Short Update | Ler Muh Lah Township, Mergui-Tavoy District (1998 to 2013)
The following Short Update was received by KHRG in September 2013. It was written by a community member in Mergui-Tavoy 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 Mergui-Tavoy District, including 25 incident reports, 308 photographs, and 13 video clips.
Village head tortured
In June 2011, 22-year-old Saw B---, who lives in A--- village, Ka Pyaw village tract, Ler Muh Lah Township, Mergui-Tavoy District, suffered [at the hands of] [Tatmadaw Light Infantry] Battalion (LIB) #401 Commander Nay Phyo Win, when the battalion was based in Ma The Bweh [village]. Saw B--- is a hill farmer and he is an A--- village youth group member. The incident happened after the Karen National Union (KNU) entered the village to collect tax from the villagers. Saw B--- suffered as a result of this and has also been arrested and held in a cell by the Tatmadaw.
[In Saw B---’s words:] “I do not remember the day [of the incident]. It was in June 2011 in A--- village. The incident happened like this: the KNU came and collected tax from the villagers. At that time, they [the KNU] asked for the leader [village head] and asked for help in bringing food to them [the KNU]. As we love our people [the KNU], we brought food to them. [At the same time as] they came to demand money [and ask for food], we told the [KNU] officer about how we are suffering in the village.
The incident [that caused the suffering] happened in the village like this: [In 1998] when we were asked to relocate [due to the conflict], it [the relocation] was arranged by the Tatmadaw. The Tatmadaw relocated us to A--- village. [In 2011], after the Tatmadaw [had] gone back [left the area], the owner of the land [in A--- village][Kyi Lwin] did not let all of us build houses. We asked the [local] leader [officer] of the KNU to tell [Kyi Lwin] to give us permission to build our houses. When he [the KNU officer] went and explained [to Kyi Lwin] about the issue he [Kyi Lwin] became angry, so he [the KNU officer] harmed [beat] him a little.
After that, Kyi Lwin went to the Tatmadaw [Light Infantry] Battalion #401 [camp] and said [reported to the Tatmadaw] that the KNU came and harmed him. The [Tatmadaw] officer then came [to A--- village] and arrested the leader [village head] and asked whether or not he had a connection to the KNU. He [the Tatmadaw officer] harmed him [the village head] and beat him. Although he [the Tatmadaw officer] interrogated the leader [village head], the leader [village head] did not tell them [anything]. [However] as he was beaten [to such an extent that] he could not stand it [anymore], he said:
“It is not because we [made] contact with them. It is because they ordered [us to go to them] and we had to go.”
He was beaten [further] and asked [by the Tatmadaw officer]:
“Who else went with you and what did you bring for them?” The leader [village head] replied:
“I brought food for them.” He was beaten again and as he could not stand it, he finally told him [the Tatmadaw officer] the names [of the people who went with him to take food to the KNU]. He was asked:
“How many people went with you and what are their names?” As he could not stand it [the beating], he told [them] the names. They [the names of the villagers that were given to the Tatmadaw officer by the village head] are: 1) Saw C---, 2) Saw D---, 3) Saw E---, 4) Saw F---, 5) Saw G---, 6) Saw H---, 7) Saw I---, 8) Saw J---, 9) Saw K---, 10) Saw L---, 11) Saw B---, 12) Saw N---,13) Saw O---. He [the Tatmadaw officer] came to question us [the villagers] and [subsequently] arrested us [villagers named by the village head and others] and kept us in a cell.
The leaders of P--- village came to appeal [to the Tatmadaw officer] for us and guaranteed [we would all be released]. [Only] half of us were released. As for Saw Q--- and Saw R---, they were kept in jail. [However] as the country has more freedom now [after the 2012 ceasefire], they have been released.”
Since wealthy people entered [the village], the occupations of the villagers are not going well. As we have a chance to object to it [the development project], we are going to object to it as ordered.
[During the conflict period], the village head and all of the male villagers were arrested by [Tatmadaw] officer Nay Lin Soe in A--- village, Ka Pyaw village tract, Ler Muh Lah Township, Mergui-Tavoy District. The village head was killed and all of the male villagers were taken [to the Tatmadaw military camp]. The rest of the villagers dared not stay in the village and they had to flee [and hide] in the forest. They had to flee [and hide] for one to two months. At that time, Saw S--- was in A--- village and he was very young. Now, he is 25 years old and he is working on a hill farm.
[In Saw S---’s words:] “I cannot remember the time of the incident, but it was in A--- village. After [Tatmadaw] Officer Nay Lin Soe relocated us [villagers] to another place, there was fighting [between the Tatmadaw and the KNU]. After the fighting occurred, he [Tatmadaw Officer Nay Lin Soe] came and arrested all of the males [in the village] and they were asked to be sentries for the whole night. No one had a chance to sleep. What is more, he also asked them [the male villagers] to go and look for those who came and attacked him. Since we were afraid of him [Officer Nay Lin Soe], we had to go. Even though we saw the people who attacked him, we did not tell him. He did not release the people [male villagers] [and let them] go back and work [for themselves]. He let us go back [home] at 6:00 am but they [the Tatmadaw] asked us all to come back at 5:00 pm. When the people [male villagers] came back in the evening, they had to take responsibility for security of the military camp for the whole night. They [the Tatmadaw soldiers] came and secretly checked on the [male] villagers. If the people were tired and fell asleep, they [would] beat them or they would ask for money from the person instead.
Saw T--- [one of the male villagers] had suffered from that [punishment] when he had fallen asleep and the Tatmadaw soldiers saw him. The Tatmadaw called him [to them] and asked him to find the people [who attacked them]. [They told him that] if he could not find [the people], he would be beaten and punished; if he could find [the people who attacked them], he would be released.”
Challenges with housing
[In Saw S---’s words:] “At present , the villagers face challenges with their land and their houses. After Officer Nay Lin Soe relocated them [in 1998], he did not support them. The owner of the land [that the villagers were relocated to] does not want the villagers to build more houses. They are faced with difficulties now, which began in 2009. For some villagers, if they do not have houses, they have to live with their parents. Although we went to the Tatmadaw’s office, we did not get [any support]. The villagers face problems concerning their houses.”
At that time, we did not dare to try and protect ourselves and say that we are people [who support] the KNU [Karen National Union] as we did not know the rules. [For this reason], the church curator, Saw S---, was put into custody. When he was released, he said:
“We wanted to be seen as those who [support the] KNU but we could not. We will support them by praying [for them].”
Saw S--- [has suffered] and seen it [the situation of the villagers] and he does not feel good for them [the villagers]. He wants the KNU to know about how the villagers have suffered. He believes that the leaders of the KNU will arrange a way [to solve the problem of housing] for the villagers. From 2011/2012, the situation has become better.