Hlaingbwe Interview: Saw Z---, November 2017


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Hlaingbwe Interview: Saw Z---, November 2017

Published date:
Friday, June 8, 2018

This Interview with Saw Z--- describes events occurring in Hlaingbwe Township, Hpa-an District, during the period between October and November 2017, including information about military activities, instances of forced labour, health and livelihoods.

  • In the second week of October 2017, fighting broke out between the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) splinter group and the joint forces of the Border Guard Force (BGF) and the Tatmadaw in Hlaingbwe Township.
  • The BGF led by Non-commissioned Officer (NCO) Maung Na forced villagers to serve as porters and guides between October and November 2017. The villagers were from Y--- village, T’Kwee Klah village tract, in Hlaingbwe Township. This was very dangerous for the villagers due to the presence of landmines in the area and the risk of DKBA splinter group attacking.
  • Saw Z--- reported that the BGF, DKBA splinter group and Tatmadaw abused their power by intimidating villagers and perpetrating forced military labour throughout the skirmishes that occurred between October and November 2017. Consequently, some villagers faced food shortages and health challenges because they did not have any time to secure their livelihoods.


[1] KHRG trains community members in southeastern Burma/Myanmar to document individual human rights abuses using a standardised reporting format; conduct interviews with other villagers; and write general updates on the situation in areas with which they are familiar. When conducting interviews, community members are trained to use loose question guidelines, but also to encourage interviewees to speak freely about recent events, raise issues that they consider to be important and share their opinions or perspectives on abuse and other local dynamics.

[2] In order to increase the transparency of KHRG methodology and more directly communicate the experiences and perspectives of villagers in southeastern Burma/Myanmar, KHRG aims to make all field information received available on the KHRG website once it has been processed and translated, subject only to security considerations. For additional reports categorised by Type, Issue, Location and Year, please see the Related Readings component following each report on KHRG’s website.

[3] Kyaw is a Karen term meaning ‘older brother.’ Although it is translated as ‘older brother’ it does not necessarily imply a familial relationship.

[4] The Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, often referred as "Ko Per Baw" translated directly from Karen language as “yellow headscarves,” a reference to the DKBA’s uniform.

[5] This is referring to the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) that was re-formed on January 16th 2016 as a splinter group from the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (2010 – present), and is also referred to as Na Ma Kya (‘Deaf Ear’). During fighting between the Tatmadaw and DKBA Benevolent throughout 2015, there was internal disagreement within the DKBA Benevolent which resulted in a number of commanders being dismissed in July 2015. These former commanders then issued a statement in January 2016 declaring the formation of a new splinter group. This organisation has phrased the formation of this group as the revival of the original Democratic Karen Buddhist Army which was formed in 1994 until it was broken up in 2010 into the BGF and the still-active DKBA Benevolent. The group is led by General Saw Kyaw Thet, Chief of Staff and General Saw Taing Shwe aka Bo Bi, Vice Chief of Staff. Other lower ranking commanders in the DKBA Buddhist splinter group are San Aung and late Kyaw Moh aka Na Ma Kya (reportedly killed on August 26th 2016). The group is currently based in Myaing Gyi Ngu area in Hlaing Bwe Township, Karen State. This DKBA Buddhist (2016 – present) should not be confused with the DKBA Benevolent (2010 – present) from which it broke away in January 2016, or with the original DKBA (1994 – 2010) which was broken up in 2010 into the BGF and the DKBA Benevolent. Importantly, the DKBA Buddhist has not signed the preliminary or nationwide ceasefire with the Myanmar government whereas the DKBA Benevolent has signed both agreements.

[6] Tatmadaw refers to the Myanmar military throughout KHRG's 25 year reporting period. The Myanmar military were commonly referred to by villagers in KHRG research areas as SLORC (State Law and Order Restoration Council) from 1988 to 1997 and SPDC (State Peace and Development Council) from 1998 to 2011, which were the Tatmadaw-proclaimed names of the military government of Burma. Villagers also refer to Tatmadaw in some cases as simply "Burmese" or "Burmese soldiers".

[7] 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.

[8] Bo (Officer) Bee commands the Kloh Htoo Lah which is one of the three current DKBA Battalions, the others being Kloh Htoo Wah and Kloh Htoo Baw, that were formed in September 2011 and refused to transform into Tatmadaw Border Guard battalions. Kloh Htoo Baw (Golden Drum) referred to the DKBA before 2011, but was then reconfigured to have the two additional battalions as well. DKBA forces in Hpa-an and Dooplaya districts that refused to transform into Tatmadaw Border Guard battalions began fighting Tatmadaw forces in November 2010 and have been variously referred to as DKBA #907, Kloh Htoo Baw, Golden Drum, and Brigade #5.

[9] In a previous News Bulletin KHRG reported that these landmines were laid by DKBA splinter group. See “Ongoing fighting, displacement, landmines, porter demands, and child recruitment in Hlaingbwe Township, Hpa-an District, October and November 2017,” December 2017.

[10] All conversion estimates for the kyat in this report are based on the February 19, 2018 official market rate of 1,324 kyats to US $1.

[11] A basket is a unit of volume used to measure paddy, milled rice and seeds. One basket is equivalent to 20.9 kg or 46.08 lb of paddy, and 32 kg or 70.4 lb of milled rice. A basket is twice the volume of a big tin.

[12] According to the 1949 Geneva Convention III and 1997 Additional Protocol I, as well as other sources of customary international law (IHL) civilians are defined as “persons who are not members of the armed forces” and those who do not carry arms openly. Therefore, this villager’s status as a civilian is complicated by the fact that he was forced to act as a navigator for the BGF and KNLA, as well as by the fact that he chose to openly carry a weapon while accompanying the two armed groups to the front line. IHL is ambiguous as to whether members of armed groups, such as navigators, are considered civilians or not, however, it is possible that this villager lost his status as a civilian by openly carrying a weapon, and was thus no longer protected as a civilian under IHL from attack by armed forces while he was on the front line. 

[13] Thara (male) or tharamu (female) is a Karen term used for any teacher, pastor, or any person to whom one wishes to show respect.