about the ceasefire, he replied, "This would be very good, if it was real and stable, but the previous cease-fire was nothing". On the same day, I met with a 45-year-old thara [teacher], Saw H--- from Y---, a man who I met near to K'Ma Kler village. I asked him about the same issue. He said, "We can't say this ceasefire is real, we still have to wait and see whether or not in the future it is stable, and whether it will be good for the public."

Land confiscation

Concerning land confiscation, there are no hot issues regarding land confiscation in my area. Since 2011, the Burmese police have been based between Waw Lay and Htee Ther Leh, at Aung May K' La Camp. They are La Wa Ka [Immigration Police] police who have started making Burmese ID cards since 2011 to make sure that everyone is registered. The Burmese police gave an order to the villagers who had fled over the border to Thailand during fighting between the Tatmadaw and the DKBA in 2010, that if they do not come back and start living in their homes once more then they would be forfeiting the ownership of the properties in question to the government. Some people have returned, others have asked other villagers to occupy their dwellings, whereas as some are yet to return.

In 2010, villagers fled to the Thai side, then, most of them came back in late 2011 and early 2012. If the government takes over the houses, they will also confiscate the land on which they are built. The Tatmadaw informed the village head of N---, named Saw A---, about this proposal.

Education

Education is very important. Thousands of children have lost their right to an education as a result of the conflict that happened between the DKBA and Tatmadaw in 2010. I will not mention about other people on this issue, instead, my own daughter, who was studying in one standard at N--- high school during the period, close to the end of the 2010 academic year, was again forced to study at one standard at Thoo Mweh Hkee Post-Ten school in 2011 due to the fact that we had to flee during the time close to the end of 2010. Some people could only study up to four and five standards because their parents fled to Thailand and Karen schools do not exist at every place in Thailand, so some of the children have to start studying from kindergarten.

On April 20th 2012, [censored for security] organisation held a meeting in Thoo Mweh Kee Thai village, which I joined. The wife of the Kawkareik Township leader who passed away, lives in Bweh Klah and she told me that in Ht---village Burmese soldiers do not allow people to teach in the Karen language to students, and how this is a human rights abuse, so she asked me, "Where is a group that can collect the information about human rights?"

Healthcare

Regarding health care, responsible people should be aware of the situation in the field. Yet, [censored for the security] organisation has not been in many villages. As far as I know, about 50% of children and pregnant women have not been immunised against diseases. Villages such as B---, W---, Te---, Me---, Th---, De--- and N--- are situated in places where [censored for the security] organisation cannot go to them due to the fact that they are so close to Tatmadaw army camps. The villagers do not trust the Burmese soldiers' prevention medicines. There are a lot of difficulties for them because they have no Thai ID card to be able to go to a Thai hospital, and also cannot speak Thai and do not have enough money anyway. We just have to live day-by-day, and see what our fate brings; if we are lucky, we will be alive and if we are unlucky, then we will die.

Villagers' livelihood

Along the border, people mostly farm corn plantations, do logging or sell things. People who farm corn plantations encounter many obstacles. Firstly, they have to pay a tax for the plantation. If the plantation is of the width that a big tin[11] of corn seeds can be grown, then the tax is 100 baht. For larger plantations, the tax will increase. If a plantation is wide enough for five big tins of corn seeds, then the tax will be 500 baht. A further tax also has to be paid after harvesting the corn. Villagers must pay 10 baht for one big tin of corn and 20 baht for one big tin of ground nut. The plantation tax is paid only to the Ko Per Baw [DKBA].[12] As for the corn tax, this has to be paid to three groups: the KNLA, Ko Per Baw and the Tatmadaw. The Ko Per Baw collect 10 baht per big tin of corn, whereas the KNLA take 3 baht for one big tin of corn. Villagers have to pay too much tax.

The DKBA and Kaw Thoo Lei provide permission letters for hand tractors and each hand tractor must have two permission letters; one from the DKBA and one from the Kaw Thoo Lei. Each villager on one hand tractor must have one permission letter. Villagers have been writing for this permission since 2009. People who do logging have to write a permission letter as well, so they have to pay money to both the KNLA soldiers and the DKBA. For those who use their hand tractors to transport logs, they must also pay tax at Tatmadaw and DKBA checkpoints. Therefore, this is harmful for people who work as loggers. As for setting up the logging mills, a tax needs to be paid once a month, plus soldiers often demand money at will from each logging mill.

As for those people who run shops, the DKBA Ko Per Baw demand 100 baht for small size shops and 500 baht for large size one. The information that I would now like to report, is an incident that I saw myself, I did not hear it from anyone else. On May 3rd 2012, as I was coming back from Kya In Township, I saw a troop of Tatmadaw soldiers, around 60 to 70 strong. They had with them five villagers' hand tractors and maybe there were some more hand tractors that I did not see. I saw a Ta--- villager named Saw W--- at Ser Ya kloh [river] bank. I asked him about the troop of soldiers I had seen and the hand tractors in their possession in Ma--- village, Kawkawreik Township, and where they were going with them. He told me that they were going back to Kya In Seik Gyi [Town]. I asked him whether or not people are paid to provide these hand tractors. He told me that they did not receive payment. On May 5th 2012, I again saw the Tatmadaw soldiers. Along the way between Ma--- and Seik Gyi; you cannot go and reach back to Kyaik Doh within a day. On May 5th 2012, I again saw this kind of incident, and again I recorded it.

Burmese soldiers, those based between N--- village and K--- village, which is called Ye--- village, only around ten households are there but the soldiers had gathered there filling the whole road, and stayed along it [they had not made camp], it seemed like they were heading somewhere. Three villagers' hand tractors were with them. I asked the N--- village head and he told me that the troop which I saw were on their way back to Ra M'Tee '[Myawaddy] but he did not know about the hand tractors. I then saw a K--- villager named Saw G---, I asked him and he told me, "Among the three hand tractors you saw, one hand tractor of mine was included there I had to send it to Ke--- village." I asked him about the payment as well, he told me that no payment was given. I then asked him what the Burmese troops did by the time they reached Ke---. He told me that their officer wanted to speak to the village head; they again ordered the village head to find hand tractors. I assume that they will not give any payment for hand tractors from Ke---.

The other information is about KKO [Klo Htoo Baw Karen Organisation];[13] that was formed by Officer Saw Lah Pweh called General Hpuh Hka Hsoo. The public does not understand this organisation and do not like it at all. The KKO has their own structure that similar to the mother organisation [KNU] has; it has management role, separate administration, committees, education department, health care department, forestry department, women's organisation department and youth organisation department. People who stay close to the KKO soldiers think it is good and praise it. In only my opinion, it is not so good to me because all the roles, those I reported above, the mother organisation [KNU] already has all of them.

In my area, N---, there are two Karen women organisation leaders, two health care leaders and two forest rangers. The public does not know whose rules they should follow. The villagers have complained about one forest ranger especially, as he controls things so badly. The KKO forest ranger is the Ke--- village head and most people call him Htaw Ploh. He is a businessman, so he only cares about his own business interests. Two villagers named Saw R--- and Saw Po---, from La--- village met with me on April 27th 2012; they told me "The KKO forest ranger does harmful things to us." I asked them about what they had done. They explained to me that, "Both of us feed our families by burning charcoals during the period when there is no daily work to do. We have to write a letter of permission once a month and pay 300 baht. If we sell charcoal on the Thai side, then at the Moei River bank, he again collects 20 baht per packet, the packets contain three big tins of charcoal within it. This kind of activity by the forest ranger does not match up with any rules."

After the ceasefire, we saw that villagers were happy and they came back to live in their houses and tried to clear and repair their houses and gardens in the areas where they lived. As for village life, I think that even though they came to live back at their houses, it seemed like there was no certainty and stability for them to be satisfied yet. The reason is, since people come back they have seen many kinds of people from the government; La Wa Ka [Burma Immigration], education groups, health groups, and people who construct the roads. We heard that we had peace and unity but we have not seen any peace, plus it seems like these difficulties happening among the public but we, the public cannot do anything and dare not say anything. As for raising our family, we have to try to do the work in order to get food to eat. There are several problems with making a livelihood; we, N--- villagers, cannot do other work, so we just grow corn, ground nut, paddy and do logging. In order to make our living, we also have to pay a tax for a permission letter once per month. Sometimes, we take the permission letter with us but they still disturb us, hence this is a big problem for which we have been facing.

Regarding the relationship between the DKBA Ko Per Baw and the Tatmadaw, we the public do not know about this at all. We just saw that any meeting and any reasons are always related to Tatmadaw soldiers. We are aware that only rice is provided for Ko Per Baw families and after that they have to manage on their own to get other things.

Some villagers think that the ceasefire is good and some think it is not good because after the ceasefire, many organisations came to the area, and in the villages they have taken many kinds of opportunities from the public. For example, we saw that although road constructors constructed and repaired the road properly, they still asked the villagers for help. The villagers have to transport stones for them, the stones that will be ground down in order to repair the bridges and other roads. They always order wood from the villagers. They always order the villagers to do forced labour and never provide them with any payment.

In N--- village, there have been no instances of land confiscation. But what usually happens is the Tatmadaw build the buildings in the places where villagers used to live because all land is owned by the government, villagers can do nothing. So in the future this could also happen here. If the situation is ongoing like this, maybe land confiscation will happen. The reason why it is happening now is that Burmese soldiers build the buildings in the places where people used to live in the past because the [land] owners are not able to come back and live there. Therefore, they built some buildings they did not buy and they said, "This land is owned by the government," so we can do nothing.

Landmines

Regarding the problem of landmines, we are not be able to express it in detail and dare not think about it. I myself came back home on February 2nd 2012 and I heard that three villagers had stepped on landmines. I did not meet with them, so I did not get their photos and there is no photo for this situation report but I got their names and addresses. 57-year-old B--- village head Saw L--- heard that the situation regarding landmines had improved; he went back home and stepped on a landmine at the perimeter of his house, in his garden. The second person is a village head, Saw L---, 70 years old and he also stood on a landmine just beside his house inside the village. The third person is Saw T---, he is a Kr--- villager and I think that he met with a person who works for the KHRG office already. When he got injured I tried to meet him but it did not happen, I missed him, so I did not get a photo. Although the DKBA, mother organisation [KNU] and the Tatmadaw said that removing landmines has been completed, we still see that the civilians are suffering injuries from stepping on landmines. We are the public and we need help and suggestions for the ongoing landmine problem. We need to clear and remove them in order for us to carry on our livelihoods without difficulty.

On June 7th 2012, I started riding a motorboat down the Moei River to Ler Muh Hta village when it was stopped by Tatmadaw soldiers in order to question the travellers. The boat was stopped by different Tatmadaw troops three times between Meh Ta Waw village and Mu Yu Hta village; they did not demand anything the first time, the second time they demanded 100 baht, and they demanded 50 baht the third time the boat was stopped. Mu Yu Hta and Meh T' Aaw are located in 7th Brigade and Mu Yu Hta is located in the west of Ma Ner Hplaw. As for the third time, they had the sign of LID #77 on their shoulders.

On June 16th 2012, I came back from Mu Yu Hta to Meh Ta Waw where again we were stopped. Tatmadaw soldiers stopped us three times when I went and they stopped us four times when I came back, but I do not know what to say about this issue. It seemed like it was dangerous for the motorboat owners. Because of this case, we went back to Pi--- Refugee Camp, but when questioned they [boat owner] hid the fact of where they were heading to. Instead, they just mentioned other places. Even though people say that it is now a peaceful country Tatmadaw soldiers still check travellers and demand taxes from people who are trying to work.

On June 17th 2012, I went to N---, I saw five Burmese soldiers working at the perimeter of a school with about ten or twenty N--- villagers. I do not know exactly what was happening there.

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 writing situation updates, community members are encouraged to summarise recent events, raise issues that they consider to be important, and present their opinions or perspective on abuse and other local dynamics in their area.

[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 Dooplaya District can be found in the report, "Abuses since the DKBA and KNLA ceasefires: Forced labour and arbitrary detention in Dooplaya," KHRG, May 2012.

[3] The DKBA was formed in December 1994, led by monk U Thuzana with the help and support of the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), which was the name of the military government in Burma at that time. For more information on the formation of the DKBA, see "Inside the DKBA," KHRG, 1996.

[4] The "opportunities" which the community member is referring to here relate to monetary gain, from being able to tax villagers and work on development projects.

[5] The term "Kaw Thoo Lei" refers to Karen State as demarcated by the Karen National Union (KNU), but the exact meaning and etymology is disputed; see: Jonathan Falla. True Love and Bartolomew: Rebels on the Burmese border, Cambridge University Press: 1991.

[6] The ceasefire agreement signed between the KNU and RUM officials on January 12th 2011 in Pa'an Town was an agreement in principle on '11 key points', to be followed by more in-depth talks after 45 days. Senior KNU officials have since announced that the deadline of 45 days is unlikely to be met; see: "KNU ceasefire meeting with government behind schedule," Karen News, February 23rd 2012. Meanwhile, as-yet-unpublished KHRG information received on February 19th 2012, suggests that there have been clashes between government forces and non-state armed groups in Pa'an District in February 2012 and that recent re-supply operations carried out by Tatmadaw forces in Nyaunglebin District exceeded the amount of supplies usually sent, and included heavy artillery. Local media sources have also reported ongoing fighting in Pa'an and Nyaunglebin Districts since January 12th 2012; see: "Killings and attacks between DKBA and BGF drives villagers from their homes," Karen News, February 24th 2012; "Ceasefires, Continued Attacks and a Friendly Encounter Between Enemies," Free Burma Rangers, February 3rd 2012.

[7] The Klo Htoo Baw are DKBA forces in Pa'an and Dooplaya districts that refused to transform into Tatmadaw Border Guard battalions and which, in November 2010, began fighting Tatmadaw forces have been variously referred to as DKBA #907, Klo Htoo Baw (Golden Drum), and Brigade #5. Each of these terms refers to different configurations of DKBA units commanded by the brigadier general commonly known as Na Kha Mway, whose real name is Saw Lah Pwe. Na Kha Mway left the KNU/KNLA in 1997 and became the commander of DKBA Battalion #907; in 2007 he was promoted to head four DKBA battalions (#901, #906, #907 and a security battalion) as the commander of the Klo Htoo Baw [Golden Drum] Tactical Command. In May 2009 this unit was reconfigured as DKBA Brigade #5, with Na Kha Mway commanding Battalions #901, 905, 906, 907 and 909; Brigade #5 was active in the Kya-In Seik Kyi, Kawkareik and Myawaddy areas of Dooplaya and Pa'an districts. In September 2011, it was reported that remaining DKBA forces were to be reconfigured into two tactical commands, Klo Htoo Wah and Klo Htoo Lah, and that Na Kha Mway would be the senior commander of these forces. Most recently, in early November 2011, Brigade #5 signed a ceasefire agreement with the Burmese government in which demands for its forces to transform into Border Guard units have been dropped, and the brigade has moved to reestablish its headquarters at Wah Lay, Kawkareik Township, Dooplaya District (Sone Seen Myaing, Myawaddy Township); see: "DKBA to accelerate military tactics," The Irrawaddy, September 8th 2011.

[8] The leaves of these trees are traditionally collected by villagers and used to make thatch for the roofs of houses.

[9] Taw Naw Muh Htaw is the Karen traditional name for what is commonly known as the "Dawna" Mountain Range.

[10] U Htun Yin is referring here to the fact that the Tatmadaw are only doing enough on paper for International propaganda purposes. Historically they have sought to control or "tie up" the political situation in Burma, now they are only slightly relinquishing or "un-tying" this power to alleviate International pressure.

[11] A big tin is a unit of volume used to measure paddy, milled rice and seeds. One big tin is equivalent to 10.45 kg. or 23.04 lb. of paddy, and 16 kg. or 35.2 lb. of milled rice.

[12] Ko Per Baw or "Yellow Scarves" is a term commonly used by villagers to denote the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), in reference to the yellow scarves that form part of their uniform.

[13] The Klo Htoo Baw Karen Organisation (KKO) is the political wing of the Democratic Buddhist Army (DKBA), "Karen Group Forms Political Wing," Democratic Voice of Burma April 4th 2012, also see, "DKBA Declares Myawaddy Township a Drug Free Zone" Karen News May 22nd 2012.