COMMENTS BY SLORC ARMY DEFECTORS

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Published date:
Monday, June 20, 1994

The following comments were made recently in independent interviews with defectors from the SLORC Army in Mergui/Tavoy District, in the Tenasserim Division of southern Burma in 1994. Some of them defected earlier this year, while others defected over a year ago. However, all of their comments still apply because as the SLORC Army continues to rapidly expand, conditions continue to deteriorate for both civilians and rank-and-file soldiers.

COMMENTS BY SLORC ARMY DEFECTORS

An Independent Report by the Karen Human Rights Group

 

The following comments were made recently in independent interviews with defectors from the SLORC Army in Mergui/Tavoy District, in the Tenasserim Division of southern Burma. Some of them defected earlier this year, while others defected over a year ago. However, all of their comments still apply because as the SLORC Army continues to rapidly expand, conditions continue to deteriorate for both civilians and rank-and-file soldiers. In fact, as the comments of these former soldiers make clear, it seems that only the senior officers are deriving any benefit at all from the systematic oppression of the civilian population. The monthly salary before deductions of a private soldier, 450 Kyat, is not even enough to buy milled rice for two people for a month at current prices - not to mention that people also need other food to eat with their rice. Meanwhile, inflation continues to rage throughout the country as the Kyat becomes increasingly worthless.

All of the defectors in this report have now joined the Karen National Liberation Army, but many other defectors choose instead to try to get home to their families or to settle down as civilians in Karen-controlled areas. If deserters are ever caught by SLORC they will be executed without trial, and their families also face possible retribution. Therefore, their names have been changed and some details, such as their Army serial numbers, omitted to protect their families.

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NAME: Kyaw Hla

SEX: M

AGE: 23

DESCRIPTION: Arakanese Buddhist

ADDRESS: Lehma, Arakan State

EDUCATION: 4th Standard (primary school)

SLORC ARMY RANK: Private

SALARY: 450 Kyat/month

BATTALION: 404

 

I joined the SLORC Army in October 1990. I joined because I was so scared of the SLORC. People in my village and my family were all beaten by the SLORC, and they forced my father to be a porter. The SLORC sent orders to the headman they'd appointed for the village, and he came and called my father to be a porter. My father was 45 years old then. They also arrested my older brother. So I joined to be safe from them.

In 1992 we went to the frontline in Tha Yet Chaung Township, and our commander called all the villagers to be porters - not only the old men, but children too. Some of the porters couldn't carry the sacks of rice so the soldiers forced the porters to keep going by kicking them. They also called women to be porters. I remember one woman who was carrying a child as well as her load. The child still needed to be breastfed. Then when we went through another village we saw another woman together with two men, so we arrested all of them and then the woman cried, so Major Myint Swe beat them and swore at them, and at me too. Major Myint Swe was the Battalion Commander. [Note: this is the same Maj. Myint Swe who was responsible for the brutal murders of 11 villagers from Thay Nyaw Chee village in September 1993 - see the KHRG report "SLORC Murders in Mergui/Tavoy District", 17/12/93. There is a report that he has been killed since then, but we have not yet confirmed this.] Major Myint Swe used to tell me not to beat or swear at the porters by beating and swearing at me.

Third in command of the column was Thura Swe Paw Soe, and he gave orders that whenever we were in a village none of the villagers were allowed to go to their farms - they all had to stay at home. Most of the time when we passed huts in the farm fields, if there was a man around we took him as a porter. All the villagers were also ordered to come to our base, to build roads, etc. The villagers who we called to our base were ordered to build a mess hall and offices on the base. If they didn't come we asked for money, and if they didn't give us money we arrested them and put them in jail.

At the base there was not always enough room for all the soldiers to live, and we had to live in very cramped and crowded conditions. There were often fights between soldiers and our personal things were often stolen. The wives of some soldiers lived at the base, and sometimes when their husbands had to go to the frontline the officers gave the wives money, condensed milk and rice to sleep with them.

Before I joined the Army I'd seen books and things by the students [the Burmese students fighting for democracy] but when I was in the Army the officers had rules that we were not allowed to read things like that. I came and joined the Karen Army in April 1993 because the SLORC is a dictatorship and they forced us to obey every order of theirs.

 

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NAME: Maung Thein Soe

SEX: M

AGE: 21

DESCRIPTION:Karen Buddhist

ADDRESS: Mon State

EDUCATION: 9th Standard (first year of high school)

SLORC ARMY RANK: Lance Corporal

SALARY: 650 Kyat/month

BATTALION: 17

 

In 1988 I joined the uprising, so after the SLORC took power I was afraid of being arrested. First I went home to my village, but then I left it again and had no aim in life for a while. Then my parents called me to come home, but I was still afraid I would be arrested so I joined the Army thinking that it would make me safe from arrest. I joined in October 1989. Burmese troops don't come to our village very often, so I didn't know much about what they do to the people.

After I joined the Army, I was in the Ywa Hee Lu battle and I saw many porters die because the soldiers killed any of them who were sick or who couldn't carry their loads. I saw them kill four porters for this, and I saw them shoot dead two others just because they couldn't feed them anymore. Other porters were just sent away on their own, very weak after getting extremely little rice to eat.

Whenever we arrived at villages in Palauk and Pa Law Townships and people tried to run away, we caught them, beat them and asked why they tried to run. Then we called their village leaders and beat them too. Another time I heard that the commander and second in command of Column 3 had raped a girl.

At the base, when the soldiers went to the frontline the officers didn't care about our families. Some of the officers slept with the wives of soldiers who were at the frontline. Some prostitutes from Mergui came and called the soldiers' wives to become prostitutes like them. All of these things happened in 17 Battalion. The soldiers' wives and children faced a lot of trouble whenever their husbands were away, and their husbands knew nothing about it. After seeing so much oppression by the Burmese Army, I came and joined the Karen Army in February 1994.

 

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NAME: Thein Htun

SEX: M

AGE: 24

DESCRIPTION:Burman Buddhist

ADDRESS: Prome, Pegu Division

EDUCATION: 4th Standard (primary school)

SLORC ARMY RANK: Private

SALARY: 450 Kyat/month

BATTALION: 104

 

I joined the Army in 1988 because I had problems with my relatives. In the Army I often saw porters beaten by the soldiers. Some of them were unable to work but they were still forced to, and soldiers always asked people to pay "porter fees".

As soldiers, we were forbidden to listen to the BBC radio by the officers. We didn't even receive our full pay. Our monthly pay was always cut for so-called "social activities", "religious ceremonies", "games", etc. By the time they were finished, I usually ended up with only 145 Kyat each month. The pay was so bad that I have seen the wives of soldiers losing their character [sleeping with officers and becoming prostitutes] because their husbands got insufficient pay. I came to join the KNLA in 1992 because I didn't like the way the SLORC oppresses the people.

 

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NAME: Maung Soe Min

SEX: M

AGE: 29

DESCRIPTION: Burman Buddhist

ADDRESS: Rangoon

EDUCATION: 7th Standard (middle school)

SLORC ARMY RANK: Sergeant

BATTALION: 104

 

I joined the Army in August 1985 to defend our country. But in the Army I saw many problems, because the officers were so proud of their commands that they beat many of their soldiers for the smallest breach of rules of discipline. Under SLORC I saw the army take porters, beat people and rape women. I didn't want to stay with them and I wanted to escape but I couldn't. I heard about the revolution through BBC [shortwave radio] and from some other people. Then in 1992 I heard that my parents had died. I felt so sad that I left and came to join the KNLA, because then I knew that even if I went home, my parents wouldn't be there anymore.

 

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NAME: Khine Soe Aung

SEX: M

AGE: 21

DESCRIPTION:Arakanese Buddhist

ADDRESS: Sittwe, Arakan State

EDUCATION: 2nd Standard (primary school)

SLORC ARMY RANK: Private

SALARY: 450 Kyat/month

BATTALION: 404

 

I joined the SLORC Army in October 1990. My father was beaten by SLORC soldiers, so I joined the Army so my father could feel safe from more beatings. In the Army I saw many porters being beaten by the soldiers as well. Later I was beaten because the officer suspected me of being a Karen collaborator, so I fled the Army and lived in a village as a farmer for a year. Then I joined the Karen Army in January 1994.