Situation Update | Bilin and Hpa-an townships, Thaton District (June to November 2014)
The following Situation Update was received by KHRG in December 2014. It was written by a community member in Thaton District who has been trained by KHRG to monitor local human rights conditions. It is presented below translated exactly as originally written, save for minor edits for clarity and security. This report was received along with other information from Thaton District, including nine incident reports, nine interviews, 148 photographs and ten video clips.
This situation update is from Doo Tha Htoo [Thaton] District, [covering events] in Bilin Township and Hpa-an Township areas. [This] situation update covers political, economic and community developments [and the] situation of civilians’ livelihoods. The [period of this situation update] is from June 2014 until November 2014.
Political situation in Hpa-an Township
This [section covers the] transition in Hpa-an Township, Doo Tha Htoo [Thaton] District since the KNU [Karen National Union] and [Burma/Myanmar] government signed [the 2012 preliminary] ceasefire agreement. In Hpa-an Township, the militia, Tha Ka Hsa Hpa, is based in Noh Ma Kwee [village] and is led by Moe Nyo. He established basic military training on June 4th 2014, beside Noh Ma Kwee village, in Wo Kyain village tract, Hpa-an Township. He trains 70 soldiers a month. I am not certain why he does his planning [recruiting soldiers]. He recruits the soldiers from villages as they [Tha Ka Hsa Hpa] have done in the past. In a village, if households are fewer than 50, five people are required for military recruitment and if there are more than 50 households [in a village], six to ten people are required for recruitment. Villagers do not want to be in the Tha Ka Hsa Hpa military, but the order is that if you cannot follow their requirements [if you do not serve] the one who is elected to be a solider must pay 50,000 kyat (US $48.50) per month. He [Moe Nyo] recruited soldiers in Wo Kyain village tract, Boo Pyer village tract, Aee Heh village tract and Kyoh Moh Thweh village tract.
Government military activity in Hpa-an Township
Regarding government military activity in Hpa-an Township, there is no other activity. The government military [Tatmadaw] have no army camps in this township, they just have Battalion #1014 which is a BGF [Border Guard Force] company. They [BGF] have three army camps, which are Law Poo army camp, Meh Poo army camp and Pah Paw army camp. The BGF established those army camps, which do not seem like army camps. [Instead], they seem like gates to demand tax from cow and buffalo [traders]. Four or five members [BGF soldiers] are there at each gate and have no other activity [than collecting tax]. The government military [Tatmadaw] also have no other activities, except sometimes, if [Burma/Myanmar] administrators are coming to work [in Thaton District] regarding education or healthcare, they [Tatmadaw] provide security [for the administrators]. They [Tatmadaw] ask permission before they come. [They] ask permission from the KNLA [Karen National Liberation Army] and if they give them permission they come.
Economic situation in Hpa-an Township
The Mi Cho Taung company was founded in 2014 and is led by Saw P’Lay and it is based in Hpa-an Township. In early 2014, this company has been operating at Meh See mountain mining for copper. They have not yet received results [indicating there is copper]. A KNLA leader who does not want to reveal his name said it [exploratory mining] is still in progress. This company is known as a KNU [owned] company. It was established in Thaton District in 2014. Officer Saw P’Lay is in charge of the company and his secretary is P’Doh Ko Lay. The objective of establishing that company is to increase trading and find funding for [Thaton] District and Brigade [One].
Situation in Bilin Township
[In Thaton District], KNU and KNLA army camps are based in Bilin Township, therefore the Brigade [One] and [Thaton] District headquarters is located in this township. The KNLA established another battalion in August 2014; it is called Battalion #3. In Doo Tha Htoo [Thaton] District, the KNLA previously had [only] two battalions, which are Battalion #1 and Battalion #2. KNLA Battalion #1 is based in Hpa-an Township. [KNLA] Battalion #2 is based in Thaton Township. Battalion #3 is a new battalion and it is based in Bilin Township. [They] have no other different activities; we just report about them. The KNDO [Karen National Defense Organisation] Battalion #2 is based in Kyaikto Township.
NGO activity in Bilin Township
Since the ceasefire period, NGOs [non-governmental organisations] are coming to Bilin Township for local development projects. The NGOs are (1) SDC [Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation]; (2) BAJ [Bridge Asia Japan]; (3) ADRAM [Adventist Development and Relief Agency Myanmar]; (4) Save the Children; and (5) Nippon Foundation.
SDC came to do local development projects in Bilin Township in 12 villages. The 12 villages are (1) Yoh Klah village; (2) Htee Pa Doh Hta village; (3) Noh K’Neh village; (4) Kyoh Weh village; (5) Baw Naw Nee village; (6) Ta Auh Hkee village; (7) Thoo K’Bee village; (8) P’Ya Raw village; (9) Lay Kay [village]; (10) Ler Hklaw [village]; (11) Ta Paw village; [and] (12) Ta Paw Hkee village. The purpose of these projects are to build schools and clinics, construct roads, and [build] houses for teachers, as well as to install pipes for water supply. This organisation started [their projects] in 2013, but we cannot see any results [yet]. On November 23rd 2014, I went to collect information in Noh K’Neh village, Kyoh Weh village tract, Bilin Township. I met with a SDC field director. His name is Saw Min Naung. He came to have a meeting in Noh K’Neh village. The purpose of the meeting was to implement an objective of the organisation and establish the community work implementation committee among villagers. When I met with him and I asked about his job he told me that in the villages which had been selected [for SDC projects, those projects] would be finished in 2014. They plan to establish a committee in each village in order to achieve this purpose. He elected one person from each village to help him with [financial] accounting.
2. BAJ organisation project situation
The BAJ organisation came to do a development project in Bilin Township. The purpose of the project is to supply water for local villages which are very far from a river. In Bilin Township, the village tracts that they had established a water supply for are Kyoh Weh village tract and P’Ya Raw village tract. Some of these villages are Kyoh Weh village, Baw Naw Nee village, P’Ya Raw village and Lay Kay village. Kyoh Weh village and Baw Naw Nee village requested a school, but the people gave them a water supply [pump] [instead]. I went to meet the Kyoh Weh village head, Tee Zaw Wah, [and] he said to me [the BJA] project started on May 5th 2014 and the villagers have [seen] no benefit as they have not finished their work yet [and have left the village]. So, whether they will come back [and finish the project] or not we cannot say.
ADRAM also built clinics and schools for villagers. I am not certain [about this] information, I just heard from the people [villagers].
4. Save the Children
Save the Children came and built nursery schools for the villagers. The villages in Bilin Township which are based in large areas of flat ground and are beside the roads and towns almost all have a nursery school [established by Save the Children]. In some villages we know that the KWO [Karen Women Organisation] already built a nursery school, but this organisation [Save the Children] came and asked the people [villagers] to build another new school. Because of that, one KWO chairperson from Doo Tha Htoo [Thaton] Township felt that they [Save the Children] might [unintentionally] create conflict between them [KWO who want children to go their schools] and villagers. [We] see that in Htee Pa Doh Hta village, Bilin Township, KWO had established a nursery school in west Htee Pa Doh Hta village [and] east [Htee Pa Doh Hta village]. In June 2014, that organisation [Save the Children] came [and] asked villagers to build another new nursery school. The [Htee Pa Doh Hta] villagers complained that one village would have three [nursery] schools, so what can we do [with these three nursery schools]?
5. Nippon Foundation
We know that they [Nippon Foundation] had come to support the villagers by providing food, such as rice, and solar panels. In 2013, they came one time to provide [rice and solar panels] in Thaton Township. In August 2014, [they] again came to provide it in four townships. [They] gave each person a big tin of rice and [each household] a solar panel. They focus on supporting small villages which are rural mountain [sites].
Development works include roads and agriculture plantations in Bilin Township. They [people] came to construct a main road from P’Nweh Klah village to Lay Kay village. This main road was given by contract to Htu Company, U Ye Tun, U Win Luin and Sit Engineering Company. [We] also know that the budget for road construction was provided by the [Burma/Myanmar] government. Road construction started in early 2014 and it became just a red [dirt] road. In the summer of this year they plan to cover it with concrete, [but] now because the dry season has not come yet and the road is not done, they have yet to start it.
Long-term agricultural plantations
During this year, from June 2014 until now [November 2014] in Bilin Township, some rich people and some villagers who have money are planting teak in almost every village. Because of this, some villagers do not have land [to earn their livelihoods] and hill field farmers have problems when working in the hill fields and grazing their buffalos and cows. In past years, people had been planting rubber plantations and now [they] started to do teak plantations. Because of that, for the villagers who [earn their livelihoods] in daily labour, it will cause big problems for them.
In Bilin and Hpa-an townships, the civilians are earning [their livelihoods] in the same way. Mostly [they are earning] their livelihoods from working on farms and some are [working] on hill fields. Some [villagers earn their livelihoods] from working on plantations and some [are earning their livelihoods] from daily [labour] work. [They are earning their] livelihoods like that [because] there is no more forest, there is a water shortage, unfavourable weather [conditions] and the quality of the soil is decreasing. [Therefore], year by year, the rice production becomes lesser and lesser. In paddy farms, the soil is not good [to grow rice], therefore most farms became teak plantations and rubber plantations. The consequence [of that] is the youth become migrant workers and [go] to find jobs in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. They are going to find jobs and send money for their families which their families use to buy rice from the towns. Some people went to find jobs and send money for their families, [but] some people who use drugs cannot send money to their families. Some people are ruining their lives in other countries [with drugs]; some have new marriages and become other people’s problems. Some leave their kids with old moms [grandmas] and old dads [grandpas], and the children became orphans.
The information that was written in this report is all truthfully occurring in Bilin and Hpa-an townships. Also, we saw [this] by ourselves and [some information] the local villagers told us [and] we report about it.