Situation Update | Bilin Township, Thaton District (March to May 2017)
The following Situation Update was received by KHRG in June 2017. 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 Situation Update describes events occurring in Bilin Township, Thaton District during the period between March and May 2017, including healthcare, education, development projects and armed group activities.
[Between March and May], local people in Bilin Township, Doo Tha Htoo [Thaton] District suffered from headache, neck pain, dizziness, fever, diarrhoea, runny nose, and mild malaria. Karen National Union [KNU] health workers tried to deliver healthcare services to as many civilians as they could. Healthcare services provided by non-governmental organisations [NGOs], the Burma/Myanmar government and the KNU health department include vaccination programmes, anti-malaria programmes, Tuberculosis (TB) testing and prenatal care. The KNU has built clinics in several different areas such as Kwee Lay village, Noh Ber Baw village tract, Ta Au Ni village, Ta Au Hkee village tract, Bilin Township and Hpaw Gee Hkee village, Meh Naw Ther village tract, Bilin Township. A KNU hospital was established in Toe Teh Hkee village, Htee Maw Hkee village tract, Bilin Township. Although construction for Burma/Myanmar government hospitals has been completed, no health workers have started working there yet.
There are various types of schools in Bilin Township: Burma/Myanmar government schools, KNU government schools, religious schools, and local [self-funded] schools. There is one high school named Kwee Lay High School located in Kwee Lay village, Noh Ber Baw village tract and one post-ten school located in Htee Lay Hkaw village, Lay Kay village tract. The majority of schools [in Bilin Township] are Burma/Myanmar government schools; however, there are also several religious schools and self-funded schools. Several organisations are building and improving school infrastructures including the Nippon Foundation, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and several Community Based Organisations (CBOs). Schools [in Bilin Township] mostly follow the Burma/Myanmar government curriculum and teach the Karen language during school hours. However, Burma/Myanmar government teachers were often inappropriately absent from class. For example, when some teachers said that they had to leave and attend trainings, they did not return for several months. Karen students also faced discrimination in education as well. Students who attended KNU schools, religious schools, and local [self-funded] schools [in the past] had difficulty applying for Burma/Myanmar government schools because those schools [KNU schools, religious schools, and self-funded schools] were not recognised [considered illegitimate] by the Burma/Myanmar government education institutions.
Although there was no noteworthy road construction between P’Nweh Kla and Lay Kay, the bridges along that route were repaired [between March and May]. In addition, the road from Nat Gyi to P’Yah Raw was widened [between March and May] and there are plans to pave the road with stones next summer. Travelling has become easier [than before] because a few roads have been rebuilt and the quality of those roads has improved. However, safe driving behaviour is not always practiced so car and motorcycle accidents still frequently occur.
Two places were identified as suitable areas to host repatriated refugees: A--- village, Lay Kay village tract and B--- village, Khaw Hpoe Pleh village tract. However, construction of these houses for refugees has not yet finished. To support this low-cost housing project, the KNU provided wood and timber [by allowing logging to be conducted] from the Toe Teh Hkee and Ta Au Hkee forests. During this period in which logging was permitted in these forests, wealthy individuals seized the opportunity to also conduct logging in these areas [Toe The Hkee and Ta Au Hkee forests]. Although the KNU only permitted the logging of up to a maximum of 1,500 tonnes of wood, over 3,000 tonnes of wood were actually logged [by the KNU and by wealthy individuals]. Local villagers did not get an opportunity to log any wood and moreover, did not benefit from the logging that took place. Local villagers were also concerned about their accommodations for the upcoming raining season. District authorities and district leader P’Doh Ko Lay Sein initially banned everyone from selling wood to nearby towns and cities. However, some loggers wanted and attempted to sell the wood that was logged outside the village. Therefore, on April 28th 2017, the ban was revoked and wood was allowed to be brought outside [to be sold]. However, on May 15th 2017, it started raining heavily and the vehicle road was damaged so the transportation of the wood was stopped.
Armed Groups Activities
Karen National Liberation Army [KNLA] Battalion #3, commanded by Saw Dah Nay Htoo, patrolled around Bilin Township. In accordance with the decision of the [Bilin] Township Standing Committee Meeting on April 27th 2017, Battalion #3 relocated to Kyaikto Township. Then, the Karen National Defence Organisation [KNDO] Battalion #2, commanded by Saw Sa Thay, relocated to Bilin Township. In Bilin Township, Border Guard Force [BGF] Battalion #1013 and #1014 and Tatmadaw Light Infantry Division [LID] #44 were also active. In addition, on May 1st 2017, LID #22 rotated with LID #44.
C--- Monastery Situation
After LID #44 burnt down a monastery, reconstruction of the monastery has begun but has not yet been completed. However, LID #44 has already rotated [with LID #22] and relocated to another place. LID #22 has stated that they will not provide any financial aid or material support [to the monastery] but that they would help by providing additional manpower [to rebuild the burnt monastery].
According to the opinion of this KHRG community member, a significant concern for the local civilians is food because the rainy season is imminent and the price of rice is increasing. Positively, villagers are not worried about potential conflict because the relationship between the KNU and the Burma/Myanmar government remains stable. One new problem for local civilians is that there have been more car and motorcycle accidents occurring recently because the quality of the roads has improved [and this has caused an increase in the risk of accidents because the speed of the vehicles on the roads has increased]. Therefore, KNU authorities need to establish and enforce laws for safely driving vehicles. Drug use is another problem because neither the KNU, nor the Burma/Myanmar government nor other armed groups have taken any [substantial] action to resolve this [drug] issue.