SLORC ABUSES IN HLAING BWE AREA
An Independent Report by the Karen Human Rights Group
March 16, 1994
The following account of some of the SLORC's severe mistreatment of villagers in the Hlaing Bwe Township area of Pa'an District in Karen State was given by an ethnic Burman trader who travels the area buying and selling goods. As such, he gets a very good view of the systematic human rights abuses being conducted in the whole area by SLORC troops. His name has been changed and his full address not given in order to protect him from SLORC.
Please feel free to use the information in this report in any way which may help stop such abuses against civilians by SLORC.
NAME: Maung Win
AGE: 42 Burman Buddhist, Trader
ADDRESS: Hlaing Bwe Township
FAMILY: Married with 2 children
I'm Burmese myself, but I want to tell you about all the many kinds of abuse the SLORC does to all the villagers around there, about forced labour, slave labour, torture, collecting porters, and murder. They do such horrible things. Starting from last November and December 1993, it was time for them to build roads up to their operations areas [the "front line"]. There are very many villages in Pain Kyone Township [east of Hlaing Bwe] - like Tha Mo, Pah Gyi, Pah Ka, Leh Ghay, Leh Gyi, Nya Mayaw, Pa Nah Gyi, and Eh Thay Gone. The SLORC troops collect at least 20, or sometimes 30 or 40 villagers from each village to do slave labour building the road, and the villagers have to bring their own food. Mostly what the villagers have to do is clear the bushes on both sides of the road. The SLORC hopes that if there are mines there the villagers will step on them, so by clearing the bushes they are really clearing mines for SLORC. Also, before the army trucks come along the road they force the villagers to go along the road first in their cattle carts. The SLORC wants to get rid of land mines, so they use the people to sweep for them. All the villagers who live near the road have to suffer like this.
The SLORC is building a road from Hlaing Bwe town to their Operations Camp of #928 Strategic Command, at Ler Bu. They are building the road right now. I've heard many times of villagers being beaten while working on the road, but I haven't seen it myself. The village heads are all getting orders demanding slave labour. I think they could use their soldiers to do the work, but they just oppress the villagers instead. The Karen villages have to suffer the most. The villagers have no time to work for their families, because most of the time they have to work for the SLORC. They have nothing to eat. They have already given all their livestock to SLORC soldiers.
There are also many kinds of slave labour cleaning the compound in the army camp, finding firewood for the soldiers, cutting bamboo for them, and sometimes we have to carry water for them. It is hard labour so the villagers don't want to go. Sometimes the villagers don't go, so the soldiers send an order to the village head saying "You're responsible for the village, so collect the villagers and bring them to work or else we will come arrest all of you and take severe action." Once when Tha Mo village refused to go for slave labour they sent a package to the village head with a message that said "You figure out what this means." When the village head opened it he saw one red chillie, one bullet, and one piece of charcoal. At first no one understood it, but then people guessed: that the chillie is very hot, so it means we have to suffer a hot situation and a great deal of trouble, the bullet means they will shoot us and kill us, and the charcoal means they will burn down our village. After that, the villagers were very afraid to refuse again. The SLORC was threatening them.
They kill porters - they use old porters and if they can't carry anymore or get sick, the soldiers kill them or leave them behind. We see their dead bodies in the forest. They also killed a friend of mine named U Soe Thein from Ka Ma Ko village. They just beat him to death with a very big stick. No one knows why they killed him. This happened in November 1993. In every village which is anywhere near a military camp, the SLORC orders the village head that no lights can be used in the village, no one is allowed to use a flashlight, and no one can go out before 6 a.m. The order says anyone who breaks the rule will be shot on sight.
In Ter Pa Ket village in March 1993, one night at about 9 o'clock there were many villagers at one house for a funeral. The villagers were drinking. SLORC Infantry Battalion #28 came into the village and went straight to that house. When the villagers saw the SLORC troops they were very afraid, so one of them tried to run away and they shot him dead. There was absolutely no reason. Another villager tried to run so they grabbed him and shot him, but he was still alive so they beat him to death with a very big pounding stick. The villagers' names were Bo Dot and Saw Heh. Both of their wives had already died. Saw Heh took very good care of his 3 children, but now his 3 children are orphans. It's a horrible crime.
The soldiers are trying to drive Pain Kyone village out, but the village has not moved yet. The people there say they won't leave their village and their farms, so for now they are still living there. The SLORC came with a bulldozer and bulldozed Gaw Ler village without even warning them first. It was a small Karen village, with about 10 houses. The villagers had to run away, and they couldn't even carry their belongings. Then the SLORC built a camp for #338 and #39 Infantry there. They had a budget from the Army to build the camp, but they didn't use it. They used slave labour of villagers from Ta Maw, Pa Gyi, Wah Kyi, PahKa, Da Maw Kah Kee, Nat Kyi, Tha Yet Taw, and Leh Ker Day villages. Most of the people there are Pwo Karen.
My village is Burmese, so they don't do too much there, but they abuse the Karen villages much more. There are Infantry Battalions #338, #39, and #28, and they belong to 928 Operation based at Ler Bu. I only know Lieutenant Kyaw Kyaw from #28 Infantry. #28 Infantry is the worst, but the others are also bad. Whenever they enter villages they steal as much of the villagers' livestock as they can catch, and loot the villagers' property. Most of the Burmese villages are closer to the town, so they are more careful about human rights and they treat the people better. But sometimes if they need porters, they surround the cinemas even in the downtown area, grab the people and use them as porters.
The "porter fees" we have to pay are indescribable. We have to pay them several times a month. One old woman complained that "We are very poor already, but to make it worse we must pay porter fees many times. Sometimes there's no money to pay with. I had to sell my daughter's new sarong just to get money to pay porter fees." The amount depends on the situation - sometimes we have to pay twice a month, sometimes 3 times. Each time we pay 200, 300, or 400 Kyat - the minimum is 200. Most people are now just living from hand to mouth. Some are traders, like me, but we have to cross so many high mountains just to get our living. It's a very hard road, and rocky. No one wants to earn their living the hard way, but they have no other way to earn it, so they must in order to survive.
Some villages are quite big, so the villagers collect money and build a school for their children, but then the SLORC doesn't allow it. They come to the village and give the villagers big problems. So the villagers have to teach their children secretly. The SLORC has a school close to the town, and they say that any villager who wants their children to go to school must send them to this school and no other. But the villagers can't, because it's too far. To get there takes a 7 hour walk, from early morning till noon. [With all the SLORC's looting and porter fees, the parents could never afford to pay boarding fees in town for their children, and they also need them at home at least part of the day to work for the family's survival]. Now the SLORC has called all the heads of villages to a meeting to pay donations for Education. Each village must pay 1,000 Kyat, and the SLORC says this money is to pay for Education everywhere, including Rangoon. But I think they're just taking the money for themselves.