Dooplaya District: Consolidation of control in central Dooplaya

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Dooplaya District: Consolidation of control in central Dooplaya

Published date:
Thursday, January 31, 2002

As the SPDC consolidates its military hold on central Dooplaya District, thousands of people who were forced to relocate in 1999 and 2000 are now being allowed back to their villages. However, on their return they find their villages being used as support for the army, and they face heavy demands for forced labour, money, food and materials to support all of the army camps which have now been set up around their villages.

The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) is making moves to solidify its control over Dooplaya District which it occupied following an offensive in 1997. Villages which were forcibly relocated in late 1999 have now been allowed to return home and the SPDC now feels that the area is pacified enough that it is setting up new administrative structures to govern the area. The area is officially under the administration of Kya In Seik Gyi township of Karen State, although until 1997 the Karen National Union (KNU) held most of the area east of Kya In Seik Gyi town to the Thai border. In late 2000 and early 2001 the SPDC established three new village tracts in the area at Kyaikdon, Azin (Karen name Saw Hta) and Kyaik (Klih). Villagers have told KHRG that once these village tracts were established, the extortion fees and forced labour demanded of them increased. With the creation of these village tracts the villagers had to build new army camps, army offices, clinics and warehouses as well as pay police salaries, teacher salaries, salaries for forced labourers, pay for rations and pay for the construction of a new school building. The villagers are not only providing all the labour for the construction of the buildings, but also all the materials and some of the money. In addition, a great deal of money is demanded in the name of these projects only to be pocketed by local officials and Army officers; the villagers know this even when they pay the money, but dare not complain for fear of arrest.

In mid-2001, the village heads from the three new village tracts were told that a new high school would be built in Kyaikdon. Although the Education Ministry had given 5,100,000 Kyat for the project, the local SPDC operations commander told the villagers that this was not enough and that they would have to pay an additional 3,300,000 Kyat from the three village tracts for the school. Once the money was paid, the villages then had to send people on a rotating schedule to build the two-storey school. KHRG has obtained many order documents dated throughout 2001 and demanding not only forced labour, but materials such as stone, sand, wood, bamboo and thatch for construction of the school annex building (these will appear in Order Set 2002-A, to be published in February 2002).

To back up its new administrative structures the SPDC has brought in elements of Sa Ka Ka (Military Operations Command) #12 and the Western Command based in Rakhine State . These units are in addition to the battalions normally based in the region. This increased militarisation will put yet more pressure on the villagers to provide forced labour, pay money and send materials and food for the new units. SPDC soldiers who deserted from battalions in the area told KHRG in January 2002 that their new camps were all built using civilian forced labour. They also told of using civilians as well as convicts for portering and other forms of forced labour. This includes Mon villagers from within the New Mon State Party's cease-fire area in southern Dooplaya. This is in clear violation of the NMSP's 1995 cease-fire agreement with the ruling Burmese military junta.

KHRG has received reports through the KNU that loudspeakers were used in Mudon, Thanbyuzayat and Kya In Seik Gyi towns to announce to the townspeople the SPDC's Order 1/99 and the 'Supplementary Order to Order 1/99' banning forced labour. The reports also said that beginning in September 2001 the SPDC authorities had stopped arresting people from these towns for portering. The situation is very different in the rural areas. While some villagers told KHRG that they have heard of the orders, and some had even seen printed copies of them, all agreed that forced labour was continuing. Many of the villagers said that the forced labour had decreased in 2001, although some of it, especially portering, had been taken up by convict porters brought in from central Burma . All the villagers interviewed by KHRG told of having to go for portering, loh ah pay (short-term forced labour), messenger duty, and other forms of forced labour for SPDC Army units during 2001.

Travel is severely restricted in the district. Villagers must get passes before they can leave their villages. Many of the villages have been told that no one is allowed to sleep in their farmfield huts, where farming families usually spend most of their time during the June-November growing season. This order has had an adverse effect on their crops because it forces the villagers to walk as much as 1 or 2 hours every day to get to their fields, and leaves their crops open to destruction by wild pigs, deer, stray cattle and other animals by night. Village heads have also been ordered to collect registers of all the families in the villages. Any villagers who do not have a house register posted on their house are considered to be KNU supporters and their houses are looted and destroyed. These registers are used by the soldiers both as a way of checking whether there are any strange people in the village when Army columns arrive, and to decide how many people and how much money, food and building material will be regularly demanded from a village.

Villagers and SPDC deserters have told KHRG that the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) is now operating further south in Dooplaya than it has before. Previously the DKBA was confined to the far north of the district and the 'hump' which juts into Thailand, but in the past year small numbers of DKBA soldiers have been allowed to set up checkpoints and small camps in various places throughout the district, as far south as the Three Pagodas Pass area. The arrival of the DKBA has meant that the villagers must now pay more 'taxes' and perform more forced labour. The DKBA is not allowed into the area controlled by the Nyein Chan Yay A'Pwet ( 'Peace Group') around Kyaikdon. This group was set up immediately following the 1997 offensive and is commanded by ex-KNLA commander Thu Mu Heh. The 'Peace Group', also known as the Karen Peace Army (KPA), was initially intended by the SPDC to administer and police the area, but it failed to attract many recruits and has been largely marginalised; it appears that the SPDC has decided to gradually replace the KPA with the DKBA as its proxy army in the region. The DKBA and the KPA do not get along.