Situation Update | Bilin Township, Thaton District (July to October 2017)
The following Situation Update was received by KHRG in November 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 report was received along with other information from Thaton District, including 6 interviews and 53 photographs.
This situation update describes events occurring in Bilin Township, Thaton District during the period between July 1st and October 1st 2017, including education, healthcare, villagers’ livelihoods, military activities, development projects and drug issues.
Bilin Township location
Bilin Township, Thaton District is located close to Dwe Lo Township, Mu Traw [Hpapun] District and the Bu Lo [Bilin] river is the border between the two townships. According to the Burma/Myanmar government administration, part of Bilin Township is in Mon State and another part is in Karen State. There are 17 village tracts under Karen National Union [KNU] control: Shwe Aok, Kaw Heh, T’gay Laung, Pyin Ma Pin, Noh Ber Baw, Htee Maw Khee, Ka Au Khi, Yo K’la, Kyo Waing, Lay Kay, Ta Paw, Me N’than, Ai Kyu Khee, Meh Play Khee, Shwe Laung Aye, Pi Ti Khi and Mel Naw Gaw Hta village tracts. Bilin Township is located along the Don T’mi Chaung River and the Bilin River.
There are several types of school systems operating in Bilin Township: self-funded schools, joint Burma/Myanmar government and self-funded schools, Burma/Myanmar government schools, Karen Education Department [KED] schools and religious [Christian] schools. Self-funded schools rely on villagers’ support, as villagers provide the salary that secures teachers’ livelihoods and access to rice.
Self-funded schools annually face teacher shortages and challenges related to securing transfer letters. After the students at self-funded schools complete Standard Four, they are required to secure transfer letters in which the Burma/Myanmar government recognises that the students can transfer to the next Standard [Standard Five] in the Burma/Myanmar government schools. Karen village leaders and the school committees of self-funded schools have attempted to resolve this challenge by registering their Standard Four students’ names at Burma/Myanmar government schools in 2016-2017. However, although some self-funded schools have successfully solved this problem using this strategy, other self-funded schools still face challenges [transferring students]. In the 2017-2018 academic year, three students who completed Standard Four at Htaw Klaw Khee self-funded school, Noh Ber Baw village tract [in early 2017] were prohibited from transferring to Standard Five in Baw Kyo Leh [a Burma/Myanmar government school], Dwe Lo Township, Mu Traw District by the principal Sayama Daw Thanda Aung. Thus, two of the students returned to Kya Thaung Seik [Yo Kla village] Burma/Myanmar government school and were able to transfer to Standard Five there because the Kya Thaung Seik school is more flexible with [transferring students from] self-funded schools. The other student is repeating Standard Four as a student at the Baw Kyo Leh government school.
A [censored for security] self-funded school principal reported, “One of my students finished Standard Four at the [censored for security] self-funded school but was prohibited from transferring to Standard Five by the principal of K’Ma Maung Burma/Myanmar government schools, Daw Htay Myint Yee, so the student has to attend Kya Thaung Seik school [Burma/Myanmar government school].” Self-funded schools [in Bilin Township] use the Burma/Myanmar government teaching curriculum and self-funded schools that cooperate with Burma/Myanmar government schools have both Burma/Myanmar government teachers and village teachers. Consequently, villagers have to provide food for both Burma/Myanmar government teachers and villager teachers.
Self-funded schools that cooperate with the Burma/Myanmar government schools are only permitted to teach Karen language up to Standard Two. However, some self-funded schools teach Karen language up to Standard Four in extra classes [after or before school hours]. One teacher reported that,
“Some self-funded schools that cooperated with the Burma/Myanmar government schools cannot teach Karen language during school hours because the Burma/Myanmar government Education Department prohibits the Karen subject from being taught.”
Furthermore, one villager reported that,
“The Burma/Myanmar government teachers arrive late to class and also do not fulfil their [teaching] responsibilities because they are [frequently] absent from the school.”
There are only two Karen Education Department [KED] schools [in Bilin Township]: Kwee Lay high school in Noh Ber Baw village tract and Htee Lay Hkaw post-ten school in Lay Kay village tract. The Kwee Lay high school was established in 2010 and the Htee Lay Hkaw post-ten school was established in 2014.
The most prevalent sicknesses affecting villagers in Bilin Township are [high/low] blood pressure, anaemia, cough, malaria and flu. The Burma/Myanmar government constructed clinics in other areas such as Htee Hpa Doh Hta but these clinics are always closed because they lack medical supplies and health workers. There are KNU clinics, but some villages cannot access nearby clinics. Thus, villages that face serious illnesses have to travel to hospitals in towns such as K’Ma Maung, Thaton and Hpa-an. Villagers also face transportation problems because the quality of the roads from their villages to the towns are not good. Villagers request the Karen National Union or the Burma/Myanmar government to provide clinics and health workers for them.
Villagers from Bilin Township continue to do ordinary work such as hill farming, plain farming, daily labour and plantations because there are no major business opportunities. Farmers annually face inadequate rice [harvests]. One villager reported, “When we face food shortages, we have to work as daily labourers, collect vegetables, fruit and wild bulbs [such as wild yam] and exchange these with rice in order to overcome the food shortages.”
The KNU government Bilin Township administrator is Saw Eh Kaw Htoo and the Karen National Defence Organisational [KNDO] Battalion Commander in Bilin Township is Saw San Thein. The [KNU] local authorities follow the orders from the [KNU/KNLA] headquarters. The villagers expressed both positive and negative comments regarding the Karen National Liberation Army’s [KNLA] strengthening process [increased recruitment] in July 2017. Some parents think the system [recruitment] is appropriate and consequently allow their children to serve for the [KNLA] army, but other parents think that [the KNLA recruitment] system is inappropriate and did not want their children to serve as KNLA soldiers. According to KNLA authorities, “[The KNLA] recruitment of soldiers is legal; they [KNLA] ignore [do not recruit] the first born child, students and children under the age of 18 to serve the military. They [KNLA] signed this agreement with the villagers.”
There are five Tatmadaw camps in Bilin Township: Nat Gyi army camp located in Shwe Laung Inn village tract, Meh Plaw Khee army camp based in Meh Plaw Khee village tract, Lay Kay army camp based in Lay Kay village tract, Win Ta Pan army camp based in Win Ta Pan village tract and Kya Thaung Seik army camp located in Kya Thaung Seik village tract. One villager reported, “After the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement [NCA] was signed [between ethnic armed groups and the Burma/Myanmar government in 2015], these Tatmadaw camps were replaced by the Border Guard Force [BGF]. Nevertheless, the Kya Thaung Seik army camp in Kya Thaung Seik village tract remains situated on religious land [belonging to a monastery]. Before the NCA, Tatmadaw stole villagers’ belongings and arrested villagers, including women, to serve as porters and human shields on the front line. Drunk Tatmadaw soldiers have also stolen villagers’ belongings and animals. During the last two years, BGF soldiers have also stolen villagers’ vegetables and fruits.” On August 3rd 2017, the Tatmadaw Colonel Thant Sin Aung from Company #10, Regiment #22 entered into the Y--- village and stayed for two days in the monastery. A novice said, “The Tatmadaw used the woods and cooking materials during their stay in the monastery.” Villagers request for the Tatmadaw to withdraw their army camp from the monastery land because villagers cannot freely practice their religion if the Tatmadaw remains quartered in the monastery. In addition, villagers have concerns about the NCA because Tatmadaw activity is increasing in the local area [in Bilin Township].
Bilin Township is located on the border [of Thaton District and Hpapun District] so there are many active Non-Government Organisations [NGO] and government organisations including the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation [SDC], Nippon Foundation, Action Aid and the Youth Organisation - which conducts projects such as providing awareness workshops and construction for schools and clinics [for community development]. SDC, Nippon Foundation and Community-Driven Development [CDD] conduct construction projects to build schools and clinics whereas Action Aid and the Youth Organisation provide awareness-raising workshops.
On September 28th 2017 in Bilin Township the Burma/Myanmar government parliament representative U Tin Ko Ko and his co-workers came to Kya Thaung Seik village and gathered information about the needs of the local people and then claimed to be taking action to fulfil these needs. Afterwards, one villager reported, “He [U Tin Ko Ko] also claimed to be responsible for funding the road construction and paving the road between the Wi Yaw-Lay Kay road and the Myit Kyo area with cement.”
Development is happening [in Bilin Township] after the ceasefire period [NCA] in areas such as transportation. However, as a result [of development in Bilin Township], there are also some negative consequences such as the increasing availability of drugs. One villager reported that, “There are an increasing number of drug users amongst villagers.” On June 22nd 2017, a yaba user from Nya Poh Hkee village and two yaba users from Kya Thaung Seik villagers were arrested in Kya Thaung Seik village, Kya Thaung Seik village tract by several drunken KNU police officers. After the KNU police officers tortured [punched and beat] two of these drug users and demanded that they name other drug users, they named eight other drug users and sellers in the Ma Pin Seik village tract so the KNU police officers also arrested the eight other drug users and ordered all of them [eleven drug users and sellers] to pay 150,000 kyats [US $113.11] each as punishment. One official reported, “According to the drug research conducted by the police [KNU], there are many drug users in the villages.” Another local person also reported that, “Many BGF soldiers in K--- village use yaba and distribute it to other places [villages].”