Thaton Interview: Saw A---, October 2014

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Published date:
Tuesday, October 27, 2015

This Interview with Saw A--- describes events and issues occurring in Bilin Township, Thaton District, prior to and during October 2014, including militarisation, arbitrary taxation, restrictions on the freedom of movement, villagers’ livelihoods, economic migration, education, and healthcare.

  • Saw A---, who lives in B--- village, explains how there is an increasing amount of checkpoints in the area set up by armed groups, including the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA), the Border Guard Force (BGF), the Karen National Union (KNU), as well as the Tatmadaw.
  • These armed groups have been demanding crippling amounts of tax from Saw A---, who has worked as a livestock trader for over 20 years. The armed groups have been demanding around 5,000 to 10,000 kyat (US $4.45 to $8.90) in tax from Saw A--- on each pair of buffalo and cows he has with him when he passes through the various checkpoints in the area.
  • Saw A--- also mentioned that due to a lack of career opportunities in Bilin Township, 20 young people from B--- village migrated to Thailand in search of employment.

Interview | Saw A---, (male, 47), B--- village, Bilin Township, Thaton District (October 2014)

The following Interview was conducted by a community member trained by KHRG to monitor local human rights conditions. It was conducted in Thaton District in October 2014 and is presented below translated exactly as it was received, save for minor edits for clarity and security.[1] This interview was received along with other information from Thaton District, including six other interviews, nine incident reports, one situation update, 143 photographs and ten video clips.[2]

 

Ethnicity: Karen

Religion: Buddhist

Marital Status: Married

Occupation: Trader

Position: Villager

 

What is your name?

Saw A---.

How old are you?

I am 47 years old.

Where do you live?

I live in B--- village.

B--- [village] is based in which village tract?

Yoh Klah village tract.

What township?

Bilin Township.

What district?

Doo Tha Htoo [Thaton] District.

What is your nationality?

Karen.

What about your religion?

Buddhism.

What do you do?

I am a trader.

Are you a cow and buffalo trader?

Yes.

Do you have a family?

Yes.

How many children do you have?

Five children.

How old is your eldest child?

27 years old.

How old is your youngest child?

12 years old.

Do you have any [administrative] responsibilities in B--- village?

No.

Are you simply a villager [do not hold a position of responsibility]?

Yes.

You said you are a cow and buffalo trader, right?

Yes.

As you are a trader, can you tell me about your experience trading?

I do not know what to say.

Can you say what difficulties you have faced when trading? For example, you have to pay taxes, so can you tell me [about that]?[3]

In the past I did not have to pay too much tax, because there were not many [armed groups]. Now there are many armed groups and they demand too much tax.

How many years have you been a trader?

I have been a trader for over 20 years.

Have you faced any difficulties as a cow and buffalo trader?

Yes, one time I was arrested by the Tatmadaw.

When did they arrest you?

In March 1999.

Do you remember the [exact] date?

Yes, [it was] on March 3rd 1999.

After you were arrested what did they do to you?

They took all my things.

You were arrested by which [armed] group?

Battalion #230.

Do you know [if they are a] LIB [Light Infantry Battalion][4] or IB [Infantry Battalion][5]?

The one who arrested me is Officer Moo Chin Yo Paw.[6]

Where were they based [in 1999]?

In the past, they were based in Lay Kay [army camp].

Is he [Officer Moo Chin Yo Paw] battalion commander or deputy commander?

He is a deputy commander.

Do you know the number of the LID [Light Infantry Division][7] [they are under]?

They are [from] [Light Infantry Division] #44.[8]

They took all your things after you were arrested by them, so did they compensate you?

They did not compensate me; we thought we would be able to get back the [money] but later we could not get the money back, even though we tried.

You have been a trader for over 20 years, so can you tell me about the situation with the checkpoints that you have to go through?

In the past there were less checkpoints, therefore there were less tax demands, but now there are DKBA [Democratic Karen Benevolent Army] and BGF [Border Guard Force] [checkpoints].

You said that currently you have to pay too much tax to the DKBA and the BGF, but what about the Tatmadaw? Do you have to pay them?

We have to pay tax to the DKBA, the BGF, the Tatmadaw, and the KNU [Karen National Union].

How different have their demands for tax been? How about the KNU?

The KNU demand 5,000 kyat (US $4.45)[9] for a pair of buffalo or cows. They give us a receipt.[10]

The KNU demand 5,000 kyat (US $4.45) for the pair of buffalo or cows and provide a receipt?

Yes.

What about [at] BGF checkpoints?

There are many BGF checkpoints so can I talk about all of them?

Yes.

We leave B--- [village and head towards] the BGF checkpoint, but before we reach the BGF checkpoint [we have to cross] the Maw Loh River, and if [another BGF group] are there, we pay them 5,000 kyat (US $4.45) for each pair of buffalo and cows.

At the Maw Loh River [crossing] you have to pay 5,000 kyat (US $4.45) [to the BGF] and then?

At the Maw Loh River [crossing] we have to pay 5,000 kyat (US $4.45) for each pair of buffalo and cows, in Weh Kyee [village] we have to pay 10,000 kyat (US $8.90), in Ma Aeh [village] 10,000 kyat (US $8.90), Lay Ka Hsoo [village] 15,000 kyat (US $13.35), and [at] Wa Kluh Kaw [village] [the BGF] demand money for cigarettes.

How much do they ask for cigarettes?

We give them what we want.

Have you mentioned all the [armed groups’] checkpoints?

No. At the [checkpoint] in Ta Ree Kaw [village][11] we have to pay 6,000 kyat (US $5.20). When we reach Brigade #7 [Hpa-an District] we have to pay [the KNU] 1,000 kyat (US $0.89) for each pair [of buffalo and cows].

Is it a KNU [controlled area], Brigade #7?

Yes. We have to pay [the KNU] 1,000 kyat (US $0.89) [when we reach Brigade #7]. [Then] At Kler Day [village], we have to pay 10,000 kyat (US $8.90).

Is it [Kler Day village] a KNU checkpoint?

No. [It is] a Tatmadaw checkpoint. The Kler Hkoh [village checkpoint] is a BGF checkpoint; they [also] demand 10,000 kyat. When we reach the river bank [of the Salween River] we give one or two thousand kyat (US $0.89 or $1.78) to the [BGF] soldiers to buy cigarettes.

How many KNU checkpoints are there from here [B--- village] to the Salween River bank that you have to pay taxes at?

Sometimes we go to buy [buffalo and cows] in Koo Wa [village], so we have to come back across three [KNU] brigade checkpoints.

So you have to pay [taxes at] one checkpoint in each brigade?

Yes.

You go to buy [buffalo and cows] in Koo Wa [village], and you have to come back across three brigades?

Yes Brigade #3 [Nyaunglebin District], Brigade #1 [Thaton District], and Brigade #7 [Hpa-an District].

Do they [KNU] demand the same amount of money in each brigade?

No.

You said in Brigade #7 [the KNU] demand 10,000 kyat (US $8.90)?[12]

[The 10,000 kyat (US $8.90)] at Brigade #7 is demanded by the Tatmadaw.

How much [do the KNU] in Brigade #7 demand in tax?

[The KNU] in Brigade #7 do not demand tax because we already have a receipt [from a previous KNU checkpoint] with us. They just ask for some money to buy cigarettes and curry [1,000 kyat (US $0.89)].[13]

So you had to pay [tax] in Brigade #1 and Brigade #3?

Yes, we had to pay.

How much tax did they [KNU] demand in Brigade #3?

They demanded 15,000 kyat (US $13.35). 

Now, do they still demand the same amount?

Now I heard they have decreased the tax. In Hkaw Ka [village] they demand 10,000 kyat (US $8.90).

What about the DKBA?

If we meet with them they demand tax and we have to pay, but we do not travel on the same road [as the DKBA] often.

Considering the amount of money you have to pay in tax, are you doing well with your trading?

Sometimes we have no benefits [from trading], but sometimes we get a bit of profit. Even if we get no profit we have to pay that [same] amount of money to them [armed groups].

What other problems do you face?

The problem is with the arbitrary taxation. If they demanded less tax it would be much better for us. If they demanded one or two thousand [kyat] (US $0.89 or $1.78) from each pair [of buffalo and cows] to buy food for the soldiers it would be much better.

Will you continue to do this trading?

I have stopped doing this for three months, because the legs of my cows and buffalo were in pain [became lame] from sicknesses. It has caused their market prices to fall, but after three months I will go back to trading.

After the [preliminary] ceasefire[14] was signed between the [Burma/Myanmar] government and the KNU, have you seen any change in your village?

After the ceasefire was signed the situation got a bit better but nothing special has changed because the Tatmadaw always pursue us in order to get money.

You said the Tatmadaw always pursue you, so why do they pursue you?

They always pursue us because they demand money from us. They know [when] we are on our way [to trade cattle], because they contact each other [and inform on our movements]. Some people [traders] have to pay them between 50,000 kyat (US $43.35) and 80,000 kyat (US $69.35).

The money that they demand from you, do you think they give that money to their superior leaders?

I do not think they give it to their leaders.

So they demand it for their own benefit?

Yes.

Are there any army camps based in your village?

Yes, there is an army camp.

The Tatmadaw [camp] which is based in your village, do you know their LID or battalion number?

I know their battalion number. They are LIB [Light Infantry Battalion] #2.

Do you know their commander’s name?

Win Min La is the commander.[15]

Do you know the battalion commander’s name?[16]

I do not know.

You said the army camp is based in your village, so how do you feel about them [the Tatmadaw]?

I think it would be better [for them] to relocate their camp during the ceasefire period.

Why do you think [it would be] better [for them] to relocate their camp?

Currently, they are based here and they do not force us to work for them, but we cannot walk freely in the village. Sometimes we need to go out from the village during the night.

So you cannot walk freely from the village during the night [due to the Tatmadaw presence]?

Yes, sometimes we go out from the village to hunt frogs, fish, and birds.

Do they disturb you in other ways?

They are based here and we are not able to travel freely.

Do they create any problems for you [villagers]?

At present they do not create any problems for us, but in the past they did.

So since the ceasefire has been in place they do not create any problems?

Yes.

If you want to go somewhere do they stop you [from going]?

Sometimes if we travel with a motorboat we have to stop the boat in front of their camp.

So if you travel with a motorboat you have to stop and give information to them?

Yes.

What about other [problems]?

We have to inform them before going somewhere.

What do they take from you for stopping the motorboat?

They do not take anything from us.

Have you seen them steal food and rape people?

No I have not seen.

Do they force villagers to work for them in their army camp?

No.

If they [the Tatmadaw] go somewhere, do they ask villagers to go with them to show the direction?

No.

What about forced labour?

Nowadays they do not commit forced labour.

So they do not commit any other abuses?

Yes [they do not], but they are based in the village so we do not feel safe.

You said that you are not able to travel freely because they [the Tatmadaw] are based in your village, so how do you feel? Is it good or bad when an army camp is based there?

It would be better [for them] to relocate their camp.

Following the ceasefire agreement, are there any development projects taking place in your village which are run by the government and NGOs [non-governmental organisations]?

They distributed rice.

Rice was distributed by which organisation?

The rice was distributed by the Nippon Foundation.[17]

How did they distribute the rice?

One big tin[18] (16 kg or 35.2 lb) of rice was given to each person.[19]

They gave one big tin (16 kg or 35.2 lb) of rice to each person?

Yes.

When did they distribute it and do you remember the date?

In the last month [September to October 2014].[20]

You do not remember the [exact] date?

I do not remember.

What about other organisations - will they come to do development projects?

If they come to do development projects they will have to meet with the village head.

Have you heard whether any other organisation will come to your village [to do development projects]?

Some of them said they would be coming to our village.

So you do not have detailed information from them?

No.

How many households are there in B--- village?

Over [censored for security] households.

What do the villagers do for a living?

They are earning their living from land cultivation, farming and some of them do trading.

Do they get enough food from cultivation and farming each year?

Some villagers get enough food but some of them do not get enough food. Most of the villagers do not get enough food, so the numbers of villagers that do get enough food are diminishing.

For the villagers who do not have enough food can they earn money to [buy food]?

There is not an easy way for them to earn money.

So if they are not able to earn money, what can they do?

They borrow rice from their neighbours. After that they have to borrow [money] from lenders.

You said most of the villagers do not have enough food, so do any villagers go to work in another country?

Yes, some villagers go to work in another country.

Which country do most of them go to work in?

They [mostly] go to work in Bangkok, [Thailand].

Do you think they are doing well with work [in Bangkok]?

Some of them might be doing well, but some are not doing well. Some of them can send money to their parents, but the people who use drugs, they cannot send money to their parents.

Do they face any problems when they work there, for example: the brokers[21] do not drive them to the destination that they want to go to, and when they get there they have to work as cleaners?

I never heard about that.

So they do not face any problems?

Most of them get there safely and also get suitable jobs.

Have you seen if they are underage when they go to work there?

I think many of them are underage.

How many of them?

I think two people who are from our village.

Were they keen to go or did their parents force them?

They were keen to go, because their parents cannot earn a living by other means.

They are underage, so are they accepted by the Thai people who they go to work for?

Even if they are underage they are not doing heavy work so they are accepted by their bosses.

Are there any women going to work in [Bangkok]?

Yes.

How many villagers from your village have gone to work there?

I think around 20 villagers.

Why are they going to work there, are there no jobs in the [village]?

In here [the village] daily labour work is not always available and also some of their parents are destitute, therefore they go to work there [Bangkok].

Are there any villagers who use drugs?

In B--- village I have not seen the villagers use drugs.

I meant methamphetamine?

I saw [that] they used to drink alcohol and [use] methamphetamine. Now most of the young people are going to work in Bangkok, and children in the village go to school.

Do you have a school in your village?

Yes.

How many standards are there in the school?[22]

[There are] eight standards.

Did the villagers build it by themselves or was it built by the KNU and the [Burma/Myanmar] government?

The school was built by the villagers and it is connected to the [Burma/Myanmar] government school.[23]

How many teachers are there in the school?

There are 14 teachers in the school.

You said the school is connected to the [Burma/Myanmar] government school, so how many [Burma/Myanmar] government teachers are there?

[There are] six [Burma/Myanmar government] teachers.

Are there eight teachers from the village?

Yes.

How do you support the teachers from the village, can you explain to me?

[It] depends on the standard that they are teaching.

Can you explain to me about that?

If they are teaching eighth standard they get paid 10,000 kyat (US $8.90) [per month].

What does the [Burma/Myanmar] government do for their teachers?

[For] the teachers who are from the [Burma/Myanmar] government we collect food from the students’ parents. We support them with food only.

What kind of food is it, rice or other?

Rice, salt, fish paste, and onions are provided by the villagers.

What about travel costs?

We do not assist them [with travel costs].

Do the students have to buy notebooks or are they provided by the [Burma/Myanmar] government or other organisations?

They usually do not have to buy notebooks, but last year they bought them themselves.

Is there any clinic in B--- village?

No.

What do the villagers do for treatment?

There are some medics in the village.

Where did they get training?

From C--- [village].

Do they ask [the villagers to] pay for medicine?

Yes we have to pay them [the medics].

Did they get free medicine from someone?

They bought [the medicine] themselves.

If you get serious [diseases], where do you go for treatment?

We have to go into town.

If you go there [into town] do you have to pay for medicine?

Yes.

You do not get free treatment?

No.

There is no general hospital [in the town]?

I’m not certain, but if we go to Mae Sot, [Thailand], it is much better.

Why is it much better for you? You go there and it is another country; your own country is worse than another country?

Yes. Our country is very bad.

Do you want to add anything that I have not asked?

[There is] nothing more that I want to add.

Are you sure?

Yes.

If you do not want to say anything, thank you very much.

Thank you.

Footnotes

[1] KHRG trains community members in southeast Burma/Myanmar to document individual human rights abuses using a standardised reporting format; conduct interviews with other villagers; and write general updates on the situation in areas with which they are familiar. When conducting interviews, community members are trained to use loose question guidelines, but also to encourage interviewees to speak freely about recent events, raise issues that they consider to be important and share their opinions or perspectives on abuse and other local dynamics.

[2] In order to increase the transparency of KHRG methodology and more directly communicate the experiences and perspectives of villagers in southeast Burma/Myanmar, KHRG aims to make all field information received available on the KHRG website once it has been processed and translated, subject only to security considerations. For additional reports categorised by Type, Issue, Location and Year, please see the Related Readings component following each report on KHRG’s website.

[3] The KHRG community member conducting the interview would likely have had some preliminary discussion with Saw A--- prior to starting the interview, and therefore was aware of some of the issues to be raised by Saw A---.

[4] Light Infantry Battalion (Tatmadaw) comprises 500 soldiers. However, most Light Infantry Battalions in the Tatmadaw are under-strength with less than 200 soldiers. Primarily for offensive operations but sometimes used for garrison duties.

[5] Infantry Battalion (Tatmadaw) comprises 500 soldiers. However, most Infantry Battalions in the Tatmadaw are under-strength with less than 200 soldiers. Primarily for garrison duty but sometimes used in offensive operations.

[6] Saw A--- is most likely referring to LIB #230; from 1998 to 1999, KHRG received reports of abuses committed by soldiers from LIB #230 in Thaton Township, Thaton District. This battalion remains active in southeast Burma/Myanmar with most recent reports emanating from Kawkareik Township, Dooplaya District. In October 2014, Karen News reported fighting between LIB #230 and soldiers from DKBA Company #3 in Kawkareik Township, Dooplaya District, see more at: DKBA and Burma Army Fighting spreads Throughout Karen State, Karen News, October 2014. In July 2015, fighting broke out between LIB #230, who combined with LIB #231, and DKBA Company na ma kya (deaf ear) as part of more widespread fighting throughout Kawkareik Township between Tatmadaw and DKBA soldiers over control of a newly competed section of the Asian Highway, see more at: Fighting between Tatmadaw and DKBA soldiers along the Asian Highway displaces villagers in Dooplaya District, July 2015, KHRG, September 2015.

[7] Light Infantry Division (Tatmadaw); commanded by a brigadier general, each with ten light infantry battalions specially trained in counter-insurgency, jungle warfare, "search and destroy" operations against ethnic insurgents and narcotics-based armies. LIDs are organised under three Tactical Operations Commands, commanded by a colonel, (three battalions each and one reserve), one field artillery battalion, one armoured squadron and other support units.

[8] KHRG has received several reports in recent years, following the 2012 preliminary ceasefire, on human rights violations in which soldiers from LID #44 have been implicated. In 2012 the division was stationed along the Bilin riverbank for road security purposes; during this time KHRG received reports of demands made by LID #44 on villagers in Thaton District, including forced labour and extortion, see more at: Forced labour in Bilin Township, KHRG, May 2012 and Sustained Tatmadaw resupply operations in Thaton, Nyaunglebin and Hpapun during ceasefire, KHRG, May 2012. From 2012 to 2013 KHRG received reports of LID #44 activities in Hpapun District, including restrictions on villagers’ freedom of movement and sexual abuse committed by Company Second in Command Moe Win, as well as one incident of torture, see more at: Hpapun Situation Update: Dwe Lo Township, August to October 2013, KHRG, August 2014 and Hpapun Situation Update: Dwe Lo Township, July to October 2012, KHRG, February 2013 and Incident Report: Villager tortured by Tatmadaw commanders in Papun District, December 2012, KHRG, June 2013. LID #44 is based at the Tatmadaw camp in Bilin Township, Thaton District.

[9] All conversion rates for the kyat in this report are based on July 2nd 2015 official market rate of 1,124 kyat to the US $1.

[10] Saw A--- did not mention the location of this particular KNU checkpoint.

[11] The KHRG community member conducting the interview did not specify which armed group Saw A--- pays tax to at this particular checkpoint.

[12] The KHRG community member has misunderstood Saw A---’s previous statement; Saw A--- states earlier that Brigade #7 is a KNU controlled area, and he has to pay 1,000 kyat (US $0.89) to the KNU in Brigade #7. However the 10,000 kyat (US $8.90) in tax that he pays in Brigade #7 is to the Tatmadaw at the Kler  Day village checkpoint.  

[13] This money to buy cigarettes and curry is the 1,000 kyat (US $0.89) paid to the KNU in Brigade #7 Saw A--- referred to earlier.

[14] This refers to the preliminary ceasefire agreement signed on January 12th 2012 between the KNU and Burma/Myanmar government in Hpa-an. However, on October 15th 2015, after a negotiation process marred with controversy over the notable non-inclusion of several ethnic armed groups and on-going conflicts in ethnic regions, a Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) was signed between the Burma/Myanmar government and eight of the fifteen ethnic armed groups originally invited to the negotiation table, including the KNU, see “Myanmar signs ceasefire with eight armed groups,” Reuters, October 15th 2015. For KHRG's analysis of changes in human rights conditions since the preliminary ceasefire, see Truce or Transition? Trends in human rights abuse and local response since the 2012 ceasefire, KHRG, May 2014.

[15] In this case Saw A---’s use of the term “commander” does not refer to a particular rank, but rather an officer or soldier who may have been delegated to give orders; to command others. It is not clear from the information provided what exact rank is held by Win Ma La.

[16] A Battalion commander commands an entire battalion, often remaining at the battalion headquarters.

[17] The Nippon Foundation is a Japanese NGO engaged in social innovation and development projects in Burma/Myanmar. KHRG has received several reports from community members on The Nippon Foundation’s recent activities in  Thaton and Hpa-an Districts, see more at: Hpa-an Situation Update: Hlaingbwe and Nabu townships, December 2014 to January 2015, KHRG, July 2015; and Thaton Situation Update: Bilin and Hpa-an townships, June to November 2014, KHRG, February 2015.

[18] A big tin is a unit of volume used to measure paddy, milled rice and seeds. One big tin is equivalent to 10.45 kg. or 23.04 lb. of paddy, and 16 kg. or 35.2 lb. of milled rice.

[19] It is likely that one big tin of rice was distributed to each household, rather than to each individual in the village.

[20] See more at: Thaton Situation Update: Bilin, Thaton, Kyaikto and Hpa-an townships, September to November 2014, KHRG, February 2015.

[21] Individuals who facilitate the migration of villagers across the Thai-Burma border for employment purposes.

[22] A Standard refers to a grade in the Burmese education system. Primary school runs from Standard 1 to Standard 4, middle school is Standards 5-8 and high school is Standards 9-10.

[23] The village school curriculum and a student’s successful completion of studies at the village school are recognised by the Burma/Myanmar government, and the student is able to go on and continue their studies directly at a Burma/Myanmar government school. Additionally, the Burma/Myanmar government may send and support their own trained teachers to teach at the village school.