Toungoo Field Report: Fighting grounds: land disputes, militarisation and development challenges in a time of ‘peace’, December 2015 to December 2016

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Toungoo Field Report: Fighting grounds: land disputes, militarisation and development challenges in a time of ‘peace’, December 2015 to December 2016

Published date:
Tuesday, April 3, 2018

This field report includes information submitted by KHRG researchers describing events occurring in Toungoo District between December 2015 and December 2016. It describes different human rights violations and other issues important to the local community including, militarisation, land confiscation, displacement, development projects, discrimination, drugs, taxation, health and education.

  • Across all areas of Toungoo District in 2016, ongoing military activities which strengthened army camps and violated the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) Code of Conduct – especially military trainings and troop and ammunition reinforcements by the Tatmadaw – threatened the stability of the current peace process and caused significant safety and livelihood worries for many villagers.
  • In 2016, land confiscation remained one of the most important issues causing disputes between villagers and the main perpetrators of land confiscation in Toungoo District: the Tatmadaw, private companies, and the Burma/Myanmar government. Due to concerns about the negative impact of land confiscation on livelihoods, victims of land confiscation in Toungoo District attempted to reclaim their confiscated land by holding protests and using many other different strategies.
  • In Toungoo District in 2016, the main cause of forced displacement was the implementation of development projects by powerful economic actors such as Kaung Myanmar Aung Company (KMAC). Although these projects damaged villagers’ land, prior consent was not given and consultation was not provided by companies before their projects were implemented.
  • Local villagers have requested the Karen National Union (KNU) to conduct training to local residents about KNU taxation policy in order to increase transparency about tax collection and in order to gain a clearer understanding of how KNU uses taxes.
  • Villagers in Toungoo District face significant barriers to accessing medical services due primarily to a lack of medical supplies, financial difficulties, poor infrastructure and an insufficient amount of available healthcare workers.
  • Despite the decrease in violence since the 2012 preliminary ceasefire and the NCA, the education situation in Toungoo District has not significantly improved due to poor infrastructure and prohibitive costs, substandard quality of education and teachers, and barriers to implementing culturally appropriate education.

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. The signing of the NCA followed the January 12th 2012 preliminary ceasefire agreement between the KNU and Burma/Myanmar government in Hpa-an. Karen civilians and the KNU have more recently expressed their concerns about the lack of progress in moving from a ceasefire towards genuine political dialogue. 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.

[2] The Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA Benevolent) was formed in 2010 as a breakaway group following the transformation of the majority of the original Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (1994 – 2010) into Border Guard Forces (BGF). This group was originally called the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army until it changed its name to the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army in April 2012 in order to reflect its secularity. This group is comprised of different divisions, including Kloh Htoo Baw Battalion and DKBA-5, and was led for many years by General Saw Lah Pwe aka Na Khan Mway who died in March 2016 and was replaced by General Saw Mo Shay in April 2016. The DKBA (Benevolent) signed a preliminary ceasefire with the Burma/Myanmar Government on November 3rd 2011 and then signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) on October 15th 2015. The group is based in Son Si Myaing area, Myawaddy/Kawkareik Township, Dooplaya District, southern Kayin State. This DKBA (Benevolent) (2010 – present) should not be confused with, either the original DKBA (Buddhist) (1994-2010) which was transformed into the BGF in 2010, or with the DKBA (Buddhist) (2016 – present) which was formed in 2016 as a splinter group of the DKBA (Benevolent). Importantly, the DKBA (Benevolent) has signed both the preliminary and nationwide ceasefire agreements with the Burma/Myanmar government, whereas the DKBA (Buddhist) has not signed either agreement.

[3] The KNU/KNLA Peace Council (also called the Karen Peace Council or KPC), is an armed group based in Htoh Kaw Koh, Hpa-an District, which split from the Karen National Union (KNU) and signed a ceasefire agreement with the SPDC government in 2007. The KNU/KNLA-PC subsequently refused to comply with orders from the then-SPDC government to transform into a Tatmadaw Border Guard Force in 2010. The KNU/KNLA-PC signed a preliminary ceasefire agreement with the Burma/Myanmar government on February 7th 2012, and the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) on October 15th 2015.

[4] SeeOngoing militarisation in southeast Myanmar,” KHRG, October 2016.

[6] 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.

[7] 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.

[8] Military Operations Command. Composed of ten battalions for offensive operations. Most MOCs have three Tactical Operations Commands (TOCs), made up of three battalions each.

[9] This information was taken from two unpublished reports received in November 2016.

[10] Tactical Operations Command; made up of three battalions and a headquarters, usually under a Military Operations Command (MOC) and a Light Infantry Division (LID).

[11] This information was taken from an unpublished Situation Update received in May 2016.

[12] This information was taken from two unpublished reports received in November 2016.

[13] This information was taken from two unpublished reports received in November 2016.

[14] This information was taken from “Toungoo Situation Update: Thandaunggyi and Htantabin townships, November 2015 to January 2016” KHRG, July 2016 and two unpublished Photo Notes received in February 2016.

[15] The information was taken from “Toungoo Situation Update: Thandaunggyi Township, June to August 2016” KHRG, March 2017.

[16] This information was taken from an unpublished interview received in February 2016.

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

[18] This information was taken from an unpublished interview received in February 2016.

[19] This information was taken from an unpublished interview received in February 2016.

[20] Specifically, the Tatmadaw has been perceived to have violated section 5 (a) of Chapter 3 in the NCA, which states the Tatmadaw and Ethnic Armed Organisations must abide to the following troop-related terms and conditions: “Cease the following actions in ceasefire areas: troop movements for territorial control, reconnaissance, recruitment, armed attacks, laying of mines, acts of violence, destruction of property, and launching of military offensives.”

[21] The information was taken from “Toungoo Situation Update: Thandaunggyi Township, November 2015 to February 2016,” KHRG, November 2016.

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

[23]  This information was taken from “Toungoo Situation Update: Thandaunggyi Township, November 2015 to February 2016,” KHRG, November 2016.

[24] This information was taken from “Toungoo Situation Update: Thandaunggyi and Htantabin townships, November 2015 to January 2016” KHRG, July 2016, “Toungoo Situation Update: Thandaunggyi Township, June to August 2016” KHRG, March 2017, and also was taken from an unpublished interview from Htantabin Township received in February 2016 and an unpublished interview received in November 2016.

[25] A village tract is an administrative unit of between five and 20 villages in a local area, often centred on a large village.

[26] This information was taken from “Toungoo Situation Update: Thandaunggyi and Htantabin townships, November 2015 to January 2016” KHRG, July 2016, and two unpublished situation update from Htantabin and Thandaunggyi townships received in November 2016.

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

[29] Land form #7 is the land grant required to work on a particular area of land. In Burma/Myanmar, all land is ultimately owned by the government.

[30] This information was taken from an unpublished interview received in November 2016.

[31] All conversion estimates for the kyat in this report are based on the February 21st 2018 official market rate of 1,319 kyats to US $1.

[32] This information was taken from an unpublished Situation Update from Thandaunggyi Township received in November 2016.

[33] The information was taken from “Toungoo Situation Update: Thandaunggyi Township, June to August 2016” KHRG, March 2017.

[34] Kaung Myanmar Aung Company (KMAC) or Kaung Myanmar Aung Group of Companies is a Myanmar-owned business group with investments in teak plantations in Toungoo District, and mining, agriculture, shipping, construction and real estate development within Myanmar. Their chairman is Mr Khin Maung Aye. KMAC have been implicated in land confiscation cases in southeast Myanmar which have included intimidation and threats to villagers who were customary owners of the lands, and launching legal cases against villagers accused of trespassing on the confiscated land. See “Chapter 6: Development, “Foundation of Fear: 25 years of villagers’ voices from southeast Myanmar,” October 2017, KHRG. For an interview with a KMAC day labourer, see “Toungoo Interview: U A---, 2017,” November 2017, KHRG, and for a villager sued of trespassing, “Toungoo Interview: Htantabin Township, November 2015,” June 2017, KHRG.

[35] Asia World is a Burma/Myanmar company with significant investments in the shipping industry, infrastructure, and plantations in Myanmar. It is known within Burma/Myanmar as Shwe Swan In. Asia World and its additional companies owned by Myanmar national Stephen Law were added to the US Sanctions list in July 2016 due to their historic and continued links to the Burma/Myanmar military regime, see “US extends sanctions, further targets Asia World,” Myanmar Times, May 17th 2016. KHRG analysed the impact of Asia World and other private company’s roles in development in Chapter 6: Development, “Foundation of Fear: 25 years of villagers’ voices from southeast Myanmar,” October 2017, KHRG. In KHRG’s operation area of Toungoo District, Asia World constructed a hydroelectric dam resulting in damage to villagers’ land and the relocation of villagers, see “Toungoo Interview: Saw H---, April 2011,” KHRG, September 2012 and continue to develop on land traditionally used by villagers, see “Toungoo Field Report: Slow transitions towards real change, January to December 2015,” January 2017, KHRG. Additionally, in Mergui-Tavoy District, Asia World confiscated villagers’ land for plantations, see “Mergui-Tavoy Situation Update: Ler Muh Lah and Ta Naw Tree Townships, January to June 2015,” KHRG, October 2015.

[36] This information was taken from “Toungoo Interview: Naw A---, November 2015” KHRG, February 2017, and an unpublished interview from Htantabin Township received in February 2016.

[37] This information was taken from unpublished interview from Htantabin Township received in February 2016 and an unpublished Situation Update from Thandaunggyi Township received in November 2016.

[38] This information was taken from “Toungoo Interview: Naw A---, November 2015” KHRG, February 2017.

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

[40] The perpetrator of this abuse claimed authority under one of the Burma/Myanmar government laws that allows rights to land to be transferred from villagers to private entities. The Wasteland Instructions Law (1991) enabled both domestic and foreign investment in large-scale commercial enterprises through transfer of use rights to designated "wasteland" (or "vacant, fallow and virgin land"). This practice was recently reaffirmed by the Vacant, Fallow, Virgin Land Law (2012). As development has increased in southeast Burma/Myanmar since the signing of the government-KNU ceasefire in January 2012, KHRG received an increasing number of complaints of confiscation of "uncultivated land" or "wasteland." For KHRG documentation of land confiscation arising from development projects, see “‘With only our voices, what can we do?’: Land confiscation and local response in southeast Myanmar,” KHRG, June 2015, as well as,  “Losing Ground: Land conflicts and collective action in eastern Myanmar,” KHRG, March 2013. For summary and analysis of the legal and policy framework relating to land management in Burma/Myanmar, see: Legal Review of Recently Enacted Farmland Law and Vacant Fallow and Virgin Lands Management Law, Food Security Group - Land Core Group, November 2012. 

[41] This information was taken from an unpublished interview from Htantabin Township received in February 2016. 

[43] This information was taken from “Toungoo Interview: Saw A---, January 2016” KHRG, February 2017.

[44] This information was taken from “Toungoo Interview: Saw A---, January 2016” KHRG, February 2017.

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

[46] Daw is a Burmese female honorific title used before a person’s name.

[47] This information was taken from an unpublished interview from Htantabin Township received in February 2016. 

[48] This information was taken from “Toungoo Situation Update: Thandaunggyi Township, November 2015 to February 2016” KHRG, November 2016 and unpublished interview from Htantabin Township received in February 2016.

[49] This information was taken from an unpublished interview from Htantabin Township received in February 2016. 

[51] This information was taken from “Toungoo Interview: Naw A---, November 2015” KHRG, February 2017.

[52] See, “National Land Use Policy”. 

[53] 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.

[54] For more information see “Foundation of Fear: 25 years of villagers voices from southeast Myanmar,” KHRG, October 2017.

[55] This information was taken from an unpublished Photo Note from Thandaunggyi Township received in August 2016.

[56] This information was taken from “Toungoo Situation Update: Thandaunggyi Township, June to August 2016” KHRG, March 2017

[57] This information was taken from an unpublished Situation Update from Thandaunggyi and Htantabin townships received in November 2016.

[58] This information was taken from “Toungoo Interview: Ma A---, April 2016” KHRG, October 2016.

[59] This information was taken from an unpublished interview from Htantabin Township received in March 2016.

[60] This information was taken from “Toungoo Interview: Ma A---, April 2016” KHRG, October 2016.

[61] This information was taken from an unpublished interview from Htantabin Township received in March 2016.

[62] This information was taken from “Toungoo Interview: Ma A---, April 2016” KHRG, October 2016.

[63] This information was taken from “Toungoo Interview: Saw A---, December 2015” KHRG, November 2016.

[64] This information was taken from “Toungoo Interview: Ma A---, April 2016” KHRG, October 2016.

[65] This information was taken from “Toungoo Situation Update: Thandaunggyi Township, June to August 2016” KHRG, March 2017.

[66] This information was taken from “Toungoo Interview: Ma A---, April 2016” KHRG, October 2016.

[68] This information was taken from “Toungoo Situation Update: Thandaunggyi Township, June to August 2016” KHRG, March 2017.

[70] Thisbd information was taken from “Toungoo Interview: Saw A---, December 2015” KHRG, November 2016.

[71] This information was taken from “Toungoo Interview: Saw A---, December 2015” KHRG, November 2016 and an unpublished Situation Update from Thandaunggyi Township received in November 2016.

[72] This information was taken from “Toungoo Interview: Saw A---, December 2015” KHRG, November 2016.

[73] This information was taken from “Toungoo Situation Update: Thandaunggyi Township, June to August 2016” KHRG, March 2017.

[74] This information was taken from “Toungoo Situation Update: Thandaunggyi Township, November 2015 to February 2016” KHRG, November 2016.

[75] This information was taken from “Toungoo Situation Update: Thandaunggyi Township, November 2015 to February 2016” KHRG, November 2016.

[76] For more information about the previous action of U Myo Tint, please see “Toungoo Interview: Maung A---, April 2015” KHRG, January 2016 and “Toungoo Situation Update: Thandaunggyi Township, March to July 2015” KHRG, March 2016

[77] This information was taken from “Toungoo Situation Update: Thandaunggyi Township, November 2015 to February 2016” KHRG, November 2016.

[78] This information was taken from an unpublished Photo Note Thandaunggyi Township received in May 2016.

[79] 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).”

[80] 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)”

[82] This information was taken from an unpublished Situation Update from Thandaunggyi Township received in November 2016.

[84] The information was taken from “Toungoo Situation Update: Thandaunggyi Township, June to August 2016” KHRG, March 2017.

[85] This information was taken from “Toungoo Interview: Saw A---, December 2015” KHRG, November 2016.

[86] This information was taken from “Toungoo Situation Update: Thandaunggyi Township, November 2015 to February 2016” KHRG, November 2016.

[87] The information was taken from “Toungoo Situation Update: Thandaunggyi Township, June to August 2016” KHRG, March 2017.

[88] This information was taken from “Toungoo Situation Update: Thandaunggyi Township, November 2015 to February 2016” KHRG, November 2016.

[89] This information was taken from an unpublished Situation Update from Thandaunggyi Township received in November 2016.

[90] This information was taken from “Toungoo Situation Update: Thandaunggyi Township, November 2015 to February 2016” KHRG, November 2016.

[91] The information was taken from “Toungoo Situation Update: Thandaunggyi Township, June to August 2016” KHRG, March 2017.

[92] Self-funded school refer to schools that are supported by local villagers and financially independent from both the KNU and the Burma/Myanmar government. However, the curriculum and structure of self-funded schools are often similar to KNU and Burma/Myanmar government schools.

[93] The Karen National Union's Education Department. The main goals of the KED are to provide education, as well as to preserve Karen language and culture. During the civil war in Burma/Myanmar the KED became the main organisation providing educational services in the KNU controlled areas in southeast Burma/Myanmar. The KED also previously oversaw the educational system in the seven refugee camps along the Thai-Burma/Myanmar border, however in 2009 these activities were restructured under the Karen Refugee Committee – Education Entity (KRCEE). See "Conflict Erupts over Govt teachers deployed to KNU areas," Karen News, August 20th 2013 and the KRCEE website: "About," accessed July 21st 2015.

[94] This information was taken from “Toungoo Situation Update: Thandaunggyi Township, June to August 2016” KHRG, March 2017.

[95] This information was taken from “Toungoo Situation Update: Thandaunggyi Township, June to August 2016” KHRG, March 2017.

[96] This information was taken from “Toungoo Situation Update: Thandaunggyi Township, June to August 2016” KHRG, March 2017.

[97] This information was taken from “Toungoo Situation Update: Thandaunggyi Township, June to August 2016” KHRG, March 2017.

[98] This information was taken from an unpublished Situation Update from Thandaunggyi Township received in November 2016.

[99] This information was taken from “Toungoo Situation Update: Thandaunggyi Township, November 2015 to February 2016” KHRG, November 2016.

[100] 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.

[101] This information was taken from “Toungoo Situation Update: Thandaunggyi Township, June to August 2016” KHRG, March 2017.

[102] The information was taken from “Toungoo Situation Update: Thandaunggyi Township, November 2015 to February 2016” KHRG, November 2016.

[103] This information was taken from an unpublished Situation Update from Thandaunggyi Township received in November 2016.

[104] The information was taken from “Toungoo Situation Update: Thandaunggyi Township, November 2015 to February 2016” KHRG, November 2016.

[105] This information was taken from “Toungoo Situation Update: Thandaunggyi Township, June to August 2016” KHRG, March 2017.

[106] This information was taken from “Toungoo Situation Update: Thandaunggyi Township, June to August 2016” KHRG, March 2017.

[107] This information was taken from “Toungoo Situation Update: Thandaunggyi Township, June to August 2016” KHRG, March 2017.

[108] Article 14 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states that “Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.”

[110] This information was taken from an unpublished Situation Update from Thandaunggyi Township received in November 2016.

[111] This information was taken from “Toungoo Situation Update: Thandaunggyi Township, June to August 2016” KHRG, March 2017 and an unpublished Situation Update from Thandaunggyi Township received in November 2016.

[112] The international standard of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) relates to the rights of indigenous persons in relation to decisions which affect their community. It is enshrined in Article 32, “United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” 2007, and expanded on in “Free, Prior and Informed Consent of Indigenous Peoples,” OHCHR, September 2013.