Situation Report Of The Northern Karen Districts:
1 November 2001
This report is a brief update on the situation in northern Karen state. It was completed after a relief mission to the internally displaced people (IDPs) in these areas. The Burma Army continues its attacks against the Karen people of Papun, Taungoo and Nyaunglebin districts (northern Karen state, Burma), destroying rice supplies, torturing and executing villagers, looting villages, relocating people by force, conducting forced labor, and terrorizing the population by the systematic laying of landmines throughout each district. This has resulted in an increase in the numbers of internally displaced in these areas as well as a potential increase in refugees who may arrive in Thailand due to this displacement.
37,007 Karen remain displaced in Papun district while over 50 villages remained forceably relocated. Many IDPs from Nyaunglebin, Taungoo and Thaton districts are still in Papun district since they fled thier districts during Burma Army attacks last year. This has put a strain on the people of this district as they struggle to help feed these new arrivals from thier own stocks. Over 1,000 IDPs from Nyaunglebin (of the 2,000+) who fled between Nov 2000 and Feb 2001, remain in Papun district, while an additional 1,000 IDPs who had hoped to remain in this area had to go to refugee camps in Thailand due to the shortage of food.s The SPDC continues its work on the Kauk Kyi to Saw Hta road using forced labor from nearby villages. The road is outposted every 200 meters and mines have been planted all along both sides of the road. The road itself is an unimproved dirt road currently only usable in the dry season (Dec-June). It connects Saw Hta on the Salween river to the east with the town of Kauk Kyi 100kms to the west.
The Burma Army is currently resupplying thier units in Papun district with rice for an expected dry season offensive. With over 20 Burma Army battalions in the area the people live in fear yet they perservere. The Karen Army continues to provide protection for the villagers and IDPs as well as they can and schools and churches in Papun district function well. Relief teams provide limited assistance and the district’s clinics meet some of the peoples’ basic needs. “Please find a way for us”, was the plea of one IDP.
The people of Nyaunglebin were some of the hardest hit by the Burma Army’s 2000-2001 offensive. Over 2,000 IDPs fled into Papun district between November 2000 and February 2001. 13,000 IDPs remain in central and eastern Nyaunglebin district and 370,000 are displaced in relocation sites in the western lowlands of the district. Of the 13,000 IDPs in the central and eastern areas, 5,450 are from Mone, 3550 from Ler Doh and 4,000 from Hsaw Hti townships. They fled because of the forced labor and “special” taxation as well as direct attacks of the Burma Army.
Since November 2000, 83 villages were forced to move to 12 relocation sites. Forced labor is practiced by the Burma Army on the road project between Shwygin in the southwest and Bye Gyi Ma They in central Nyaunglebin district. The road is not yet complete. Around the larger towns and villages of the district, the SSS or “short pants”, ( terror squads that work to intimidate villagers and execute suspected KNU supporters), continue to operate, terrorizing the populace. These units are controled directly from Rangoon and operate independantly from the local commands.
15 Battalions of the Burma Army conduct operations in the district with orders to “destroy all rice supplies and disrupt the population in the mountains”. They were also ordered to attack villages and IDP hide sites, but were given the order, ” do not burn down the houses because human rights organizations are will take photographs and accuse us”.
In September 2001, as 10 IDP families were attempting to flee the Mae Yae area, Burma Army troops captured them and sent them to the relocation site at Win Maung on the Bilin river. Win Maung is a major main forced relocation site along the southern border area of Nyaunglebin and Papun districts. The following villages were forced to move to another relocation site at Ma Way (north of Win Maung, also on the Bilin river) ; Wah Tho Ko,Ler Wah Ko,Klo Kee, Pwa Ya Kee, To Ko Kaw Kee, Day Law Po,Mae Tha Ko Hta and Wah Tho Lo. While a relief team was in the area in Ocober 2001, Burma Army units attacked a village, and close by, shot a 16 year old villager who was gathering firewood.This same relief team also came across the skeletons of two porters (one of whom was beaten to death), who were used by the LIB 367 and LIB 368 commanded by Ltc. Ko Ko Aung, and then left to die, during thier November 2000 offensive in this area. In this district, since November 2000, 50 villagers have been killed by the Burma Army, over 100 injured during attacks and 20 women raped.
In spite of this, the people of Nyaunglebin district have not given up and continue to rebuild thier lives and farms. Where this is not possible they have moved deeper into the mountains to start new villages. Here they have also reopended thier schools and as of November, 2001, there are 27 primary schools and 3 middle schools in operation. There are also mobile clinics and a public health program in place. The churches too continue to function as places of worship and hope as well as providing social organizations that provide assistance to the people.
The IDP population of Taungoo district is now over 9,600 and with a increase of Burma Army activity in the district (mainly related to forced labor for road construction), this number will probably increase.
There are three major road projects ongoing in the eastern part of Toungoo district. Each of these road projects entail the use of forced labor. The SPDC is building a road from the city of Taungoo (site of a Divisional HQ), to the city of Mawchi in Karenni State. The road is not yet complete but when it is it will connect the two areas with a year around road. There are still 27 miles of unnavigable tract. (Near Mawchi in the Karenni State, the SPDC force villagers to do road work, however they do pay each village headman 8,000 kyat and 2 sacks of rice for each mile of road cleared-70 feet wide by 1 mile long. This amount must be divided among the entire village and the entire village must work. No villager willing works as this amounts to almost nothing per person. The work is not only difficult it also takes the villagers away from their fields and farms, jeapardizing thier harvest).
The second road is from Toungoo to Siday in the southcentral part of Toungoo district. This road also serves Bu Sa Kee where a Stategic Command HQ is located. The third road is a branch road off the Taungoo-Mawchi road, that when complete will link Taungoo with Thandaung in the northeast. Thandaung is important as it quarters a Training HQ for officer, NCO, Land mine operations, guerrilla and SSS training programs. These roads in the north and central areas combined with the highway system to the west and the Kauk Kyi- Saw Hta road to the south, will when complete, enable the Burma army to exert greater pressure on the resistance forces as well IDPs hiding in the mountains.
There are now 15 battalions operating in this district. They conduct road building security missions, patrols and sweeps to find IDPs. The smallest force they usually travel with is 30 men and most often they operate with no less than a column of 100 men. Each column has at least 1 60mm mortor, 2-5 RPG-7s, M91 rifle grenadiers, 1-3 crew served light 7.62 machineguns and 5.56 automatic rifles of Burma manufacture (copies of G-3s and AK 47s). NCOs often carry M1 carbines. They also carry locally produced MM1 and MM2 anti-personnel mines (copies of Chinese mines) as well as mines supplied by China.
There is a contingent of SSS (“short pants”-terror units). The SSS operate in mobile teams of 10 men (each of these 10 man units belong to a larger mibile force of 65-85 men), terrorizing villagers with summary executions, brutal interrogations, and the planting of landmines on village paths suspected to be used by the resistant forces. Each team is equipped with automatic weopens as well as 2 land mines each to place as needed. “They have a list of suspects and enter the village at midnight, tie up the victim, torture and interrogate him, then take to the riverside and kill him, throwing his body in the river….this is very terrifying for the people…they also lay in wait and capture peopel on the way to the market and kill them if they have a flashlight or plastic sheet as these items are thought to be headed to Karen resistance soldier…..on July 24 near Yee Thu Gyi village they killed two men on the trail, Mr. Apollo age 30 and another man I did not know, they were only farmers not Karen soldiers.”, statement by a Karen man,Mae Ii,age 60, from Taungoo district.
Each battalion of infantry must supply 10-20 men for the SSS program which is under the direct control of General Maung Ne who is in turn under the command of General Khin Nyunt in Rangoon.
There are 9 relocation sites around Taungoo and 6 new relocation sites. In one of the newest ones (Yee-Tha-Gong/ Klaw Mee Dur), the IDPs were forced to fence in the site, live under a curfew and are forced to provide labor for local road projects.This site is under the direct control of LIB 73. LIB 73 was also the battalion that on August 27th looted Yee Da Gong village and stole all the money from the church. The 6 new sites are; Aung Myin Ywa , Tha Bya Nyu, Ye Tha Go, Daw Ga Li Gyi,Na Ka Mau, and Ya Za Ka. In the Thandaung area only one original village remains, the rest have been abandoned or their inhabitants forced to enter relocation sites. In the Tantabin area there are only 2 original villages remaining.
As in the other Karen districts the people still resist the Burma Army and try not to be forced to leave thier homes. If they are forced to leave most try to hide in the mountains and to start new farms. IDP schools, clinics and churches continue to serve the people. There are 3 mobile clinics, 50 primary schools, 3 middle schools and numerous churches. However, due to the strength of the Burma Army in the surrounding area as well as the heavily mined and almost uncrossable Kauk Kyi- Saw Hta road to south, it is very dangerous for anyone who does want to escape the area.