Situation Update | Win Yay Township, Dooplaya District (March to May 2014)
The following Situation Update was received by KHRG in June 2014. It was written by a community member in Dooplaya 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 Dooplaya District, including one incident report, nine interviews, and 146 photographs.
In Dooplaya District, Win Yay Township, community members describe their perspectives on the SPDC [State Peace and Development Council], KNU [Karen National Union], civilian healthcare, transportation [freedom of movement and road development], livelihoods, educational problems, and community members’ problems. This [report also] states the regional situation update.
SPDC government issues
In September 2013, the SPDC government [Tatmadaw soldiers] demanded [that] eight villagers from A--- village help them carry their ammunition. The name of the village that they [the villagers] were supposed to porter [ammunition to] is B--- village. When they [villagers and soldiers] arrived in B--- village, they [soldiers] demanded another eight villagers from B--- village. B--- villagers helped them by carrying [ammunition] to C--- [village] and on the way back they [A--- villagers and B--- villagers] also had to porter [ammunition] to A--- village. They [soldiers] gave 15,000 kyat (US $11.57) [to the A--- and B--- villagers]. The village head said that he did not note down the Tatmadaw officers’ names. He said that each of the eight A--- villagers received 1,000 kyat (US $0.92). He said the [required] age limit for the porters [as stated by the Tatmadaw officers] was between 28 years old and 56 years old. For the B--- villagers, I do not know all of them so I did not get [detailed information]. He [village head] said it takes three hours walking on foot from C--- village to A--- village.
Some local people said that local organisations and people knew about it [forced labour], but they did not get involved or interfere with the case, and one villager said that if they [Tatmadaw soldiers] keep demanding forced labour even though they are in the ceasefire period, in the future it could be worse. The villagers also said that because the road [under construction] is the Asian Highway, transportation [of people and goods] is getting easier.
KNU and local civilians
Currently, the poor civilians whose lands were affected are discontented with the unresolved land issue and there is misunderstanding with the KNU. There are challenges for the KNU and Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) local soldiers when they deal with the civilians. Currently, for the construction of the Asian Highway that will connect Than Pyu Zayat and Ba Ya Thon Hsu [towns], only the village heads were invited [to the meeting] and they [village heads] were asked to write down the effects [of the road construction on villagers’ lands]. In some cases, there were things like [land confiscation] without informing [land owners]. Some villagers from villages have said that they know the Asian Highway will be constructed, but they have not been consulted.
I heard what the villagers were saying, that currently they are afraid of the mother organisation [KNU] and local organisations [armed groups]. Twenty-four village heads from one village tract, who [between them] run twelve villages, pay close attention to these groups [KNU and armed groups]. I have also seen that the local armed groups [KNU] replaced the old village heads with new [purposely] chosen village heads. The villagers dare not say anything to the KNU [about the] change of village heads. These old village heads knew too much about the background of the road construction, so [the KNU] appointed new village heads and village secretaries. They [villagers] said they [KNU] did not change [village heads] from the internal villages [villages that are not directly next to the road] they changed [the village heads] only in the villages that are situated beside the road [Asian Highway route AH112].
[One of] the 24 village heads from the village tract also told the villagers that, “Your land is on the [Burma/Myanmar] government’s land and it is ok whether you get paid compensation or not.” [His] name is Saw Kyaw Poe Sho. He also told the villagers that, “You are lucky if you get compensation.” Some [villagers] complained about the difficulties in earning their livelihoods when their land is affected. [The villagers who complained] said currently it is 20,000 kyat (US $18.37) for one sack of rice. For this [Asian Highway] road the KNU and Myat Lin Aye Company cooperate [work together], and it is only half way [constructed], so that the villagers dare not say anything as we are civilians and are afraid of them making trouble for villagers. They [villagers] said they are just like ton aauk ka pa [frog under the log].
Villagers from another village angrily said to the company [Myat Lin Aye], “If you do not give compensation then do not demolish my house, and if you do [demolish my house] I will burn down the bulldozer.” The KNU local armed forces [KNLA] came and told them [villagers], “The road is for all people; move away if you do not want to stay [here] and do not walk on the road when the road is constructed.” One villager said that he does not want to mention the village names [of the villagers who complained to Myat Lin Aye company]. He also said that there are a lot of benefits with the Asian Highway and also there are a lot of disadvantages because there are arguments happening between the Karen civilians and the KNU. The villager also said, “We do not know who to rely on [for support] with our self-sufficient house [house they have built by themselves], crops that have been planted and old roads that are affected by the new road construction.” He said, “Karen people reared a baby fawn and when it grew up it became a tiger.” He also said if the KNU was not taking responsibility [was not facilitating construction of] for the Asian Highway road there would be no arguments between the civilians and the KNU. He also said that everyone wishes [the country] to be developed and waits for the peaceful time. The civilians are happy with the changes [that have been] generated by the ceasefire but they still have worries. When the Asian Highway road is under construction, it is dusty and the dust goes into the houses during the construction and it can also affect the villagers’ health.
Some houses are made with bamboo and they [villagers] said they got 350,000 kyat (US $321.51) money [compensation] when their houses were demolished [to make way] for the road construction. They [construction company] did not say anything [to the owners of] the wooden houses they just told them to move. They [construction company] said “If you don’t move we will demolish your houses with a bulldozer.” Currently, they [construction company] are moving the soil from under the houses. They mine stones from rocky mountains in the farms for the road construction. They could not pay compensation [to the farmers] as they could not sell the rocks, which are low in quality. Some owners dare not talk [complain about it] and go to Thailand for work. They [construction company] also excavate soil from the farms for the road construction. According to one farm owner, the farm was passed [to him] by his parents. They stopped excavating the soil and did not answer him when he went and asked for compensation.
Some villagers said that they agreed to have their land excavated for fish farming. The civilians said even though they did not get full compensation it is fine for them if they receive compensation for the crops and the labour [time spent on growing them]. They [villagers] said now they [construction company] have flattened the land for the Asian Highway road. They said now there are motorbike accidents [on the road]. According to the civilians and a KNU leader , “the reason why this is happening is because there are no [clear] rules for the vehicles [drivers]. Previously, the KNU did not have [any] vehicle rules [driving rules] and this is a problem nowadays, so we have to cooperate with the Myanmar government’s traffic police and use their traffic rules.”
One villager stated that he wants to know the four countries that support the Asian Highway road construction.
A villager from F--- village does not have permission to cut the teak that he planted; the [KNU] forestry [department] does not allow [him to] cut down [the teak that he planted]. He did ask permission [to cut down the teak]. The civilians worry about giving this information [to KHRG] because they are living very close to the local armed group, the KNU.
In the past few months a [Burma/Myanmar] government official has committed violent abuse against a villager and he [the villager] reported only a few [of the abuses]. He said he [does not] dare to talk about it. So it is difficult to find out about the cases and I told the villager to record the cases [of abuse] secretly. The villagers do have worries [for their safety].
On April 4th 2014, KNDO [Karen National Defence Organisation] Bo Wah Lone arrested refugees [from Z--- camp] at the place where they cut bamboo and bullied [abused] them. He asked them [refugees] to lay down on the ground, clean the vegetation for hill farming and cut the roots of the tree stumps. I also know that they [refugees] were surrounded by gun wielding soldiers [as they worked]. One [refugee] was tied up with a rope and pulled like a cow and another man [refugee] had to carry a bag of ammunition and follow them [the soldiers]. [The soldiers] also said [to the refugees] that, “If you run away you will be shot.” They [refugees] said that they live together [with KNDO soldiers] in [Z---] refugee camp in the same section and they did it [abused them] on purpose. They [KNDO soldiers] also spoke [to the refugees] in Burmese [threatening], “Are you coming to attack us? We will kill you all.”
[In terms of] civilian healthcare, there are not many diseases in summer but there is dust on the Asian Highway road [due to the construction] and the dust comes into the house and flows around the house during meal times. I had a meal with civilians and [during the meal] it came into my mind that it is the dust [that causes] disease. The villagers said that the company said that they will water the [road], but they watered [the road only by a] few villages and there were many villages that did not feel the effects of this.
They [the villagers] also said that the KNU healthcare workers come only once a year. The clinics from the [Burma/Myanmar] government do not have enough medicines [available], the villagers have to spend money if they ask for medicines and if they do not have money they have to borrow from others. [Villagers] also said that they could return [pay back this] money only if they are healthy. The [villagers] houses were moved this year, they did not receive compensation, there is no carpenter [to help rebuild houses] and the rainy [season] is coming soon and the villagers will have to stay accordingly in temporary huts. The [villagers] also said that 100 sheets of thatch shingle is 20,000 kyat (US $18.37). They reported this information to KHRG and said to help them as much as possible with media [publishing and advocating].
Civilians' fears and concerns
I also heard about the villagers’ opinion from what they were saying, that if the Asian Highway road is constructed the situation will be either improved or will be worse with the fighting. The Asian Highway is a three year project [in the area] and currently, they have only flattened the land. They have not covered the road with stones yet. Currently, the KNU and government SPDC [Burma/Myanmar government] are working together and the civilians have seen this. They are happy to see that they were having meals together [in the news], but they [villagers] sometimes said that they are worried in case things get worse quickly.
They said this is the third period [year] of ceasefire. The Asian Highway road is in the process of construction and [villagers want to know] who will pay for the lands and houses that are affected [by the road construction]. “[Is it] possible to get compensation?” was asked by a widow and she [also] asked for help from the community member. The rubber trees in her plantation were planted by her husband and when the time came to eat [receive profit from the rubber plantation] he [her husband] passed away. She is struggling for her livelihood with her four children. In addition, her [rubber] plantation was destroyed by a fire and [this left her] in bigger trouble. According to the local civilians, they have reported [about their lost lands] to the leaders but they do not know when they [the leaders] will pay [compensation] and they asked the KHRG community member as they were worried about not getting compensation. The KHRG community member reported about this to the leader.
Civilians’ transportation situation
Some villagers and village heads said, “Nowadays the transportation in the border area is getting better, because during the ceasefire the government started road and bridge construction projects making it easier to travel. It was not easy to travel in the past.” They [civilians] said, “Nowadays, because of the [effort] of the KNU, the media, magazines, news, and the international community to persuade the Myanmar government [to sign the] ceasefire [agreement], the Myanmar government have started making [positive] changes.”
I also have seen that a construction company is constructing a bridge between Taung Di and Hpa Pya villages. The elders [village heads] whose lands are not affected by the road construction were fine and were smiling, but those whose land is affected by the road construction were sometimes in tears and sometimes smiling. I met with villagers who said [to construction workers], “If you [are going to] do it [the construction], do it straight [just go ahead and do it].” He [villager] said, “I dare not to say [complain] so I just told him like that.” He [villager] said, “They have weapons so I told them nicely. I also told them that it is easier [after the road construction] for travelling.”
I know that the [situation for] civilians [to earn their] livelihoods has become worse. In 2013 during the rainy season, there was flooding and it destroyed the paddies, and in 2014 when the road construction began the community member saw that [due to] the road construction there was a lot of civilians’ land affected and they had to rebuild [move] their houses.
Some people said it is [currently] 20,000 kyat (US $18.37) for one sack of rice, 3,000 kyat (US $2.75) for one viss of pork, 5,000 kyat (US $4.59) for one viss of chicken. For the bamboo houses on the Asian Highway road [construction] they got compenssation of 350,000 kyat (US $321.51) and they can easily move. What will happen with the wooden houses is unknown.
I saw that the villagers were looking for a solution [to the land confiscation] but they [live] close to the KNLA and it is difficult to find a solution, [censored for security].
According to Saw G---, there are livelihood problems and water problems. There are development activities, but the Karen civilians still have to get water from the river to drink. Every leader knows about these things. According to a villager called Saw G---, there is a rising population, [the number of] houses are increasing, roads are being developed, and business channels are opening up, but they still have to consume drinking water from the river. He also mentioned that if [villagers] do not have water it is going to be difficult. In the past the village used to be small but now there are Mon, Burmese and Karen people. For the people who have money they can handle it [the road construction] but [the villager] said, “I wish the government knew that there are more people who are facing problems.” The villages are situated in Win Yay Township, Dooplaya District along the road that connects Than Pyu Zayat and Ba Ya Thon Hsu. They are H--- [village], E---, I--- and there are also some other villages that are affected [by road construction].
There are many children who are not able to go to school and according to the KHRG community member in Dooplaya District, Win Yay Township, educational support is the most important area in terms of development [focus], because the government prioritises only road [construction]. [There is] no support related to the villagers’ education. I heard from a village head that the local people are also helping [to support educational development] as much as they can.
Researcher [Community Member] problems
A problem [identified] is the Karen organisation [KNU] [wanting] to talk openly with civilians to build their understanding. I wonder why the civilians dare not talk openly. [Censored for security] there are groups [organisations] formed by civilians and also on the other hand there are other organisations [NGOs]. [Other community members] also have seen these things. The politics is not done by one side and [villagers] want the Karen local organisations to listen carefully to the local civilians’ voices [concerns]. Currently, it is not like that [described above] the villagers have to listen and do what they are told [by the KNU] and they [villagers] dare not to talk about [criticise] them. This truly shows the civilians lack of freedom of expression. There are many problems. The community member himself also does not have freedom [of expression or documentation]. Some village heads are also torturing the villagers with their words [controlling the villagers and imposing orders on them] which is why they reported to KHRG that they want to know precisely about human rights and [censored for security].
What I want to mention finally is; recently the civilians ask us if we are sure about the ceasefire. That is what they are worried about. [They want to know if there] is a possibility of getting compensation due to the road construction, or [will the ceasefire collapse and] bring back fighting? They wish for the leaders to come down and observe the local civilians’ situation and also they said they want to prioritise education for the Karen civilians. There is a ceasefire [agreement] but sometimes it is like Mon Diverge[group] or robber[organised by villains] and it shakes [causes fear] the civilians. The final thing that I what to report is [a need for] supporting the civilians in terms of road construction.
Note: the civilians from Dooplaya District, Win Yay Township requested not to mention the village names, villagers’ names in this report and villagers’ photos. The villagers said they will provide information about the land issue [amount of land lost with the name list] next year.