Thaton (Doo Tha Htoo) District

Locally-defined Thaton District, colloquially-referred to in Karen language as Doo Tha Htoo, corresponds roughly to the northern part of Mon State above the Thaton – Hpa-an vehicle road, comprising Bilin, Thaton and Kyaikto Townships. It is bordered to the west by the Gulf of Martaban and to the north-east and south-east by the Yunzalin and Salween rivers respectively, which mark the boundary with Kayin State. Thaton District is the westernmost of the locally-defined Karen Districts, bordered to the east by Hpa-an, the northeast by Hpapun and the north by Nyaunglebin. It is divided into four locally-defined townships that do not appear on government maps: Hpa-an, Bilin, Kyaikto and Thaton. The consolidated and long-established nature of Tatmadaw control in Thaton District can be attributed to the relatively flat terrain, as well as its proximity to the coastal road and railway lines, the presence of a large number of permanent Tatmadaw camps and the success of a wide scale forced relocation campaign carried out during the early 1990s. Background: Thaton region is dominated by the vast floodplain created by the Salween, Yunzalin, Donthami and Bilin Rivers. The terrain is composed primarily of flat agricultural land, bisected by the coastal vehicle road and the Bago – Mawlamyine railway line. The majority of the region is utilised as open flat paddy fields and farmland. In the northeastern part of the District, which is composed of long ridges of hills, some villagers practice hill field swidden agriculture. Because the terrain of Thaton District is flatter than the mountainous areas of eastern Burma, this has often prevented villagers from using strategic displacement to avoid abuse and, as a consequence, numbers of internally displaced people (IDPs) living in hiding in Thaton have always been among the lowest in eastern Burma. KHRG’s first report from Thaton District in early 1993 described the forced relocation of over 30 villages and the subsequent permanent displacement of residents seeking to avoid living in relocation sites proximate to Tatmadaw camps. After 1994, Tatmadaw and newly created Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) troops sought to establish firmer control over Thaton District. Villagers described episodes of forced relocation, in addition to arbitrary killings, detention, torture, rape and forced portering. Local villagers repeatedly described the execution of those suspected of involvement with non-state armed groups (NSAGs), as well as retaliatory violence and fees levied against civilians in the event of NSAG activity. By 1996, KHRG reports described few villages in Thaton District that remained outside the control of the Tatmadaw. Abuses attendant to increased military control over everyday life, including forced labour, theft and looting, demands for goods, and arbitrary taxation were described on a routine basis, causing destructive impacts on villagers’ livelihoods and food security. The forced relocation of several Karen villages near the Bilin and Donthami rivers was again described in 1997, although this was no longer occurring on a widespread basis. By November 1998, the DKBA maintained a significant presence in the eastern parts of the district and Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) units were, for the most part, no longer able to operate. Incidents of fighting were described as sporadic. However, when fighting did occur, Tatmadaw troops responded by detaining and torturing local village elders. This was accompanied by fairly regular and systematic looting, demands for money, as well as forced labour as porters and set tha. By 2000, the western part of Thaton District was described as being under complete Burma government control. Tatmadaw troops in the northeastern parts of Thaton District nonetheless continued to issue sporadic forced relocation orders and engage in other efforts to break relations between local villagers and the KNLA. These efforts took the form of intimidation, threats and occasional military retaliation, supplemented by forced conscription into militia groups composed of local villagers known as Tha Gka Hsa Pa or ‘Anti-insurgency Group’ units in Hpa-an, Kyaikto and Thaton townships. Villagers reported that this group was initially founded by Karen National Union (KNU) and KNLA members who defected to the Tatmadaw in the 1970s or 1980s. Many of its members were unarmed and functioned primarily to point out KNU sympathisers to Tatmadaw and DKBA forces. In January 2004, the informal ceasefire, commonly referred to as the ‘gentleman’s agreement’, between the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) and the KNU, brought little change. DKBA cooperation with Tatmadaw troops increased, with units advised by, and working closely with, the Tatmadaw. Villagers described continued demands by Tatmadaw and DKBA troops for forced labour, money, building materials and food, as well as episodes of interrogation, violence and suspicion of civilians. Movement restrictions continued to prevent villagers from accessing agricultural land and an increase in the use of convicts to porter rations for Tatmadaw soldiers was noted. After November 2004, the Burma government launched a programme of village-level development in Thaton District comprising the construction of schools, clinics and latrines. The implementation of these projects relied on forcing the villagers themselves to provide the necessary building materials as well as the labour for construction, without payment. In 2006, villagers in Thaton District faced exploitative demands and extractive abuses levied systematically by both Tatmadaw and DKBA units. Villagers described being forced to perform forced labour on a regular basis, serving as porters, repairing roads, and producing and supplying vast quantities of building materials which were sold for profit by military officials. Frequent forced labour and extortion, coupled with blanket movement restrictions on entire villages, contributed greatly to villagers’ food insecurity. In 2007, with the support of the Tatmadaw, DKBA military operations expanded to eradicate remaining KNLA forces which continued to actively patrol some areas of northeastern Thaton. The Burma government established new forms of local control, ostensibly civilian in character. Under the rubric of regional 'development', the government promoted the expansion of various state and parastatal agencies. Some of the primary, explicitly state, agencies which were established at the village level in Thaton District included the Pyi Thu Sit ('People's Militia'), Myanmar Police Force, and the many Village Peace and Development Councils (VPDCs). Military-backed parastatal agencies active in Thaton during this time included the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), Myanmar Child and Maternal Welfare Association (MMCWA) and the Myanmar Women's Affairs Federation (MWAF). Throughout 2008 and into 2009, Tatmadaw control over Thaton District was maintained through increased reliance on the DKBA as a proxy army and through the development of transport infrastructure, including road and bridge construction. Exploitation took the form of regular forced labour demands, a variety of forced purchasing schemes whereby village heads were forced to sell calendars and religious photographs to the residents of their village and return the collected money to DKBA commanders and large-scale land confiscation by Tatmadaw forces as part of a joint venture with the Burmese company Max Myanmar. The imposition of movement restrictions served to limit villagers’ ability to regularly access fields and conduct successful agricultural activities. This was exacerbated when heavy rains and flooding during May 2009 and extensive crop damage by unusually large numbers of rats in September of the same year contributed to widespread food insecurity. Existing movement restrictions and regular forced labour demands prevented farmers from responding effectively to these environmental challenges. In 2010, many DKBA troops in Thaton District transformed into Border Guard battalions. Some that did not initially transform to Border Guard battalions established Pyi Thu Sit, local militia groups, near the Salween River and forced five people from each village in the area to serve for one month, on a rotating basis. To avoid conscription, villagers were required to pay a fee in lieu of military service. Throughout 2011, despite being under consolidated Burma government control, villagers in Thaton District continued to contend with abuses that were ostensibly part of Tatmadaw and Border Guard 'counter insurgency' efforts. Residents described facing threats and violence and in at least one case, a civilian was fired on without any attempt made to hail him or determine his identity. Tatmadaw and Border Guard troops continued to place unmarked landmines in civilian areas, conscript people as porters and ‘human minesweepers’ and harass alleged KNLA supporters. All former-DKBA troops in Thaton have been described as having completed the transformation to Border Guard battalions.   Current information Most recent military activity and human rights abuses Since the ceasefire agreement between the KNU and the Burma government in January 2012, community members working with KHRG have indicated that Tatmadaw activity including resupply operations, troop reinforcements and the transport of heavy artillery to camps in Thaton District was ongoing. Tatmadaw Light Infantry Division (LID) #44 assumed responsibility for road security and along the banks of the Bilin River during military resupply operations in January and early February 2012. During the same period, Tatmadaw troops continued to issue forced labour demands on residents in Thaton District. Military forces and units As of June 2012, Tatmadaw and former-DKBA Border Guard troops were active in Thaton District. KNLA troops located in the northeastern part of the District and Bilin Township have limited operations. Tatmadaw LID #44 is permanently based in Na Gyi, Baw Paw Hta and Pra Thah. Tatmadaw LID #11 also commands several battalions across Thaton District and has permanent bases in Lay Kay, Yo Kla, Ta Paw and Meh Pray Kee. As of April 2011, Light Infantry Battalions (LIBs) #216, #217 and #218, under LID 11, were stationed in Bilin and Kyaikto Townships. As of August 2011, IB #96 was also based in Kyaikto Township. LIB #9, under LID 44, and IB #8 were active in Thaton Township, cooperating with a combined special force of Tatmadaw soldiers from different units, known as Htot Not In Ah [‘take out power’] in Burmese language, to take responsibility for security along the main coastal vehicle road. LIB #3, under the command of LID #44, and IB #8 were also reported to be cooperating with pyi thu sit forces active in the eastern areas of locally-defined Kyaikto and Hpa-an Townships. Former DKBA units in Hpa-an Township transformed for the most part into Border Guard battalions after the national elections in November 2010. Disaffected former DKBA officers initially established and forcibly recruited villagers to join pyi thu sit local militia groups, but these have since been incorporated into Border Guard battalions. Because new Border Guard units have more concentrated areas of activity, a community member has noted a decrease in their presence west of the Salween River. As of August 2011, ten Border Guard soldiers were stated as being active at Meh See Mountain. Border Guard Battalion 1012 is based in Ta Kaw Bo and Battalion #1016 is based in La Kyaw Hta, known as Kyin Thay Kyi in Burmese. Development Community members in Thaton District described a recent increase in the presence of private companies in areas that have forged relationships with regional KNU leaders to buy permission to carry out natural resource extraction. Companies now operating in Hpa-an, Thaton and Kyaikto Townships are said to be complicit in coercive appropriations of land for the purpose of mining projects. Thaton continues to be the region of eastern Burma that is the most accessible for humanitarian and development groups operating from Yangon; for example, in May 2011, a community member in Bilin Township described United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) agricultural training, social credit and self-reliance projects. This was described as occurring once, without any subsequent follow-up. In 2012, the ILO listed the Lay Kay camp area as one of its three forced labour hot spots. Humanitarian Excessive rain during the monsoon season in 2011 meant that large swathes of agricultural land were flooded in eastern Burma. In Thaton District, existing paddy crops, sesame and bean plantations were damaged or destroyed due to flooding. Excessive rainfall between July and September led some hill field farmers to abandon their fields for the season. As of August 2011, a community member working with KHRG estimated that only one in five villagers have food security and that many villagers who are working for daily wages encounter difficulties in sustaining a living. Villagers without stores of paddy seed for the purposes of replanting the crop expected to face food shortages and some villagers were described as eating a type of rice gruel known as may klaw in Karen language. . Food shortages attributed to a decrease in livelihood options, a reduction in available arable land, abnormal weather conditions, and rising food costs were described as precipitating out-migration, with many villagers said to be looking for work abroad in Thailand and Malaysia.


E.g., 2017-02-23
E.g., 2017-02-23
  • Feb 02, 2017
    This Interview with Ma N--- describes arbitrary arrest and torture by Myanmar police occurring in Thaton Township, Thaton District, during the period between June and July 2013.
  • Dec 07, 2016
    This Interview with U A--- describes events occurring in Thaton Township, Thaton District, in early 2016, including ethnic and religious discrimination and Min Lwin Mountain mining.
  • Oct 28, 2016
    This Interview with Naw C---describes arbitrary arrest occurring in Thaton Township, Thaton District, on July 13th 2013.
  • Oct 20, 2016
    This detailed commentary examines the situation of ongoing militarisation in Karen State from 2012 until 2016, mainly highlighting events that have occurred after 2014 and with special attention to incidents that have occurred after the signing of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) in October...
  • Aug 09, 2016
    This Field Report discusses events occurring in Thaton District between January and December 2015. It includes Myanmar 2015 general election, ceasefire concerns and the military situation, community development and for-profit development, health and education, forced relocation and land...


E.g., 2017-02-23
E.g., 2017-02-23