Situation Update | Lu Thaw Township, Hpapun District (December 2016 to January 2017)
The following Situation Update was received by KHRG in January 2017. It was written by a community member in Hpapun 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 94 photographs from Hpapun District.
There are five village tracts in northern Lu Thaw Township. Villagers in four out of the five village tracts in Lu Thaw Township report that they have not been able to stay in their villages because the Tatmadaw [camps] have been in their area [for a long time]. The four village tracts are: (1) Hkay Poo village tract (2) Ler Mu Plaw village tract (3) Saw Mu Plaw village tract and (4) Kaw Loo Der village tract. There are no Tatmadaw [camps] in Naw Yo Hta village tract; however, villagers in Naw Yo Hta village tract are experiencing food shortages because Internal Displaced Peoples [IDPs] from other village tracts who fled the Tatmadaw have fled into [Naw Yo Hta] village tract [sometime before 2000]. Due to the increase in demand, there are not enough hill farms and trees available for everyone [all local people and IDPs] to work on for their livelihoods.
The Tatmadaw camps in Hkay Poo village tract, northern Lu Thaw Township, are under the control of Military Operations Command [MOC] #20 and are patrolled by the following Tatmadaw battalions: (1) Hkaw Daw Kho [Tatmadaw camp] is patrolled by Light Infantry Battalion [LIB] #596; (2) Khsa Law Kyo [Tatmadaw camp] is patrolled by LIB #592; (3) Ta May Hta [Tatmadaw camp] is patrolled by Infantry Battalion [IB] #30. The Tatmadaw camp in Htaw Mu Pleh Meh area, Ler Mu Plaw village tract is patrolled by IB #60. The Tatmadaw camps in Saw Mu Plaw village tract are under the control of Strategic Operations Command [SOC] #3 and are patrolled by the following Tatmadaw battalions: (1) Hpah Gaw Lo [Tatmadaw camp] is patrolled by LIB #60; (2) Der Kyu [Tatmadaw camp] is patrolled by LIB #124; (3) Kaw Thway Kyoh [Tatmadaw camp] is patrolled by LIB #598; (4) Ler Klay Kyoh [Tatmadaw camp] is patrolled by LIB #598; (5) Maw Hpu [Tatmadaw camp] is patrolled by LIB #74. The Tatmadaw camp in the Hpla Hkoh village tract is patrolled by LIB #598 and is also under the control of SOC #3. Tatmadaw camps between T’Hkaw Hta area and Ler Say area in Kaw Loo Der village tract are patrolled by LIB #80.
Tatmadaw soldiers have been inducing the civilians [to cooperate with them] by keeping free food, money and medicine beside the ‘Tatmadaw road’ [which the Tatmadaw constructed to transport their vehicles] that the civilians have to cross in Saw Mu Plaw village tract, Ler Doh Htee area, Hkay Poo area, and Ler Beh Der area. Civilians are free to take the food, money and medicine if they want. [Lu Thaw Township] security guards reported this information to us [KHRG researchers]. Tatmadaw soldiers have also served salt to the civilians’ buffalos that approach their area so that the buffalos would not want to return to their owners. The [Lu Thaw Township] security guards also reported that, “The Tatmadaw is patrolling in [Lu Thaw Township] areas more but we do not know what their objectives are”.
Villagers report that they do not want to meet the Tatmadaw [face to face] because they are not sure how effectively their leaders [from the KNU] are working [on the peace process with the Burma/Myanmar government]. Some [civilians] want to meet with the Tatmadaw but the current situation is unreliable [unstable for civilians] so [local] leaders have not allowed them to meet. Civilians report that the Tatmadaw are traveling and that their military numbers have increased since early December . Since the [KNU] signed the 2012 preliminary ceasefire agreement with Burma/Myanmar government, the Tatmadaw has not withdrawn any of their military camps. In fact, in 2013 they established more army camps. In addition, the Tatmadaw are continuing to cross over delimited territory [areas that the Tatmadaw agreed with the Karen National Union [KNU] not to travel on], change their troops [every month or every quarter], send rations [to their camps], repair their roads and shoot at any villagers and security guards [who approach them]. Therefore, the civilians [from Lu Thaw Township] always have to work [on their farms] in fear. Between 2015 and 2016, the Tatmadaw sent their rations frequently and they did not often travel across delimited territory. They were more likely to cross over delimited territory when they were repairing their army camp because they would cut the bamboo that civilians planted [in their area]. They kept food and letters beside the ‘Tatmadaw road’ [which the Tatmadaw constructed to transport their vehicles] that the civilians have to cross in some areas [in Dwe Lo Township] in order to induce the civilians to cooperate with them. Some civilians from Hkay Poo village tract have temporarily returned to work on their farms in T’ May Hta area. They are disturbed by the Tatmadaw because the Tatmadaw [came to them] and pretended that they will help the civilians [on their farms] but the civilians distrust [fear] them. The civilians are worried that the Tatmadaw will persuade them [to be under their control] and that this will cause conflict [in civilian areas], so the farm owners have left their farms [and stopped working on their farms]. [The civilians’ perspective on] the Tatmadaw is that they are hoping to create conflict [in civilian areas] due to the fact that they are continuing to cross over delimited territory.
The civilian situation
Civilians [from Lu Thaw Township] do not yet feel it is safe to return to their original area and work on their hill farms and plain farms. Therefore, they have to work [on hill farms in other villages] in fear [of the Tatmadaw] and [annually] face food shortages. This year, some civilians have returned [to their original areas] to work on their farms.
Civilians from many areas who worked on hill farms and plain farms faced the problem of insects [caterpillars] and mice attacking their paddy. Civilians from Pay Kay village tract face the problem of caterpillars attacking their paddy the most, so they are facing rice shortages this year. In addition, civilians from other village tracts (Kaw Loo Der, Ler Mu Plaw and Saw Mu Plaw) are also [facing food shortages].
Education [in Lu Thaw Township] is run by the Karen Education Department [KED] education curricular. The civilians do not want the Burma/Myanmar government [Education Department] workers to disrupt their work by persuading them to change to a different education system. They want to keep following the KED, which is the KNU education system. There are no engineering or economic programs in the KED education system yet. Each teacher [from the KNU schools] gets a [salary] of only 7,000 baht [$210.78 USD] per year which is not enough to support his or her family.
There are clinics [in Lu Thaw Township area] which are supported by the [KNU] health department and sometimes by Free Burma Ranger [FBR]. Between 2015 and 2016, the most common illnesses that civilians faced were malaria, liver failure, diarrhoea, dengue fever and the loss of circulation for women after they gave birth (which causes their hands and feet to become cold). [KNU] health workers from northern Lu Thaw Township reported that, “In 2016, the number of patients [they treated] has increased but there is not enough medicine for them so some patients have to get medicine from outside [shops]”. Other illnesses [that civilians face] include blood hypertension, arthritis and hand and feet pain.
Opinion and desire of civilians
Civilians [from Lu Thaw Township] want the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement that was signed by the KNU and the Burma/Myanmar government to stop all the wars between the Burma/Myanmar government and ethnic armed groups.
The Tatmadaw in northern Lu Thaw Township have not withdrawn any of their army camps and are upgrading their military in many different ways [training, repairing their roads and camps etc.]. Civilians report that, “If the Tatmadaw leaves our area we will be able to return to our own area and there will be fewer worries and fewer problems in our [work] for our livelihood”. The situation in 2016 is improving. The civilians can now live their lives peacefully and are hoping that the situation will get better in coming years.