Situation Update | Thaton Township, Thaton District (January to June 2015)
The following Situation Update was received by KHRG in July 2015. It was written by a community member in Thaton District who has been trained by KHRG to monitor 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 three interviews and 238 photographs.
The KNU [Karen National Union], also known as mother organisation, set up our district for us and it is located in Mon State and it is linked to Kyeh Htoh [Kyaikto] Township, Bilin Township, and Hpa-an Township. There are 13 village tracts in our Thaton Township and 72 villages are based in there. Each village tract has its own village head. Moreover, the organisation [KNU] and other [sub] departments [of the KNU, as well as NGOs] also have their own activities, each in their way [independently of each other]. As the political situation has changed, [KNU] workers from township, district and headquarters [level] gathered together and went to the villages to have fellowship [build their relationship] with the villagers. [The relationship between KNU leaders and the villagers] has been improving. As we know, nowadays there are many challenges regarding Burma government activities. They are active in many ways such as ruling, organising [a governance system], and military activity. It also created problems for us [villagers] because they [Burma/Myanmar government] have many different activities.
There are three kinds of schools which form the education [system] in Thaton Township.
(1) Burma government schools;
(2) villager-KNU joint schools;
(3) religious schools.
Since the ceasefire took place, the education situation has been improving a little. In our township, UNICEF [The United Nations Children's Fund] entered to provide support for the students, [distributing supplies] such as bags and notebooks as needed.
The Karen Education Department (KED) from the KNU also provided support to the students, as well as many [different] kinds of materials for the schools. We could say that the quality of education is getting better because the ceasefire took place. [Some of] the students who were not able to [receive] support from their parents for further study have now [begun getting] themselves ready for continuing their education [as they are hopeful that someone will soon be able to support them].
There are two kinds of teachers in Thaton Township, [which] are Burma government teachers and the teachers who are supported by the villagers [and the KED]. The teachers who are supported by the villagers [and the KED] are given 7,000 baht (US $192.71) by the KED for each year, as well as the uniforms. The KED has decided to build a Kawthoolei headquarters high school in Thaton Township.
There are many weaknesses to the education [system] in the [Thaton Township] area because students’ parents do not have enough [food and money] to support their children to go to school; therefore, they have many problems. We know that many children had passed primary school [and] after that, some of their parents could not support them to continue their schooling. We have seen that in terms of education, many children have very little interest [in gaining education].
In terms of healthcare in Thaton Township, the quality of healthcare is still weak [low] because there is not enough treatment. The KNU sent the Backpack Health Worker Team into Thaton Township and [they are] based in T’Rwa Hkee village tract but the quality of their work has not [been] strong enough [to improve the overall healthcare situation in the township] yet.
The Burma government has built clinics in five villages in Thaton Township, but they only built [the physical building for each] clinic. They built the clinics in Maw Lay village tract, P’Nweh Klay village; it was set up by the Burma government in there. [The other clinics were built in] T’Maw Daw village tract, T’Maw Daw village; Way Raw village tract, Way Raw village; Kaw Ler village tract, Kaw Ler village; Neh Hpaw Htaw village tract, Wa Poo village. In total these are all the five clinics in Tha Htoo [Thaton] Township. They [the Burma/Myanmar government] just declared the building of the clinics under their name [so they can claim they have worked for the development of the villages]. We know this as they have not yet [provided] enough medics, nurses and medicines. If you question the villagers [living] in there, [near] the clinics that they had built, they only say that those are not clinics [since they are never open for patients].
As for NGOs, we know that UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] already built a clinic in Tha Htoo [Thaton] Township. They established it in T’Rweh Hkee village tract in the lower part of Naw K’Toh village but when they provided mosquito nets and other materials I saw only a few medics in there. We did not see [whether] they provided medicines in there or not. This organisation came through [permission from] the [Burma/Myanmar] government and are working together with the government staff. We can say that in terms of healthcare, the clinics have already been built in there, but there are no leaders [people] to support [provide] the medicine and health workers [for providing treatment to the patients]. If the villagers are not able to treat the patients who got a serious disease, they send them to the town [hospital].
In terms of healthcare, the ailments that usually occur in the area are malaria, fever, stomach ache, diarrhoea, arm joint pain, leg joint pain, itchy skin, cough, and malnutrition. The [Burma/Myanmar] government set up a clinic in some villages but they [the Burma/Myanmar government] did not do their work properly. With regard to healthcare, we have seen many weaknesses.
The active NGOs
The NGOs which came to be active [conduct development projects] in Tha Htoo [Thaton] Township are World Concern and UNDP [United Nations Development Programme]. [They] built schools, toilets, and water storage [pools] in our areas. UNICEF provided bags, notebooks, and pencils to the students. ARC - American Refugee Committee built bridges for the students in order for them to travel to school more easily, [instead of] crossing the rivers. They also help the villagers [with respect to] animal husbandry and agriculture. The MRC and UNHCR came to conduct training such as vocational training and Life Skill Awareness Training in the area. Mya Sein Yaung [local development organisation] [which is funded by] the Burma government also came to [conduct] village [development] projects in our area.
Government troop situation
The Burma government troops that have situated their battalion headquarters in Tha Htoo [Thaton] Township are LIB [Light Infantry Battalion] #1 based in Nya T’Weh [village], LIB [Battalion] #118 [based] in Thatoon Myo Thit [Town], LIB [Battalion] #9 [based] in Win Pa [village], LIB [Battalion] #3 [based] Tan Ta Hka Kyo [village], IB [Infantry Battalion] #8 [based] in section 8 of Bilin [Town], LIB [Battalion] #24 [based] in Du Yin Hseik [village], training area number 9 [based in] A’Lan Ta Ya [area], Artillery #314 based in in Zi Wan Nauk Ka Zaing [village]; Artillery #402 [based] in Noh Pa Htaw [village], Artillery #202 [based in] Thatoon Myo Thit; LIB #206, [which is] under the control of LID [Light Infantry Division] #22, [is based] in Kya Pan [village]. Their [following] army camps are located close to our township: P’Nweh Klah army camp and Way Raw army camp.
Government troop activity
The government troop activity [which took place] in Tha Htoo [Thaton] Township as we know is that on March 19th 2015, Battalion [Light Infantry Battalion] #202’s [under the control of] LID [Light Infantry Division] #22 came with their Lieutenant Colonel U Thi Ha into T’Maw [Daw] village to provide immunisation to the children.
The LIB #202, which is under the control of LID #22, rotated their army camp with LIB #3, which is under the control of LID #44, to P’Nwe Klah army camp on February 13th 2015. On April 5th 2015 LIB #202 which is under the control of LID #22, came to patrol in T’Maw Daw [village] and went up to Plaw Hpoh village [and then] came back [down] to K’Dee Poo [village]. LIB #3 went to patrol in K’Dee Poo [village] on May 7th 2015. The leaders of this battalion are Captain Ye Min Thein and Captain Thet Naung.
On May 15th 2015, IB [Infantry Battalion] #8 went to patrol in K’Dee Moo village tract, Kyeh Too Koh village, Tha Htoo [Thaton] Township with 20 soldiers.
LIB #202, [which is] under the control of the LID #22, and Sa Aa Pa [Military Affairs Security] Major Saw Mo Naing [announced] on June 21st 2015 that the schools which are based in T’Maw Lay village tract were strictly prohibited from putting up the Karen [national] flag in front of the schools. They said if the [Burma/Myanmar] government teachers put up the Karen flag in front of the school they will take serious action [to punish offenders]. Therefore, the government teachers did not permit the school committee to put up the Karen flag in front of the school.
After the  ceasefire has taken place, during 2015, the [Burma/Myanmar] government troops have gradually [increased their] activities in Tha Htoo [Thaton] Township.
Government economic situation
The [Burma/Myanmar] government businesses in Tha Htoo [Thaton] Township are rubber plantations, cashew plantations, rubber factory, Bilin Sugar Factory, and an alcohol factory. On May 11th 2015 one Thaw Maw villager reported [to a KHRG community member] that in the past, Factory Number Two, [which is a] tire factory, had confiscated 250 acres of Thaw Maw villagers’ lands and they [the factory workers] have already planted their rubber trees [on it]. Now the market price of rubber is very low [therefore] they resold [leased] one acre of land for 60,000 kyat (US $46.11) to the villagers and asked them to plant rubber [trees on it]. They also provided [the villagers] a 30 year land grant for use [of the land as instructed by the factory]. After the rubber [trees] are planted and are ready to produce the sap [rubber latex], it [has to be allowed to] harden into rubber sheets. If they [the villagers] get 10 rubber sheets then [they] have to give three rubber sheets [to the factory, without receiving payment]. Only 15 indigenous people [were able to buy plots] in the lands that were being resold [leased] by the factory, therefore the rest of the land was bought by the rich people [from outside Thaw Maw village].
The government has been constructing [their] caustic soda factory project between Noh Ta Hsguh and Noh Hpa Htaw New villages in Noh Ta Hsugh village tract and it took [stretches over] 407.30 acres of lands. They were building many buildings [in their factory compound] during 2015. We have seen that they started to build a storage [warehouse] for [building] materials, the road inside and outside the compound and many other [buildings] were being [constructed] in the compound.
In Thaton Township the villagers are ordinary people. The main forms of livelihoods for them are cultivation [of hill fields] and farming [of farm land]. At the present time the [soil] quality of the land plantations has decreased, therefore it cannot produce as much food as before. They [the villagers] do not have enough food to feed their families. The numbers of farmers are decreasing. Many farms and plantations have emptied [stopped being used as farms]. Some [land owners] started planting the [cash crop] trees such as rubber [trees] in the farms. In terms of hill farming, there are no more forests, therefore they have to do hill farming in areas with no forests [which is less effective]. The hill farms also cannot produce as much rice as before.
As for animal husbandry, some [villagers] raise a few cows and buffalos: [some] for using them to work [the land] and some for sale. They also raise goats, pigs, and chickens for their income, as well as for their subsistence. They just raise some livestock and do not [have any] big businesses in there. In their [area there are] no jobs for earning a living, therefore some people [villagers] go to find a job at the border [with Thailand] and other countries.