The death of Saw Hpah Mee
Former Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) commander Saw Hpah Mee has died. According to information received by KHRG, he was killed by soldiers from KNLA Battalion #102 on November 13th 2015, in Pa Teh Hta village, Htee Th’Daw Hta village tract, Bu Tho Township, Hpapun District. The group of soldiers who sought out and killed him were reportedly led by Lance Corporal Saw Kat Pa Li from KNLA Battalion #102. He was shot in the arm when the soldiers attacked him at the house he was staying in. He managed to flee the scene but was later killed by the soldiers. The soldiers confiscated 11 weapons, including rocket launchers, M16 and AK-47 assault rifles, ammunition, and different types of landmines in the house. Saw Hpah Mee’s body was buried near the banks of Salween River, north of Pa Teh Hta village, Htee Th’Daw Hta village tract.
Saw Hpah Mee had complex affiliations with several Karen ethnic armed groups, including the Karen Nation Union (KNU), the KNLA, and the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA). He started his military career in the KNLA as head of a local force at village tract level. He then joined the DKBA (Democratic Karen Buddhist Army) when it was formed in 1994, only to return to the KNLA after one year. He mainly served in Hpapun District and, over the years, Saw Hpah Mee garnered a reputation as a capable fighter. He was recognised as an accomplished tactician, despite his reported lack of formal education, and known for frequently ambushing his enemies.
He and a group of KNLA soldiers were ordered to infiltrate the DKBA (Democratic Karen Buddhist Army), and in 2010 after having infiltrated the organisation, they destroyed a DKBA ammunitions warehouse in the Sone Na Thar Myaing Shwe Myout Daw section of Myaing Gyi Ngu. Upon returning to Day Poo Noh village and the Brigade 5 (Hpapun District) headquarters of the KNLA, he was promoted to the rank of captain by General Baw Kyaw Heh. Following his promotion, Captain Saw Hpah Mee and his followers were based Bu Tho Township, and mainly active in Htee Th’Daw Hta village tract.
After being stationed in Htee Th’Daw Hta village tract, he started disobeying and defying the commands of his superiors. He refused to attend meetings and remained firmly based in his army camp in the Taung Kyar area, which is in the northern part of Pa Teh Hta village, where he regularly committed abuses against the civilian population. According to a KHRG field researcher, Saw Hpah Mee was involved in logging despite operating in an area where it had been prohibited by the KNU. He was also known to use yaba, to the extent that he reportedly got out of control on several occasions and killed not only civilians but also fellow soldiers. His soldiers did not stay with him for long; some went to Mae La Oon refugee camp in Thailand and some joined a DKBA group led by Lieutenant Bo Bee. In the end, he had only two soldiers with him.
According to a statement released by the KNU on October 14th 2015, Commander Hpah Mee was dismissed from his position in the KNLA in response to his having committed numerous human rights violations and his failure to meet the commands of his KNLA superiors. One month later, he was dead. KHRG has received indications from individuals familiar with the case suggesting that Lance Corporal Saw Kat Pa Li acted on orders from higher up within the KNLA, rather than on his own.
Previous human rights abuses attributed to Saw Hpah Mee
KHRG has previously reported on human rights abuses in Hpapun District, in which Saw Hpah Mee was implicated. On August 5th 2009, he violently abused a villager on the road leading to Ma Htaw village in Dwe Loh Township, who was unable to get his truck out of the way. Saw Hpah Mee pulled villager U A--- out of his truck, threw him to the ground and beat him with a piece of wood meant for bridge repairs. Saw Hpah Mee then un-holstered his pistol as if to kill U A---, but the villager's profuse apologies were sufficient to convince him to put away his weapon without firing it.
On October 15th 2012, Saw Hpah Mee assaulted Saw P---, a 51-year-old villager from M--- village, Htee Th'Daw Hta village tract, Bu Tho Township because he grazed his cows in an area where Saw Hpah Mee had prohibited it. He beat Saw P--- and shot and ate one of his cows. In July 2015, Saw Hpah Mee was implicated in the violent abuse and disappearance of Kyaw Dah Dah, the 56-year-old Htee Th’Daw Hta village tract leader. Later on, KHRG received information that Saw Hpah Mee killed Kyaw Dah Dah because he had reported on abuses committed by Saw Hpah Mee at a Bu Tho Township meeting.
Furthermore, KHRG has received unconfirmed information that Saw Hpah Mee was involved in forced recruitment. A KHRG field researcher reported that Saw Hpah Mee killed Saw Kar Pay, a 45-year-old from Myaing Gyi Ngu as he failed to offer his child to serve in the military, as well as his fellow soldier Kyaw Heh Noh, aged 46, for failing to find new recruits.