Hpa-an Field Report: Explicit killing, fighting leading to massive displacement, arbitrary taxation and the improvement of healthcare and education, January to December 2016

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Hpa-an Field Report: Explicit killing, fighting leading to massive displacement, arbitrary taxation and the improvement of healthcare and education, January to December 2016

Published date:
Thursday, January 4, 2018

This field report includes information submitted by KHRG researchers detailing events occurring in Hpa-an District between January 2016 and December 2016. It describes different human rights violations and other issues important to the local community including, arbitrary taxation by Karen National Union (KNU), KNU/KNLA-Peace Council (KNU/KNLA-PC) and Border Guard Force (BGF), road construction and its impacts, logging, forced recruitment, explicit killings, landmine incidents, and the large-scale displacement of civilians due to the Tatmadaw and BGF offensive against the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA splinter group) in early September 2016.

  • Between April and September 2016, three separate killing incidents happened where five people in total were killed based on witchcraft suspicions in Paingkyon Township, Hpa-an District.

  • In 2016, Myanmar government officials from the land department in Paingkyon Township surveyed lands for villagers in some village tracts in Paingkyon Township with the purpose of providing land grants to villagers in the area.

  • One villager was accused of burning a rubber plantation owned by a member of the BGF and was fined four million kyat (US $3,372.04) in April 2016.

  • Community members reported significant challenges caused by overlapping and arbitrary taxation from the Karen National Union (KNU), Karen National Union/Karen National Liberation Army-Peace Council (KNU/KNLA-PC) and BGF, who collected taxes from the local villagers as regular income for their organisations.  

  • This field report also discusses the concerns of villagers over the construction of Buddhist stupas on and near church land and villagers’ housing compounds by Monk U Thuzana.

  • Community members reported improvements in healthcare and education services provided by both Myanmar government and KNU in many village areas throughout 2016.

Footnotes

[1] U Thuzana is an influential ethnic Karen Buddhist monk based in Myaing Gyi Ngu who was instrumental in the formation of the DKBA in 1994; see "Inside the DKBA," KHRG, March 1996. In 1995, KHRG reported that U Thuzana had collaborated with the Tatmadaw, and met with then-Southeastern Commander Major General Maung Hla to obtain weapons and supplies for 4,000 soldiers in his monastery. As a result of the agreement, U Thuzana’s headquarters and main monastery in Myaing Gyi Ngu, in northern Hpa-an District, reportedly developed a reputation as a mystical safe haven for villagers avoiding Tatmadaw abuses. See “Karen Human Rights Group commentary,” KHRG, February 1995. More recently monk U Thuzana has been implicated in forced labour demands and of stoking religious conflict by confiscating land to build Buddhist stupas. See “Hpapun Field Report, January to December 2013,” March 2016, and “Chapter 8: Discrimination and Division in “Foundation of Fear,” KHRG, October 2017.

[2] Border Guard Force (BGF) battalions of the Tatmadaw were established in 2010, and they are composed mostly of soldiers from former non-state armed groups, such as older constellations of the DKBA, which have formalised ceasefire agreements with the Burma/Myanmar government and agreed to transform into battalions within the Tatmadaw. BGF battalions are assigned four digit battalion numbers, whereas regular Tatmadaw infantry battalions are assigned two digit battalion numbers and light infantry battalions are identified by two or three-digit battalion numbers. For more information, see “DKBA officially becomes Border Guard Force” Democratic Voice of Burma, August 2010, and “Exploitation and recruitment under the DKBA in Pa’an District,” KHRG, June 2009.

[3] For more information, see “Hpa-an Situation Update: Hlaingbwe Township, February to April 2016,” KHRG, August 2016.

[4] KHRG has received numerous reports of human rights violations by BGF Battalion #1015, including arbitrary killing of civilians, arbitrary taxation and demands, forced labour, as well as additional cases of land confiscation. For detailed information see, “Hpa-an Situation Update: Hlaingbwe and Paingkyon townships, March to May 2016,” KHRG, September 2016, and “Human rights violations by BGF Cantonment Area Commander Kya Aye in Paingkyon Township, Hpa-an District, February 2013 to July 2014,” KHRG, September 2014.

[5] For more information, see “Hpa-an Situation Update: Hlaingbwe and Paingkyon townships, March to May 2016,” KHRG, September 2016.

[6] 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.

[7] All conversion estimates for the kyat in this report are based on the 11th December 2017 official market rate of 1356  kyat to US $1, or otherwise taken from the original published KHRG report source.

[8] See, “Hpa-an Incident Report: Villager accused of burning BGF rubber plantation in Paingkyon Township, April 2016,” KHRG, August 2016. KHRG has received previous reports involving human rights violations by Border Guard Force (BGF) Company Commander Kyaw Hein, also known as Dee Ter Ler, including land confiscation in Paingkyon Township. See, “Hpa-an Incident Report: Land confiscation in Paingkyon Township, May 2015,” KHRG, August 2015.

[9] This information was taken from an unpublished report from Paingkyon Township received in March 2016.

[10] This information was taken from the published report, “Hpa-an Situation Update: Hlaingbwe and Paingkyon townships, March to May 2016,” September 2016.

[11] This information was taken from an unpublished KHRG report from Paingkyon Township. For further information see Karen News “NLD Hand Back 232 Acres Confiscated Farmlands – Rightful Owners Not Happy,” Karen News, June 2016.

[12] A cubit is a standard measurement for the length of bamboo poles, commonly referred to in Karen as the length from one’s fingertips to one’s elbow, about 45.7 centre metres or 18 inches.

[13] An arm span is a unit of measurement equivalent to six footsteps (kaw yaw), 6 feet, 2 yards or 1.8 meters.

[14] This information was taken from, “Hpa-an Situation Update: Hlaingbwe and Paingkyon townships, March to May 2016,” KHRG, September 2016.

[15] ‘Ar Wer day’ is a term coined by DKBA, BGF and KPC and used to describe special days, hence the expression ‘Ar Wer day.’ Ar Wer day events typically involve  celebrations  to  mark  a  special  occasion  such  as  the  building  of  a  new  pagoda or to honour these armed groups.  Sometimes people  also engage in illicit activities such as gambling and drug use on Ar Wer days. The Ar Wer Day is primarily celebrated by armed groups to serve as a  main fundraising activity for them.

[16] This information was taken from, “Hpa-an Situation Update: Hlaingbwe and Paingkyon townships, March to May 2016,” KHRG, September 2016.

[17] All conversion estimates for the kyat in this report are based on the 5 September 2016 official market rate of 1,217.67 kyat to the US $1.

[18] This information was published as, “Three separate killing incidents based on witchcraft suspicion in Hpa-an District,” KHRG, July 2017.

[19] This information was taken from, “Hpa-an Interview: Naw A---, September 2016,” KHRG, September 2016.

[20] This information was published as, “Three separate killing incidents based on witchcraft suspicion in Hpa-an District,” KHRG, July 2017.

[21] This information was published as, “Three separate killing incidents based on witchcraft suspicion in Hpa-an District,” KHRG, July 2017.

[22] See, “Recent fighting between newly-reformed DKBA and joint forces of BGF and Tatmadaw soldiers led more than six thousand Karen villagers to flee in Hpa-an District, September 2016,” KHRG, December 2016, and  “Hpa-an Interview: Saw A--- and Saw B---, October 2016,” KHRG, February 2017.

[23] In the previously published KHRG news bulletin, Naw P--- was censored as Naw L---.

[24] For more information see, “Hpa-an Situation Update: Hlaingbwe and Paingkyon townships, March to May 2016,” KHRG, September 2016.

[25] On January 12th 2012, a preliminary ceasefire agreement was signed between the KNU and Burma/Myanmar government in Hpa-an. Negotiations for a longer-term peace plan are still under way. For updates on the peace process, see the KNU Stakeholder webpage on the Myanmar Peace Monitor website. For KHRG's analysis of changes in human rights conditions since the ceasefire, see Truce or Transition? Trends in human rights abuse and local response since the 2012 ceasefire, KHRG, May 2014. In March 2015, the seventh round of the negotiations for a national ceasefire between the Burma/Myanmar government and various ethnic armed actors began in Yangon, see “Seventh Round of Nationwide Ceasefire Negotiations,” Karen National Union Headquarters, March 18th 2015. Following the negotiations, the KNU held a central standing committee emergency, see “KNU: Emergency Meeting Called To Discuss Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement And Ethnic Leaders’ Summit,” Karen News, April 22nd 2015.

[26] 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. Several years on, the NCA has not materialised into a strong peace process and remains fragile. See, “KNU Chair Highlights Weaknesses In The NCA During Anniversary Celebrations,” Karen News, October 2017 and NCA signatories urge govt to reboot peace process, DVB, October 2017.

[27] 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.

[28] This information was taken from an unpublished report from Hlaingbwe Township received in April 2016.