Papun and Nyaunglebin Districts: The SPDC's Dry Season Offensive Operations

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Papun and Nyaunglebin Districts: The SPDC's Dry Season Offensive Operations

Published date:
Friday, April 5, 2002

An update on the situation of internally displaced villagers which was documented in the KHRG report Flight, Hunger and Survival in October 2001. In November 2001, the SPDC began a multi-pronged assault on internally displaced villagers throughout this region, killing on sight more villagers than in recent years, destroying the rice crop and burning more villages once again. In their increasing anger and frustration, a group of internally displaced villagers beat to death an SPDC officer who tried to surrender to them. In December more villages under SPDC control were forcibly relocated, and February 2002 has seen a resumption in attacks on villages near the Salween River, while villagers continue to be taken as porters to support these military operations.

The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) began its 2001-2002 dry season offensive operations with a three-pronged push in Papun District and eastern Nyaunglebin District. This has been followed by moves into northern Papun District and along the Salween River where it forms the border with Thailand. The main attacks came at the beginning of the rice harvest season, forcing villagers to leave much of their crop in the fields where some was eaten and the rest destroyed by the SPDC soldiers. Most villagers had little left from the previous year's harvest and these new attacks almost guarantee that they will not have enough rice to see them through to the next harvest at the end of 2002.

From November 9th 2001, five battalions of SPDC Light Infantry Division #33 (Light Infantry Battalions #11, 119 and 111, and Infantry Battalions #4 and 76) came down from K'Baw Tu Army camp in Ler Doh township of eastern Nyaunglebin District and moved into south-central Lu Thaw township of Papun District (see the attached maps). The five battalions split into two columns which moved east into Kheh Pa, Yeh Mu Plaw and Pay Kay village tracts of Lu Thaw township, an area along the border of Nyaunglebin and Papun Districts which had become a tenuous safe area for displaced villagers who fled from further west in 2000 and early 2001 when SPDC columns entered, burned and landmined their villages in Ler Doh and northern Hsaw Tee townships of Nyaunglebin District. In November 2001 these already displaced villagers found themselves under attack and on the run again, along with local villagers of the Kheh Pa and Yeh Mu Plaw areas. The soldiers destroyed any possessions, school supplies, crops or food caches that they came across. One of the columns burned Lay Wah, Thay Koh Der and Maw Thay Der villages in southeastern Lu Thaw township. However, most of the villages were not burned. Some in the area have speculated that this is because the SPDC does not want burned villages to be photographed and used internationally as evidence against them. Instead, some of the unburned villages have been landmined, which still makes them uninhabitable for the villagers.

The two SPDC columns reunited and crossed back to the west side of the Bilin River on November 27th 2001, then went back west into Nyaunglebin District. Many of the villagers who fled the columns have now returned to their villages or hiding sites. Schools have been reopened and villagers are trying to gather what paddy remains in the fields. The situation still remains unstable and reports from KHRG researchers and the Karen National Union (KNU) indicate that the Burmese Army may be resupplying and preparing to launch another attack into the area sometime in March or April 2002. One column of troops did return to the Lay Wah area in early March, forcing the villagers in the area to flee once more.

A second force of 320 soldiers from three battalions (Light Infantry Battalions #503 and 504 and Infantry Battalion #17) of the SPDC's Sa Ka Ka #1 (Military Operations Command #1) moved southeast out of Toungoo District into northeastern Lu Thaw township in mid-November 2001. These units are now operating in Kay Pu, Naw Yoh Hta and Kaw Lu Der village tracts. The soldiers are moving through the area burning villages, destroying crops and shooting villagers on sight. Some of the villagers have been unable to harvest their paddy due to the movements of the SPDC columns. A KHRG researcher noted that the number of killings of villagers so far this year by the SPDC soldiers has been markedly higher than usual, and that the SPDC reportedly have a four-month plan to 'clear' the area to the east of the Yunzalin (a.k.a. Bway Loh Kloh) River. In one noteworthy incident, a group of displaced villagers from T--- village beat to death a Burmese Army captain who had deserted the Army and surrendered to them. These villagers had been forced to flee their village three days earlier and had watched as year after year their homes and crops were destroyed and their friends and family were shot and killed by SPDC soldiers. Incidents such as this are very rare, as villagers would not usually dare to harm a Burmese soldier, especially an officer; normally they simply take Burmese deserters to the nearest resistance forces. However, the incident reflects the growing level of anger and frustration being felt by villagers in the region after years of forced displacement. Similar anger led to the formation of God's Army in Tenasserim Division in 1997, and in Papun and Nyaunglebin Districts it has already led many villagers to volunteer for the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA).

A third force of three battalions moved up the Yunzalin River valley north from Papun with the aim of capturing the KNU district administrative centre at Day Pu Noh. As in the other areas villages and crops were destroyed by the soldiers along the way. The Burmese Army came within a few kilometres of Day Pu Noh itself but pulled back for unknown reasons.

In early February 2002 the SPDC launched another attack, this time northward up the Salween River against the All Burma Students' Democratic Front (ABSDF) and Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) in the area of Weh Gyi on the Salween River in northeastern Bu Tho township. There is a settlement of internally displaced villagers nearby, but it is not clear yet how they have been affected by the attack. There has also been fighting in areas of Bu Tho township along the Salween River across from the Thai-Karen village of Mae Sam Laep , where the sound of firefights can occasionally be heard. All boat traffic has been stopped on the Salween River by the SPDC and the military has commandeered any boats it finds to carry its supplies for the military operations.

The SPDC began another round of village relocations in Kaw Boke village tract of northern Bu Tho township in mid-December 2001. Soldiers from SPDC Light Infantry Battalion #341, Infantry Battalion #19, and Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) #777 Brigade came in a combined column and relocated villagers from Kler Lu Ko, Pway Lu and Thay Wi Kloh to Papun town and to Kaw Boke village on December 17th 2001. Kloh Mer Toh Kee village was also relocated to Papun on December 18th. The villagers had not been ordered to do forced labour in the second half of 2001 and thought nothing was wrong until the soldiers suddenly arrived in their villages. The soldiers immediately ordered the villages to gather their things and go. Due to the short notice some villagers were unable to take anything. The villages were then burned. Villagers were told they would have to buy their own rice when they arrived in Papun or Kaw Boke. Villagers in Kaw Boke who still had rice gave some to the relocated villagers but otherwise no rice was given. The villagers stayed there for nearly a month but the lack of food and medical care and the fact that they were unable to bring much with them forced most to flee into the forest by mid-January 2002. There they joined villagers who had fled during the relocations and others who had fled before the soldiers arrived in their villages.

The villagers of Paw T'Kha Kee, Du K'Meh Kee, May Tay Kee, K'Neh Khaw Hta and Kay Hta villages in Kaw Boke village tract heard what had happened at the other four villages and ran away before the combined SPDC/DKBA column arrived. The SPDC and DKBA troops burned their deserted villages and then laid landmines around them. A KHRG researcher reported that the SPDC soldiers had brought 400 landmines with them, but only 22 had been found as of the end of December 2001. The villagers no longer dare to go back to their villages out of fear of these landmines. SPDC soldiers told villagers from Kler Lu Ko after their village had been burned and mined, "You can't stay in this place. We have laid a lot of landmines." The villagers were forced to flee in such a hurry that they were unable to take much food with them and the paddy that was left has been either eaten or destroyed by the soldiers. The now displaced villagers have not been able to build houses yet and are staying in small huts in the forest.

Villagers from Hee Po Der, Hsaw Sheh Der and Toh Po Wa Der in northern Bu Tho township were ordered on December 8th 2001 to clear the brush alongside the Papun-Kyauk Nyat military supply road, but refused to do it because of the numerous landmines which the KNLA is known to have laid along the road. The SPDC officers then threatened the villagers and ordered them again to go. On previous occasions, the village heads had to go with the SPDC soldiers and clear the landmines first, then the villagers had to cut the brush, but this time the KNLA ordered the village heads not to go and meet with the SPDC. This has put the villagers in a very difficult position. In early February an SPDC truck travelling along this same road hit a landmine at Saw Bweh Der resulting in the deaths of over 20 Burmese soldiers.

SPDC forces have also been active in Dweh Loh township of southwestern Papun District since November 2001. Light Infantry Battalions #119 and 120 of Light Infantry Division #33 and Light Infantry Battalion #313 of Light Infantry Division #77 have been conducting operations in Meh Thu village tract along the Bilin River valley. Paw Wah Der, Kyu Po Kee and Meh Gha Law villages have been burned by the soldiers and landmines have been laid in the villages and surrounding fields. This area lies directly south of Kheh Pa village tract of Lu Thaw township (which was attacked in November 2001 as mentioned earlier), and is also an area where many internally displaced villagers are living in hiding. Forced labour is continuing in this area, with villagers from Meh Way , Kloh Kee , Wa Tho Law, Toh Meh Kee, Khaw Wa and Meh Kaw Law being forced to porter supplies from Meh Way up to the SPDC Army camp at Maw Thay Hta. KHRG researchers in the region report that this happens regularly each month. Ma Lay Ler and Lay Po Hta villagers are also still forced to work for the SPDC, although some have fled into the jungle to escape the labour.