ABUSES IN TEE SAH RA AREA

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Published date:
Friday, March 1, 1996

This report details the abuses and insecurity affecting villagers from the Tee Sah Ra / Ker Ghaw area of Kawkareik Township. The area is under SLORC control with a heavy DKBA presence.  Abuses against local villagers include forced labour, torture, detention, looting and execution.

[Note: Some details have been omitted or replaced by ‘xxxx’ for Internet distribution.]

The information below was sent in as field reports from independent human rights monitors and the newly formed Hsaw Wah Deh human rights reporting group, an independent group of Karens interested in documenting the situation in the villages. This report focuses on the Tee Sah Ra / Ker Ghaw area of Kawkareik Township, north of Myawaddy and about 15 km. west of the border with Thailand. In the area SLORC are working closely with DKBA to clamp down on the civilian population. There is still some presence of Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) in the area, and this report shows the nature and extent of SLORC and DKBA's retaliation against villagers whenever the KNLA attacks them.

Abbreviations

SLORC = State Law & Order Restoration Council
LORC = Law & Order Restoration Council, the lower-level SLORC administration existing as Village LORC, Township LORC, District LORC, etc.
DKBA = Democratic Kayin Buddhist Army
KNU = Karen National Union
KNLA = Karen National Liberation Army.

Topic Summary

Executions (p.1,2,3,6), torture (p.2,3,6), detention (p.3,6), looting (p.2,5), extortion (p.1,2,5,6), forced labour on roads (p.5,6), building camps (p.1), building roadside fences (p.4), porters (p.2,6), sentry duty (p.6), child labour (p.6), forced labour for tourism (p.5), labour and extortion for building a school (p.4-5), retaliations for KNLA attack (p.2,3), DKBA drug use (p.1,4), USDA (p.6), religious persecution (p.6), logging (p.4).

Reports

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[The following reports were sent in by independent human rights monitors and by the Hsaw Wah Deh group.]

The DKBA soldiers who stay in Ker Ghaw demand a tax of 15,000 Kyat per month for every sawmilling machine operating in the region. They use this money only for their own benefit. The villagers receive no benefit. These soldiers order the villagers to construct places for them to stay in that are of a very good standard. The villagers in Meh Pleh Toh area [the area around Ker Ghaw] must always help them. This DKBA group are 'out of control people' who want to catch and kill people who have done nothing wrong. They do this because the SLORC is behind them, supporting them. Many DKBA are now always taking kyaw law dee and other drugs. [Kyaw law dee means 'cockroach eggs', more commonly known as 'myin say', or 'horse medicine' - a strong amphetamine which is smoked and can be fatal if swallowed. It makes the user sleepless and aggressive for about a day. It is common in Thailand, where possession is punishable by imprisonment. It sells for US$3-5 per tablet depending on quality.]

On 6 February 1996, DKBA soldiers executed Htoo Nu (male, age 35, Karen Buddhist farmer from Tee Sah Ra village). Htoo Nu was single and had been staying in Thailand for some time. He returned to Tee Sah Ra for his engagement ceremony on 2 February, as he was to be married. On 6 February at about 10 a.m., DKBA soldiers Kyu Wah, Twee Maw, Blar Kay, Plah Wah, Par Klaw, Thaw Kya, and Ka Lu entered Tee Sah Ra village and arrested Htoo Nu. Kyu Wah, Twee Maw, and Blar Kay had previously been KNLA soldiers at Kawmoora and had known Htoo Nu for a long time. Htoo Nu was not a KNU member, though in the past he had some contact with them because Tee Sah Ra used to be a strongly KNU-held village. He may have been arrested simply because he had been in the refugee camps. Witnesses say that Htoo Nu could have fled at the time of his arrest but chose not to. The armed DKBA tied his hands behind his back and took him to the village elder's house. His siblings begged for his release and testified to his innocence, but this was not accepted and the DKBA warned everyone not to follow them, threatening to kill anybody who did.

Htoo Nu was taken to Ker Ghaw T'la Aw Kla, their camp near Ker Ghaw, where he was beaten and tortured until his blood and bodily fluids were falling freely. Finally, his hands were tied to his waist and he was hung from a tree by his midriff until his death, which occurred in the afternoon of the same day (6 February). All seven soldiers involved in his arrest also participated in his execution, however it is not clear if others were also active. The execution was ordered by Thein Shwe, an officer of DKBA #333 Brigade.

On 27 February 1996, at some time before 4 a.m., KNLA soldiers launched an attack on the DKBA unit stationed near the monastery in Ker Ghaw village commanded by Yay Naun Keh, commander of DKBA #4 Battalion, #999 Brigade. The battle lasted for approximately one to two hours. Of the 20-30 DKBA present at the time, 8 DKBA soldiers were killed and their camp was destroyed. One villager and two white-robed lay monastery attendants were also killed. In withdrawing, the DKBA left some wounded behind in the ruins, but the KNLA did not have sufficient time available to safely enter the location and capture them. After the 1-2 hours of combat, SLORC and some DKBA troops approached and shelled the KNLA, and pursued them as they withdrew.

Subsequent to the attack, about six SLORC Battalions, including Light Infantry Battalions (LIB) #355 and #357, Infantry Battalion (IB) #230, and battalions from #88 Light Infantry Division (LID) formed a combined column of over 1,000 soldiers commanded by Colonel Kyi Thein in order to pursue the KNLA soldiers. On 28 February more than 30 SLORC army trucks arrived in Tee Sah Ra village, loaded with these fully equipped SLORC troops and supplies. Their officers went to the village elders to demand an adequate number of carts from the village in order to transport the equipment and supplies in pursuit of the KNLA soldiers. From 28 February through 7 March the column moved through the area, taking civilians as porters along the way. Although the purpose of the column was supposed to be to seek out and destroy the KNLA force, the primary activity of the troops throughout that time was the looting of villages. Many villages suffered heavy losses. For example, Lo Baw village was looted on 5 March by soldiers of LIB 355 and 357 and IB 230, led by Maj. Aung Kyaw and Maj. Than Soe; Day Law Pya village was looted by LID 88 troops led by Lt. Col. Aung San Chit on 5 March; and Meh Bleh Wah Kee village was looted on 7 March by troops from LID 88 led by Major Ye Tun. These 3 villages alone reported losses in rice, oxen, cattle, goats, pigs, and chickens totalling 350,000 Kyat in value. Villagers reported that all their personal and household belongings were also looted, even items as small as spoons. SLORC soldiers returning from sorties into the villages were seen using 15 bullock carts at a time to transport their loot. Given their focus on these activities, after an entire week they were still completely unsuccessful in finding the KNLA force.

At the same time, the DKBA ordered each village in the Ker Ghaw area to pay 10,000 Kyat toward the funerals of the dead DKBA soldiers. Villages which had to pay included Ker Ghaw, Sgaw Ko, Kwee Lay, Pah Klu, Taw Oot, Tee Sah Ra, Tee Wah Blaw, Tee Law Thee, Paw Baw Ko, B'Naw Kleh Kee, Way Hsah, and Meh Bleh. On 7 March the village elders paid the money.

After the KNLA attack, the DKBA proceeded to intensify their efforts to go in search of villagers who had made "mistakes" [against them]. In retaliation for the KNLA attack, the DKBA arrested Tee Sah Ra villagers Tee Kler (male, age 20, Karen Buddhist farmer, married) and Dee Heh (male, age 35, Karen Buddhist, married with 5 children, used to be village secretary) on 3 March. At the time Tee Kler and Dee Heh were attending the annual temple festival just outside the village. At about 1 a.m. they were at a betting stall at the festival, when DKBA soldiers Po Law and Kyu Wah (a former KNLA soldier who joined DKBA in July 1995; he is from Tee Sah Ra and knew the 2 men) approached with their weapons. Dee Heh's wife told him to run, but he said, "I have made no mistakes, if they want to kill me they can do so." Tee Kler and Dee Heh bought food for the two DKBA soldiers. Then Po Law and Kyu Wah arrested them and took them into the village together with 5 or 6 other DKBA soldiers who had been waiting just outside the festival. In the village they tied the men's hands behind their backs, put them inside a cattle corral and guarded them there until daybreak.

In the morning, Tee Kler and Dee Heh's relatives came and begged the DKBA soldiers to release them, but they did not. At around 7 a.m. they loaded Tee Kler and Dee Heh into a car and the two victims' relatives begged the DKBA soldiers to permit them to go with them, but the DKBA refused. After they boarded the car and left the village they travelled only about 50 yards, then dismounted the car and took Tee Kler and Dee Heh across the fields, by another route back to their camp at Ker Ghaw T'la Aw Kla. The victims' relatives followed them a short time later, and along the way at Paw T'Lu Noh Pa Doh they saw blood on the ground and the earth was disturbed from the apparent beating that had taken place. The victims' parents arrived at Ker Ghaw on the same day but did not get permission to meet with their sons. When Dee Heh's wife went to Ker Ghaw and asked Kyu Wah, "Son, where is your father?" [Here 'Son' and 'Father' are used as terms of age, 'Father' meaning Dee Heh], Kyu Wah replied, "Didn't my father go back already?" and Po Law said, "If you want to see Dee Heh, go to T'la Aw Kla." At that time on 3 March, nobody knew if Tee Kler and Dee Heh were alive or dead.

On 7 March, DKBA soldiers in Ker Ghaw called for the village elders from Tee Sah Ra to go and meet with them regarding Tee Kler and Dee Heh. On 8 March the DKBA soldiers called Tee Kler and Dee Heh's relatives to go and meet with them at Ker Ghaw. On 9 March, people learned that Tee Kler had been released and Dee Heh had been shot twice and executed the afternoon of 7 or 8 March by the DKBA soldiers at Ker Ghaw T'la Aw Kla. Tee Kler had also been seriously beaten with his face covered. Regarding the execution of Dee Heh, the DKBA said that he had 'made a mistake', and regarding the arrest of Tee Kler, the DKBA soldiers said that he was 'a leader of Kawthoolei [KNU] spies'. DKBA held Dee Heh responsible for guiding the KNLA forces who attacked them, but at the time of the attack Dee Heh was in Thailand trading goods. He didn't know anything.

In Tee Sah Ra, almost all of the villagers are now afraid because of the DKBA murders. DKBA get their power from SLORC in order to seize members of KNU or people who sometimes help KNU. Thus, some of the men in the village who are under surveillance of DKBA cannot stay easily. Some of the elders in the village are not trusted by the people because many villagers think that they are working together with the Burmese military. So now villagers feel unable to trust each other, because some DKBA soldiers have relatives and family in the village and they are always watching and listening.

DKBA members from Tee Sah Ra are involved in the use of drugs, especially Twee Maw, Kyu Wah, Po Law, Pah Klaw, Plah Wah, Kah Lu, Blah Kay, and Thaw Kya. One myin say ['horse medicine'] tablet costs 500 Kyat, or 100 Thai baht [US$4 at the time or printing], or less for people who buy a lot. They are readily available at Way Sha village south of Tee Sah Ra, and the Burmese soldiers and leaders do not prevent it or enforce the laws. They are also available in Thailand. The effect lasts for about a day, so some DKBA try to use one every day [it is unlikely that many of them could get so much money by extorting it from villagers; there is a good chance SLORC is supplying at least some of the drug, especially further north and at DKBA headquarters in Myaing Gyi Ngu.].

So the situation now in Tee Sah Ra village is not peaceful, and it is as if every person is against the others, not like before. Some villagers say that they have no hope that the situation will become better in the future and believe that the village could be destroyed again [the village was previously razed to the ground by the Burmese military in l984]. The villagers have no trust between one another any longer. Everybody is always under surveillance. The average number of SLORC soldiers in the village at any one time is 50-60. DKBA have no fixed presence, but they are not far away and can come quickly and easily. They frequently come to visit their families.

On 22 December 1995, the Township LORC and Customs and Timber officials from Myawaddy held a meeting in Tee Sah Ra monastery and told village elders and the public that the villages in the area would begin working together and that they would improve life in the area [see "Conditions North of Myawaddy", KHRG #96-03, 10/1/96, for details of this meeting]. The Township LORC leader said that they would develop good administration for the village and make a complete registration of the village members in order to decrease their demands upon the villagers. Regarding education and health, he said that they would choose people who had a certificate of completion of Standard 8, 9, or 10 at a Burmese school for teacher training or nursing training. They promised to make new laws limiting tree cutting and unsound forestry practices. But the situation has not in the slightest way developed according to how the LORC leaders said it would. The DKBA soldiers have been given power over the villages by SLORC and they control the villages as they like. SLORC has said to DKBA, "Your work is to do with the villagers, and we will not enter into these matters; you yourselves do as you please." There is no good administration, as they said there would be. As for the registration, most villagers do not want to be involved in this, only the few villagers who travel back and forth to other places in Burma. [The registration is most likely to determine forced labour, extortion and rice quotas.]

As the Township and Village LORC leaders instructed during the meeting, the fence along the road to Meh Bleh to be constructed by the villagers is now complete, however it is not very good and serves no benefit [this fence of several kilometres was built entirely with forced labour and materials from the villagers]. It was only done because they ordered it. As for forestry, there are still no laws. To cut down trees to sell, all that's needed is to give money to SLORC soldiers and then loggers can cut trees as they like. A new clinic has been constructed and some nurses have been selected according to qualifications, but the clinic has still not opened and not all the staff have been chosen.

In August 1995, Township LORC leaders ordered construction of a school at Tee Sah Ra village. They refer to this as a Border Area Development school [part of the SLORC BAD programme]. For the construction of this school, they needed timber and the Township LORC took this timber from the monastery, totalling 170 planks [other sources say the planks on the monastery average about 8-10 feet long by about 10 inches wide; apparently the planks were actually ripped from the existing monastery building]. They did not want to give these planks, but because the Township LORC leaders have the power and the soldiers have the power, the people had to give them. The money they were given for them was only half of the value of the planks, and until now they have not received the other half of the value. Also, the Christian Church had to give planks and did not receive any money for them. Additionally, one villager named XXXX had wood and the Township LORC took all of his wood, although they did reimburse him for the cost of the wood. The Township LORC said the total cost of the school was 600,000 Kyat, and they made the village pay them 300,000 of this [actually the whole school probably cost less than 300,000]. This money took great effort to raise. The village community also had to work hard on the construction of the school, but did not receive any pay. As a result of having to do this work, the villagers are not free to do their own work. So the fields are neglected and ruined. Many of the villagers don't have enough food and some of them have serious illnesses. The people do not have anything coming to them, they are only giving out all the time. So how can these villagers stay happily and contentedly? If we consider this situation, we will understand what it is like.

Now the school is finished as ordered. There was already a school there, but the old one was demolished to make way for the new one. The old primary school had 5 teachers whose upkeep was taken care of by the villagers, but they have all now lost their positions because they do not have the formal qualifications demanded by the Township LORC. [The former teachers probably graduated from KNU schools and taught in Karen, whereas SLORC enforces a Burmese-only curriculum.] Many people are now in debt because of the cost of the school. The Township LORC has given not a single Kyat for the upkeep of the new teachers, so the villagers will have to provide that as well.

The SLORC soldiers also always take the domestic animals from the villagers all the time and give only half the value of the animals. This is the situation all through the Meh Bleh Doh area. Each group of SLORC soldiers take animals like this 3 times every month, and there are so many groups of soldiers that it is a great burden for the villagers.

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Forced Labour on the Way Sha - Than Ma Ya Taung road

Way Sha (also known as Quay Sha) village is about 10 miles north of Thingan Nyi Naung, in Kawkareik Township near Myawaddy. Than Ma Ya Taung mountain is about 4 miles west of Way Sha. On the hilltop there is a pagoda built on a boulder on the hill outcrop. There is also a holy footstep about 18 inches long in the rock and a pleasant waterfall. The Myawaddy District LORC Chairman, Colonel Maung Maung Nyaing, ordered the development of the location as a tourist site, probably to attract Thai weekend tourists once the Myawaddy - Mae Sot bridge is opened. He also ordered development of the waterfall to supply hydroelectricity to Myawaddy town and Thingan Nyi Naung military base.

Villagers were ordered to begin constructing a road from Way Sha to Than Ma Ya Taung in January 1996. Thousands of villagers are involved. The military are not directly supervising the work, but are giving work assignments to village heads assigning each of their villages a portion of road which they must complete. They have not specified what punishments will follow if the assignment is not completed. Each family is required to send one person, both to construct the road and to do sentry duty along the road route at night. The villagers receive no money, and no medical assistance if they suffer an accident. The embankment for the road, about 2 feet high by 30 feet wide, is now nearing completion. Villages involved are Tee Wah Blaw, Than Ba Ya, Ker Ghaw, Kyaw Ko, Lo Baw, Kwee Lay, Toh Thu Kee, Thay K'Tay, and Wah K'Lu.

Interview

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[The following interview was conducted by the Hsaw Wah Deh independent human rights monitoring group. "Ma Chit" is not her real name.]

NAME: "Ma Chit"          SEX: F          AGE: 37 Karen/Indian Muslim
FAMILY: Married, 4 children
ADDRESS: xxxx village, Hlaing Bwe Township      INTERVIEWED: March/96

I left my village in February [1996] because of the hardship and the loss of rights, especially because of the very bad economic situation. We were legally issued ID cards years ago. The SLORC changed to new ID cards in 1989 and 1990, and they refused to issue us [the Muslim community] new cards. So we are not able to travel and are not looked on as Burmese citizens.

We have to serve for three days each week at different kinds of 'voluntary' work, such as repairing the roads, cleaning the clinic in the village, and serving as [military] porters. At night, our village has a duty to act as sentries guarding the road, one person every 20 feet [along the roadside]. This duty is rotated through every family, so we had to go once every 5 days. Sometimes I had to send my daughter, who is only 11 years old. Porter duty comes around to our [family's] turn once or twice each month. Every time we have to carry to Ta Le camp [about 30 km. to the east across the Dawna Mountains] carrying supplies and ammunition. It is a must for each family to provide one person when called, so if people can't go they have to hire someone else to go for them at 150 Kyat per day. Last year some people tried to refuse to go for this duty, and they were locked in wooden stocks [mediaeval-European style leg stocks] and placed in a pit in the ground 5 plah [8 feet] deep, though I didn't see this myself.

Porter fees of 50 Kyat per month [per family] must be paid, 'volunteer labour' fees of 150 Kyat per month, and many other fees, such as 'road repair' fees. [All of these are just extortion by military commanders.] Also for the USDA fund, even though I am not a USDA member. [USDA = Union Solidarity Development Association, SLORC's 'mass support' organization formed in 1993 by threatening and coercing people into joining; non-members get nowhere under SLORC.] If they have [USDA] activities in our area we have to give money for the cost of their food, travel expenses, etc.

In early 1995, the DKBA led by Saw Nyunt Tin and Ye Nan Geh arrested 3 Muslims and 3 Christians in our village. One of the Christians, Saw Ni, was badly beaten and secretly executed. His relatives heard about this and reported it to a SLORC officer, hoping that they would take action against DKBA. Then the SLORC came and checked the place where Saw Ni had been buried. They saw that he had been badly beaten and killed with his hands tied behind his back, but instead of taking any action against DKBA they just took the other 5 prisoners away with them. They were finally released in December [1995].

So the villagers are not happy to live in our village, especially the Muslims and Christians. Now almost all of the Christians have already left, and only one third of the Muslims are still living there, about 45 Muslim families.