Thaton Interview: Saw A---, October 2014


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Thaton Interview: Saw A---, October 2014

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.


[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.