Nyaunglebin Field Report: Militarisation, land confiscation, violent abuse, ‘re-relocated’ IDPs, landmines, and development projects, December 2015 to December 2016

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Nyaunglebin Field Report: Militarisation, land confiscation, violent abuse, ‘re-relocated’ IDPs, landmines, and development projects, December 2015 to December 2016

Published date:
Friday, October 6, 2017

This field report includes information submitted by KHRG researchers describing events in Nyaunglebin District between December 2015 and December 2016. It describes different human rights violations and other issues important to the local community including militarisation, landmines, land confiscation, violent abuse, road construction, gold mining, hydropower dam planning, ‘re-relocation of Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs), education, healthcare and livelihood issues.

  • Militarisation is still ongoing in Nyaunglebin District, as the Tatmadaw frequently patrol in civilian and Karen National Union (KNU) delimited areas, regularly rotate troops, maintain checkpoints to tax civilians, and demand that villagers drive them to places that they want to go.
  • In one case in December 2015, Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) soldiers misused their power and attempted to extort villager Saw P--- and forced him to pay a fee for land that he had previously purchased. They violently abused him when payment was refused.
  • Most villagers in Mone and Kyaukkyi Township depend on the forest to secure their livelihood needs but villagers cannot access the forest freely because of new KNLA landmines planted in 2016 and old landmines that have not been cleared.
  • Victims of land confiscation in Kyaukkyi Township have attempted to reclaim their land from the Burma/Myanmar government by writing complaint letters to the Burma/Myanmar government and submitting these letters both to the government and to other organisations to support their effort in 2015. Although the letters were officially submitted, the villagers’ complaints remain unaddressed.
  • Although villagers have been urging the KNU to address their concerns about potential land confiscation and the negative livelihood impact of the proposed Baw K’Hta hydropower dam since 2015, the KNU was still planning to implement the Baw K’Hta dam project in 2016.
  • In addition, in gold mining areas, some KNU authorities have favoured granting gold mining permits to businessmen instead of villagers despite villagers’ historical and indigenous claims to the land.
  • In April 2016, IDPs who returned home to their original village in Nyaunglebin District were forced to relocate again after Tatmadaw Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) #534 threatened to set their houses on fire in Kyaukkyi Township.

Footnotes

[1] On October 15th 2015, after a negotiation process marred with controversy over the notable non-inclusion of several ethnic armed groups and on-going conflicts in ethnic regions, a Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) was signed between the Burma/Myanmar government and eight of the fifteen ethnic armed groups originally invited to the negotiation table, including the KNU, see “Myanmar signs ceasefire with eight armed groups,” Reuters, October 15th 2015. Despite the signing of the NCA prompting a positive response from the international community, see “Myanmar: UN chief welcomes ‘milestone’ signing of ceasefire agreement,” UN News Centre, October 15th 2015, KNU Chairman General Saw Mutu Say Poe’s decision to sign has been met with strong opposition from other members of the Karen armed resistance and civil society groups alike, who believe the decision to be undemocratic and the NCA itself to be a superficial agreement that risks undermining a genuine peace process, see “Without Real Political Roadmap, Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement Leads Nowhere...,” Karen News, September 1st 2015. The signing of the NCA followed the January 12th 2012 preliminary ceasefire agreement between the KNU and Burma/Myanmar government in Hpa-an. For KHRG's analysis of changes in human rights conditions since the preliminary ceasefire, see Truce or Transition? Trends in human rights abuse and local response since the 2012 ceasefire, KHRG, May 2014.

[2] As per the 2012 preliminary ceasefire agreement between the KNU and the Burma/Myanmar government, the Tatmadaw are only allowed to operate and travel up to 50 yards from either side of roads that connect their army camps through KNLA territory, and only within a 150 yard radius around their own army camp.

[3] All conversion estimates for the kyat in this report are based on the September 15th 2017 official market rate of 1352 kyat to US $1.

[4] The information was taken from Nyaunglebin Situation Update: Mone Township, February to August 2016”, KHRG, November 2016.

[5] This information was taken from an unpublished report from Mone Township received in February 2016.

[6] Saw is a S’gaw Karen male honorific title used before a person’s name.

[7] Naw is a S’gaw Karen female honorific title used before a person’s name.

[8] This information was taken from “Nyaunglebin Interview: Saw P---, December 2015,” KHRG, December 2016.

[9] U is a Burmese title used for elder men, used before their name.

[10] Maung is a Burmese male honorific title used before a person’s name.

[11] This information was taken from “Nyaunglebin Interview: U A---, January 2016,” KHRG, September 2016. and an unpublished report from Mone Township received in February 2016.

[12] The majority ethnic group in Myanmar, also known as ethnic Burmese or Burman.

[13] This information was taken from “Nyaunglebin Situation Update: Mone Township, April to May 2016,” KHRG August 2016. 

[14] This information was taken from “Nyaunglebin Interview: U A---, January 2016,” KHRG, September 2016.

[15] In Burma/Myanmar, the scorched earth policy of 'pyat lay pyat', literally 'cut the four cuts', was a counter-insurgency strategy employed by the Tatmadaw as early as the 1950's, and officially adopted in the mid-1960's, aiming to destroy links between insurgents and sources of funding, supplies, intelligence, and recruits from local villages. See Martin Smith. Burma: Insurgency and the Politics of Ethnicity, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999 pp. 258-262

[16] In Burmese, ‘betel nut’ and ‘betel leaf’ are referred to as konywet and konthih, respectively, as if they are from the same plant. The Burmese names are also commonly used by Karen language speakers. Betel nut is the seed from an areca palm tree, Areca catechu; "betel leaf" is the leaf of the piper betel vine, belonging to the Piperaceae family.

[17] Dog fruit, also known as jengkol, is a bean containing sulphur and a mildly toxic amino acid. It is native to southeast Asia and is commonly eaten with rice and fish paste.

[18] This information was taken from “Nyaunglebin Interview: U A---, January 2016,” KHRG, September 2016.

[19] This information was taken from “Nyaunglebin Interview: U A---, January 2016,” KHRG, September 2016.

[20] The Nippon Foundation is a Japanese NGO currently implementing social innovation and development projects in Burma/Myanmar. KHRG has received several reports from community members on The Nippon Foundation’s recent activities in  Thaton and Hpa-an Districts, see more at “Hpa-an Situation Update: Hlaingbwe and Nabu townships, December 2014 to January 2015,” KHRG, July 2015; and “Thaton Situation Update Bilin and Hpa-an townships, June to November 2014,” KHRG, February 2015.

[21] Mya Sein Yaung Project was initiated in 2014-2015 fiscal year, in Myanmar / in Karen State, by U Ohn Myit, just ahead of the 2015 elections. The project aims to reduce poverty in the country by 16 percent, by giving loans to the villagers and charging low interest on a yearly basis. The projects were planned to allocate 30 million kyat for each village; the amount is considered as capital for the village and the yearly interest will be added to the funds. However, according to KHRG reports received from community members in some Karen Districts, participating in the project is difficult for poor villagers who have no money. Village representatives, chosen by the project workers, prioritised their relatives when deciding to whom they would give money. Villagers there must pawn belongings in order to receive a loan. See: "Toungoo Situation Update: Thangaunggyi Township, April to June 2014," December 2014, and "Hpapun Situation Update: Bu Tho Township, February to June 2014," December 2014. The funding for the project comes from the national budget. See "Union Minister U Ohn Myint Needs to answer", May 11th, 2015.

[22] This information was taken from “Nyaunglebin Situation Update: Mone Township, February to August 2016,” KHRG, November 2016.

[23] This information was taken from an unpublished report from Kyaukkyi Township received in February 201

[24] For more detailed information regarding Burma/Myanmar confiscated Shwegyin Karen Baptist Association’s missionary land see “Complaint Letter to the chairperson of the Burma/Myanmar government Land Management Committee, November 2015” KHRG, December 2015.

[25] This information was taken from an unpublished report from Kyaukkyi Township received in December 2016.

[26] This information was taken from two unpublished reports from Kyaukkyi Township received in December 2016.

[27] This information was taken from an unpublished report from Kyaukkyi Township received in December 2016.

[28] An Infantry Battalion (Tatmadaw) comprises 500 soldiers. However, most Infantry Battalions in the Tatmadaw are under-strength with less than 200 soldiers. Yet up to date information regarding the size of battalions is hard to come by, particularly following the signing of the NCA.  They are primarily used for garrison duty but are sometimes used in offensive operations.

[29] This information was taken from an unpublished report from Kyaukkyi Township received in December 2016.

[30] This information was taken from an unpublished report from Kyaukkyi Township received in December 2016.

[31] A Tatmadaw Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) comprises 500 soldiers. However, most Light Infantry Battalions in the Tatmadaw are under-strength with less than 200 soldiers. Yet up to date information regarding the size of battalions is hard to come by, particularly following the signing of the NCA.  LIBs are primarily used for offensive operations, but they are sometimes used for garrison duties.

[32] This information was taken from an unpublished Photo Note from Kyaukkyi Township received in December 2016.

[33] This information was taken from an unpublished report from Kyaukkyi Township received in December 2016.

[34] This information was taken from an unpublished report from Kyaukkyi Township received in December 2016.

[35] This information was taken from an unpublished report from Kyaukkyi Township received in December 2016.

[36] This information was taken from “Nyaunglebin Situation Update: Mone Township, February to August 2016,” KHRG, November 2016.

[37] This information was taken from an unpublished report from Kyaukkyi Township received in December 2016.

[38] This information was taken from an unpublished report from Kyaukkyi Township received in December 2016.

[39] See “Nyaunglebin Field Report: Changes since ceasefire, the land conflicts and local civilians concerns with military activities, January to December 2014,” KHRG, January 2017.

[40] This information was taken from an unpublished report from Kyaukkyi Township received in December 2016.

[41] The information was taken from “Nyaunglebin Situation Update: Mone Township, April to May 2016,” KHRG 2016, and an unpublished report from Kyaukkyi Township received in December 2016.

[42] This information was taken form an unpublished report from Kyaukkyi Township received in December 2016.

[43] This information was taken from “Nyaunglebin Situation Update: Mone Township, February to August 2016,” KHRG, November 2016.

[44] A standard refers to a school year in the education system of Burma/Myanmar. The basic education system has a 5-4-2 structure. Primary school runs from Standard 1 to Standard 5, lower secondary school is Standard 6 to Standard 9, and upper secondary school is Standard 10 to Standard 11.

[45] This information was taken from an unpublished report from Mone Township received in February 2016.

[46] This information was taken from an unpublished report from Kyaukkyi Township received in December 2016.

[47] The information was taken from “Nyaunglebin Situation Update: Mone Township, February to August 2016,” KHRG, November 2016.

[48] This information was taken from an unpublished report from Kyaukkyi Township received in December 2016.

[49] Backpack Health Worker Team (BPHWT) is an organisation that provides health care and medical assistance to displaced civilians inside Burma. KHRG reports that cite BPHWT include “Hpa-an Situation Update: Hlaingbwe Township (February to April 2016)” and “Thaton Township, Thaton District (January to June 2015).”

[50] Founded in 1997 in response to Tatmadaw offenses, Free Burma Ranger (FBR) is a multi-ethnic humanitarian relief organisation that specialises in providing emergency health care, shelter, food and clothing to civilians in war zones and prioritises assisting IDPs. In addition to their relief activities the FBR also conducts capacity building trainings (sometimes jointly with KHRG), documents human rights violations and advocates regularly on the situation in Burma/Myanmar. There are currently 71 active FBR teams that go on 2-4 missions a year. Other KHRG reports that cite FBR include “Situation Update | Bu Tho Township, Hpapun District (March to May 2016)”

[51] The information was taken from an unpublished report from Kyaukkyi Township received in December 2016.

[52] The information was taken from an unpublished report from Kyaukkyi Township received in February 2016.

[53] Military Operations Command (MOC) is comprised of ten battalions for offensive operations. Most MOCs have three Tactical Operations Commands (TOCs) made up of three battalions each.

[54] The information was taken from an unpublished report from Kyaukkyi Township received in December 2016.