LETTERS FROM THE IRRAWADDY DELTA

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Published date:
Monday, December 6, 1993

The following anonymous letter was smuggled out from the Irrawaddy Delta in November 1993.

On October 4, 1991 not less than 3,000 people were put in jail. More than 200 of them died. All the farms were robbed or confiscated by SLORC, in many different ways. This severe situation has affected Karen people both in the villages and also in the urban areas, where over 1,000 people have also been put in jail.

The villages that suffered the worst were those that are near the sea, and also the two villages of Aung Kone and Poe Kone - in all these villages, people suffered to death whether they had done anything or not. In Aung Kone and Poe Kone, all the men were murdered. They murdered more than 80 men altogether, and they were all murdered brutally, without mercy. The SLORC district leader who was responsible for the Delta at the time was Myint Aung, along with his people. Now he has become a SLORC government minister.

Southwest of Rangoon lies the Irrawaddy Delta, perhaps Burma's most fertile and productive rice-producing region. It is large, flat and well-irrigated, and its population is about 50% Karen and 50% Burman. Karen resistance forces operated there in the early days of the Revolution, but there have been no Karen forces there since the 1960's. In 1991, small numbers of Karen soldiers once again infiltrated the Delta, and were preparing to lead the Karen population there in a mass uprising against the brutal SLORC military dictatorship. However, the SLORC discovered this before it began, and quickly wiped out all possibility of an uprising by sending in helicopters, jets and masses of troops to massacre much of the Karen civilian population. Though the seeds of the uprising were wiped out within months, the SLORC has continued to send in large numbers of troops and is still taking a severe revenge against Karen civilians in the Delta even now.

The SLORC's horrific abuses in the Delta have been worse than in any other part of Burma, because they know they can get away with it; the Delta does not border on any other country, so there is nowhere for refugees to flee, it is almost impossible to get information out, and no foreigners of any description are ever allowed to enter the Delta. This report contains 3 accounts: the first is the translation of a letter by an anonymous Karen civilian there, which was smuggled out to the Burma-Thai border. The second is the account of a Karen woman who has obtained news of her family through villagers from the Delta, and the third is the account of a Delta villager who fled to the Burma/Thai border over a year ago. Most of the names and many specific details must be omitted in this report, because in the Delta the SLORC will wipe out entire villages on the slightest suspicion that they have communicated with the outside world.

See also the related Karen Human Rights Group reports "Karen Farmers in the Irrawaddy Delta", dated August 13, 1992, and "Karen Civilian Casualties in the Delta Region", dated January 27, 1992.

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The following anonymous letter was smuggled out from the Irrawaddy Delta in November 1993.

On October 4, 1991 not less than 3,000 people were put in jail. More than 200 of them died. All the farms were robbed or confiscated by SLORC, in many different ways. This severe situation has affected Karen people both in the villages and also in the urban areas, where over 1,000 people have also been put in jail.

The villages that suffered the worst were those that are near the sea, and also the two villages of Aung Kone and Poe Kone - in all these villages, people suffered to death whether they had done anything or not. In Aung Kone and Poe Kone, all the men were murdered. They murdered more than 80 men altogether, and they were all murdered brutally, without mercy. The SLORC district leader who was responsible for the Delta at the time was Myint Aung, along with his people. Now he has become a SLORC government minister.

The situation for the Karen people is very serious - we are being exterminated. Everyone should worry about the whole future of the Karen people here.

The SLORC soldiers come back from the front line [although there are no military battles, this presumably means the "front line" of their mopping-up operations against civilians], and we hear them talk about how they confiscated everything that the Karen people own there, and especially about how they violated all the women, both big and small. Some of the women are killed brutally with no mercy. This is evidence from the words of the SLORC soldiers themselves when they come back. Whenever they make an offensive, the SLORC soldiers who have contracted AIDS are used specially to rape all the women, young and old, so that all these women will get AIDS and the Karen generation will end soon.

The SLORC soldiers went to the front line and captured a mother and her son, and forced the son to rape his own mother. The son could not refuse - he was so terrified that he did rape his own mother. Then all the SLORC soldiers clapped their hands and said to the son, "You Karen people are the descendants of dogs", and then they shot dead both the son and his mother. This evidence was given to me by a medical doctor.

Now they have meetings discussing and planning their offensives all the time. Now, all the Karen people from the urban areas are also suffering severe poverty.

When the dry season comes, all the civilians suffer under slavery like that of ancient Egypt. All the rice and all food growing in the fields in confiscated by the SLORC. The people have to fix roads and dig trenches for the SLORC without rest. They have no time left to find food for their own families. If they refuse to go do the work, they are fined heavily and persecuted until they cannot bear it anymore. Every man in the village must always be ready to go work for them. The men dare not go anywhere. They have to be ready at all times, because whenever they are called they have to follow the troops at once.

In Bo K'Lay and Ka Tha Min areas 32 people were killed all at one time. In Own Pin Su village area, the SLORC came and stabbed to death over 30 young people, all at 4 o'clock in the morning. Before they were stabbed they were forced to dig their own graves. In Nyer Pu Taw village area and Taung Na Kone village area, more than 40 people were killed by having their throats cut with big pieces of bamboo. In Aung Kone and Poe Kone villages, near Tha Yet Chaw, all the men were killed, more than 80 men, and all the women were left behind in the village as widows. There are also many other places where the SLORC soldiers have killed people which aren't included in this note.

Many Christian pastors have also been persecuted and thrown in jail. Now at Kaw Lay Lu and Pa Taut Kone villages, the SLORC has built pagodas. They ordered the Karen Christians to put on the stage shows for the pagoda celebrations, and they forced them to worship there and to leave their traditional Karen costumes inside the pagodas.

Now in Rangoon the SLORC has a game for the young people. They invite the young people to come for shooting tournaments. Then once the children become interested in shooting and come frequently, one day the SLORC detains them and they're not allowed to go home anymore. They are forced to become soldiers. Their parents go to get them, because they are only 13- and 14-year old schoolchildren; but instead of freeing them, the SLORC scolds the parents and sends them away, and they never let the children see their parents again.

The SLORC is trying to mix Burmese blood with the other nationalities in clever ways in order to exterminate the Karen. They never trust teachers, pastors or missionaries. Now they won't let Karen people get any good jobs, and we are also stopped from studying the Gospel. This situation is getting worse for all the Christians here. The SLORC is trying to strengthen their control.

All these are just short and to-the-point descriptions of incidents in the Delta, but I hope this short note can give you some understanding of the situation here.

- October 10, 1993

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The following letter was written by a Karen woman who fled the Irrawaddy Delta to the Karen Revolutionary Area over 10 years ago, and has just received news of her family still in the Delta:

I am writing this because I want people in the whole world to learn about the policy of the Burmese Socialist government, which is now SLORC policy: how they are dishonest, how they lie, they just pretend a false reality while they commit rape against women and oppress people. I will tell some of my own story, because it is unbearable to me, it makes me feel great sadness, and I can never forget it.

As I am a Christian, my parents and grandparents always raised me and taught me in God's way, a good and loving way. I know nothing about bad ways, or about giving bad in return for bad. But as I grew up, I saw that the Burmese Socialist policy is wrong because they do nothing but bad things: they raped and murdered women who were my relatives, and then they burned down my village until there was nothing left but ashes. When this happened my heart was filled with sorrow, but I could do nothing. We are only villagers, we have only our hands but no weapons, and I didn't want to fight fire with fire.

This Burmese Socialist government, they never stopped doing these abhorrent things - they've only done them more and more as time has gone on. Now they treat the villagers worse than ever before, making even more hardship and difficulties for the people. After my village was burned down, we had nowhere to stay. We faced great difficulty just finding food to eat. We became like beggars, and life was very hard for us. Everything keeps getting more and more expensive, so people can't get enough food. It's very hard to survive.

The Burmese Socialist government oppressed us from every side and in many different ways, until we felt we just couldn't stay there anymore in such a terrible situation. So my brother and I came out to the Karen revolutionary area and joined the revolution. Since we came, the SLORC took over from the Socialist government. Since the SLORC took over and started ruling the country, they have made everything twice as bad as before. Under the SLORC, all the villagers have to face even more difficulties, and they have to do forced labour. They ordered the people in my village to dig a fish pond for them. When the villagers went, they had to take all their own food, and if they got sick while they were there working the soldiers never gave them any medicine, so many of them died of diarrhoea.

They make the villagers work hard as if they were buffalos or cattle. They make them into slaves. They don't treat people like human beings; even when it's very hot under the sun, they force them to dig in the ground all day long. The villagers are never given time to rest, so many of them die of fever and other sickness. Not only that, but the SLORC military also comes into my village and searches every single house for valuable things. They take our fruit and vegetables and anything else they want, they just take it away with them. The villagers dare not do anything or say a single word to them, so they just have to watch the soldiers take all their things and not say anything until they disappear from sight.

After I left my village my mother and father had to face terrible treatment by the SLORC. My old father Saw Teh Nay, he was 67 last year, he lived quietly and peacefully and he was a trustworthy man in the village. But the Socialist government arrested him twice. The first time was in November 1979 - they arrested him and put him in jail for over one year and treated him very badly. The second time in 1982, they put him in jail for two and a half years. Then the SLORC arrested him for the third time in 1991. This time they treated my father worse than before. They persecuted him and treated him so badly that my father couldn't bear the suffering, and then when he asked for water to drink, instead of water they gave him urine to drink. They tortured him in Ma Oo Pein jail, and then my father died in jail while he was being tortured by the SLORC in November 1992. The SLORC kept it secret, so my mother didn't know. She decided to go visit her husband, so she was packing up clothes and blankets to take to him. But while she was packing things, someone came and told her "Your husband is dead", and that he'd already been buried. But the SLORC wouldn't let my mother know where they'd buried him. Now we still don't know where he's buried.

Ever since my father died, the local SLORC authorities come to my village to search the houses at least once every two or three months, and every time they make some problem for my mother, so now she has to live in fear all the time. These are the people who arrested my father and give my mother problems: U Hla Aung, the SLORC township authority of Pan Ta Naw; an army sergeant in Pan Ta Naw named Kyaw Wai Shwe; a SLORC Intelligence officer named Aung Mya Tay in Pan Ta Naw; and U Tin Nywe, the SLORC Captain in Pan Ta Naw.

In December 1991 my cousin Saw Po Ku, my uncle Saw Tha Htoo Gay, and Pastor Saw Shrewkehna were arrested by the SLORC military and put in jail. I heard that the SLORC killed my uncle in jail. The SLORC now claims that they've released all the prisoners in Mah Oo Pein, where they took 2,000 prisoners altogether, but no one has seen my cousin Saw Po Ku or Pastor Saw Shrewkehna come home. The SLORC is telling a lie, and we can't believe them at all. They still can't stop lying, raping women and burning down whole villages. They still keep doing it now.

Tee Tah Mya Pago is my Aunt's village. The villagers there live quietly and peacefully. They are very poor and can barely provide food for their families. They have to work very hard, and live from hand to mouth. But the SLORC are like dogs - they saw that there are very many Karen in the area, so they came with airplanes in November 1991 and shot down at the village. The village is in the middle of flat ground with no trees, so the villagers can't protect themselves, and many of them lost their lives to the big shells from the airplanes. After that, the SLORC announced, "Rebels were in the village, so we came to bomb them." This SLORC government has a heart filled with cruelty. They want to kill the roots of the Karen people so that there will be no more Karen at all. But so far, we Karen still survive because of God's help. Since this SLORC government took power, no one can live peacefully anymore. Instead everyone has to face poverty and starvation, and has to run away from their homes for their lives.

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The following testimony was given by Maung Sein Mya (not his real name), a 27 year old single Karen man from Aung Gone village, Bo Galay Township, in the Irrawaddy Delta. He recently fled to the Thai border.

Since 1991 there have been horrible abuses against Karen people in my area by SLORC troops. When it started, they used many different kinds of weapons against the people. They sent four aircraft at a time to attack the villages around Ka Tha Min. A great many people were killed brutally, including many children. The SLORC troops also arrested many adults and children, and shot people dead along their way. The villages were all almost destroyed and many, many houses were burned down. I think the only reason they are doing this is to commit genocide against the Karen people.

I saw them kill the headman of our village. His name was U Tun Myint Kyaw, and he was about 85 years old. They just went to his house and beat him to death, for absolutely no reason at all. They just left the dead body there, and left. Then they met a mentally ill man along their way, and stabbed him to death with a bayonet without any reason and without even interrogating him. In Kyauk Gyi village, the headman's name is Aung Bala Tin, and his wife's name is Naw Shee. They had two daughters named Naw Htee Shee and Ler Bwe Paw. One section of SLORC soldiers, 11 of them altogether, came and tied up their parents, and then all of them raped the two girls right in front of their parents. After they raped them, they tied them up, dragged them to the river and kicked them in, and they drowned.

The soldiers killed my parents brutally. They tied up my mother all over, then poured petrol on her and burned her to death. Then they sharpened a bamboo stick, took my father and shoved the stick in through his anus and right through him until it came out his mouth, then burned him to death as well. I was not there when it happened. It's horrible. I don't know why they killed my parents - I think it must have been because they were looking for me and couldn't find me. They were looking for all the young men and killing them for no reason, so most of the men didn't dare stay around the village and ran away. There were 90 houses in my village, and they killed almost 100 people before I ran away. There are so many villages in the area where they did this; as for Taw Pai village, it has 40 houses and they killed 40 villagers. Tha Yet Chaung village has 90 houses and they killed 40 people, and in Lay Bin Chaung out of 40 houses they killed 20 villagers. Kyauk Gyi only has 40 houses but they killed about 100 people. As for Ka Tha Min, there are 150 houses and they killed over 120 villagers.

They moved a Burmese village called Amar to a secure place. As for many of the Karen villages, they ordered us to move to a secure place and took many villagers on a ship. But when they got onto the big river, they tied them all up and kicked them into the river, and they were all killed. They killed so many people from many places. They killed at least 400 people in the area before I left. I don't know how many more they've killed since then - I heard they've killed over one thousand, but I'm not sure.

They came to the villages and took whatever they wanted, even our old clothes. As for our livestock, they caught and ate it all. They abused us so much we can't describe it. It was horrible. Whenever they meet people, if they want to beat them they beat them, and if they want to kill they kill, for absolutely no reason. Another terrible thing is that they try to force us to join the Army - they order one man from each family. They confiscated all our rice, and then we had to buy our own rice back from them. They charged us 60 to 70 Kyat for 8 small tins. Most villagers didn't have money to buy their food like this. We were barely able to survive. We had to do hard work getting firewood until we had enough money, then buy some rice to eat. We had to eat rice soup instead of rice, and many children got sick from starvation. They also made us do 20 days slave labour every month, and left us only 10 days per month to provide for our families. Whenever we went to work for them we had to take our own food. We had to work 8 hours a day, digging bunkers, building a dam for them, and building a car road. They always beat the villagers while we worked. When people died from the beatings we had to bury the dead body. They beat anyone who couldn't work, whether Karen or Burmese. A friend of mine named Sein Lin was beaten to death right in front of me. They killed him because he got sick and couldn't work very well.

One time they also took 10 porters from our village. We don't know where they took them. None of them have come back yet, and we think they've all been killed for sure. Whenever the SLORC takes people they disappear. Three of those porters were my friends: Nay Lin, Myo Win, and Aung San Lin.

The poor families can barely survive. They just barely make it through day by day, and we all join together to take care of each other. There are horrible abuses taking place there; it's abhorrent, what's happening.