FBR Relief Mission To Htiwablaw village area, Tanaicha Township (Nabu), Paan District, Central Karen State.
A joint Free Burma Ranger, CIDKP (Committee for Internally Displaced Karen People), KORD (Karen Organization for Relief and Development), and KYO (Karen Youth Organization),relief team conducted a relief mission to villagers and IDPs in the Htiwablaw area.
The Situation of the Villagers
The people are working on the DKBA’s (Democratic Karen Buddhist Army) timber contract site. As a result of the presence of the DKBA , the incidence of meth amphetamine use has risen in this area recently. The villagers have little knowledge about the dangers of drug use and are in danger of becoming addicts. The team became seriously worried about youth in the area who are under the influence of the DKBA. The DKBA are involved in drug trafficking. The team estimates that approximately 20% of 20-year-old men in this area are using some type of meth amphetamine pills.
The team gathered information about human rights abuses committed by the military regime and the DKBA while they have been engaged in ceasefire talks with the KNU (Karen National Union). The team also gathered information about the living standards, education and narcotics in this area of Paan District. The team stayed safe by the grace of God and they appreciated the security help we had and the Tanaicha Township authorities for their help and participation in our movement.
The village area includes Htiwablaw, Htilawthi, Panawkle Khi (Thanbaya), PawBawkho and Kyawko villages. There were more than 700 families in the village area and the majority of the villagers earn their living by farming. In the villagers’ spare time, many villagers join in the DKBA’s timber contracts and many use drugs at their work site. The habit of using meth amphetamines is the most popular form of drug use among the timber workers in that area. Some of the wives and relations of DKBA soldiers are reported to be helping distribute the drugs. The majority of people in this area are illiterate. The drug use is particularly among those working on the timber contracts and between the ages of 18-45 years old.
16-17 May 2004
The Paan FBR team arranged for the mission to start on 14 May 2004, but it actually started on 16 May 2004. The team started walking at 18:30 and reached Htichara village at midnight on the same day. They then continued walking and reached Htilawthi village at 06:00 on 17 May 2004. That evening, the team met with authorities in the area and discussed the mission schedule.
18 May 2004
The team met with youth and others at the Htilawthi monastery. The team asked about the situation in the area. They conducted interviews with the village headmen from Htilawthi, Kyawko, Pawpaw Kho, Panawkle Khi and Htiwablaw villages regarding human rights abuses committed by the Burma Army and the DKBA (Democratic Karen Buddhist Army) in those villages. The team then divided into two groups to survey the situation of the villagers.
The team received a message that Burma Army troops had arrived at Kyawko village and took a goat and three chickens form the village without any payment. The team moved to Kler Law Ser village because of this news.
19 May 2004
The team had planned to go to Kyawko village, but canceled those plans because of a windstorm.
20 May 2004
The team went to Htilawthi village and gathered information again and did interviews.
21 May 2004
The team went to Htiwablaw village and met with youth and discussed their concerns. During the youth meeting, military and village leaders spoke and encouraged the youth.
The team also met with the head of the group of villages in the area and did interviews regarding the DKBA’s recruitment practices and the Burma Army’s confiscation of land and forced labor practices.
The team returned to Htilawthi village.
22 May 2004
The team prepared for the KYO (Karen Youth Organization) day celebration.
23 May 2004
The team celebrated KYO day. The celebration started at 10 am and all of the organizations attending the celebration, including ours, explained the duties and purpose of their organization.
The celebration ended at 2 pm. Approximately 300 people from Htiwablaw, Htilawthi, and Panawkle Khi villages attended.
24 May 2004
The team finished our mission and made preparations for the return trip.
25 May 2004
The team started from Htilawthi at 9 am.
The team went into the village and interviewed the teacher from Panawkle village. There are only two teachers in that school for around 27 students. The school is primary level and the headmaster was appointed by the military regime but heispresent at the school only two or three times each year. He spends most of his time traveling by bicycle and selling ice packs to villages. The headmaster does not hold a real teacher ID card, only a card issued by the military regime’s intelligence department. The teacher interviewed had seen the card. She didn’t like the headmaster but was too scared to take any action against him. If possible, she will request the government to replace this headmaster.
The teacher said that they are not allowed to teach the official Karen language in their school, only one of the dialects (Ler Ker). Most of the students have to buy their books from other villages. There has been a problem with students going further in their studies because their parents cannot afford to send them to school. Therefore, many only graduate from 4th grade and never continue their studies. The school this teacher was built by the military regime and the DKBA.
The team returned from Panawkle Khi village at 6:30 pm and then proceeded to Hwe Shan village and arrived back at base camp at 2:00 pm.
The villagers who live in the mission area warmly welcomed the relief team. They have never met a team like this, made up of many organizations, before. The people living in the area are dissatisfied by those in power in their area (Burma Army and DKBA), but they are forced to obey their rule.
The team concluded that dug abuse is deeply affecting these communities and is largely due to DKBA involvement in the trafficking. Due to the Thai government’s anti-drug policy, the drug trafficking controlled by the DKBA has been slowed along the Thai-Burma border. Therefore, the DKBA has changed their tactics and are importing the drugs into the Karen communities located in the Maepalae Valley, Paan District, Karen State. The interviews conducted by the team reveal that approximately 20% of the youth in those communities are using amphetamines. In Kehgaw village, many different kinds of pills are available. Those drugs are reported to have arrived with relatives of DKBA soldiers (editor’s note: these people have the freedom to travel in the area because of their connection to the DKBA) from Maepalae, Hwe Shan and Kokko. These are DKBA strongholds and provide a channel through which drugs are easily distributed. The DKBA is reported to raise the majority of its funds through drug trafficking and sales.
The Paan FBR (1) team is concerned about the future of the youth living in the Maepalae Valley and believe something systematic should be arranged to solve the drug problem.
The community is willing to perform any anti-drug programs that are available for their youth and they promise their participation and full support. The team believes these problems are the result of a strategy by the Burma Army; to use the DKBA and drugs as a weapon to destroy a new generation of Karen people. The people believe that the DKBA are used as drug smugglers by the Burma Army to destroy the fabric of Karen society and to further cause discension among thhe Karen.
Age: 78 years oldVillage: XXXOccupation: Farmer
Q: Please tell me about the DKBA’s recruiting program.
A: Yes, Maung Chit Thu (the commander of the DKBA special battalion #999) commanded the village leaders in the Maepalae Valley (to send recruits for the DKBA) at a meeting held on 25 April 2004 at Kokko (DKBA Special Battalion Headquarters). Then he told us if we could not arrange that, we would be punished. We had to arrange that one and a half people would be given from Panawkle Khi village. There were many problems for us because we could not fulfill the recruitment quote. Nobody wants to go there (to the DKBA), so we looked for recruits from other villages. The recruit would be paid 15,000 Baht per year and serve for three years. If one of these recruited soldiers deserts, the villagers will all be fined. All of the families in the village will have to pay for it. There are varying rates they will have to pay- between 100 and 500 Baht. They arrested two village leaders because they couldn’t manage to recruit enough people within the one month time limit.
Q: Do you want to say anything else?
They said they (DKBA) would work for our development but nothing came of it. It they want to do that, they should work on education, health and agriculture issues.
Name: XXXX XX
Age: 40 years old Village:XXXx
Q: Please tell me about the human rights abuses that have been committed by the DKBA/Burma Army. A: Yes, regarding the DKBA, they ordered us to send them recruits at a meeting held on 25 April 2004 at Kokko (DKBA Special Battalion Headquarters). They ordered seven people as the quota from Htiwablaw village group, but they agreed to six people because all of the village heads requested it. Then, we divided the quota as follows; three people from Htiwablaw village, one and a half people from Htilawthi village and one person from Pawbaw Kho village. Panawkle Khi village was to be responsible for half of the salary of the recruits (7500 Baht per person per year). They (DKBA) arrested X X X and XX from Htiwablaw village and X XXX and XXXX from Htilawthi village because they could not give any recruits to the DKBA within the time limit. Although he was released after being redeemed by the villagers, he was still given the responsibility for recruiting more soldiers for them.
Our villagers did not dare to deny them anything and managed as best as they could. We have to pay 15,000 Baht to hire a soldier for seven years. If he retires, we have to replace him or hire another soldier in his place. If he deserts, we will be fined the equivalent of his hiring cost. At Htilawthi village, the costs of hiring a soldier who has served seven years is the same as a new recruit,. So, it was difficult for the villagers because they have to pay the recruiting costs of both old and new soldiers. A person from Maepalae village and two other villagers from Hwe Shan participated in the recruiting of soldiers for the DKBA. The whole Maepalae Valley area was required to provide 35 people as soldiers for the DKBA.
Since 1993, Burma Army LIB 356, based in Sukali village, has confiscated approximately 74 acres of farmland located near their army base. There were 18.5 acres taken from farmers at Hwe Shan village, 58.75 acres taken from 15 farmers at Pawbaw Kho village. The villagers objected to the confiscation of their land but the troops told them that all of the land is owned by the government. The Burma Army troops said that the farmers must pay 100 million Kyat in order to have their land returned to them. No one has that much money. At present, the Burma Army LIB 356 has commanded the farmers to plow their own land and pay 14 baskets of rice per acre to the troops. Essentially the farmers are renting their own farms from the Burma Army.
We have served as watchmen and delivered anything that they want us to between on Burma Army camp and another. Every day, one person from Panawkle Khi and Pawbaw Kho village have to contribute their labor to them. Panawkle Khi had to serve for the Kholaywah Burma Army camp and Pawbaw Kho had to contribute their labor to Burma Army LIB 356 Battalion headquarters. We carried our own food and have done everything they wanted us to. The labor we did for them includes cutting bamboo poles, carrying water, cooking and every type of basic work. Sometimes we have to pay 500-1000 kyat to the camp commander (name unknown). Sometimes, during periods of time when they are issuing military provisions at Sukaki Burma Army LIB 356 headquarters, we serve as porters for the troops. Men and women must carry rice, oil, salt, condensed milk and other items. The loads weigh approximately 35 kilograms (over 70 pounds).
When the repairs on the road connecting Maepalae and Thingannyinaung were finished, the troops collected five million kyat from Maepalae and Hwe Shan villagers. The person responsible for the collection of money was Hla Po. He is the superintendent of administration in Myawaddi Township. On 10 April 2004, the head of Maepalae village area,X X was tortured badly because he refused when Hla Poh asked for money from him. He was treated badly and wants the media to know about this.
Name: XX XXXX
Age: 28Village: XXX XOccupation: Farmer
Q: Please tell me about the experience you had with forced labor.
A: I was forced to work at the Burma Army camp called Kholay Wah, which is located near our village. I was sent to the Burma Army camp at their command through a village leader’s order. Early in the morning after finishing my breakfast, I worked the whole day and returned to my village very late in the evening. I carried water, cut bamboo poles, cooked and collected news about the KNLA (Karen National Liberation Army) soldier’s activities. One person every day had to to the same thing I did. They scolded me when I was late for work. We had to pay 500 Kyat per day if we couldn’t go and work at the camp. I served two times per month because our village is small. We heard about the labor acts, like 1/99 issued by the military regime, and know we do not need to work like this. However, reality is different. We had to carry the Burma Army provisions form the battalion headquarters at Sukali to Kholay Wah camp. Pawbaw Kho villagers also were forced to work for the troops. I worked with six people at a time. I can’t count the number of times that I had to do forced labor from my childhood until now.
Interviews about drug abuse and how it affects the communities and youth
Age: 21 Village: XXxxOccupation: Farmer
Q: Please tell us about the affect of drugs on your community.A: There have been many people engaged in the drug business in the village. I am trying to make them understand about all of the liabilities of drugs. The persons involved in drugs are almost all young boys, and there may be nearly 30 people involved among the 100 families in my village. They have used drugs while they are working and eventually become addicted if they use too much. People who work in the timber industry are using drugs. They make a lot of money in their work. Sometimes people use pills during traditional entertainment and even when they have no entertainment they youths use drugs.
I have a friend who won’t let me tell you his name, who used 10 pills at a time. He is still not satisfied. The price of the best kind of pill is 1200 kyat and there are three different kinds in this village. There are Hoe, YW and another brand that I have forgotten. They are violet, light orange and orange colored. There are three people who are distributing the pills here. Some pills were brought by the arrangement of DKBA troops and some were brought from Maepalae and Hwe Shan by other distributors. The pills are packed in bags of 200, 500, or 1000 pills. The cost of a bag which contains 200 pills is 12,000 kyat and they are produced inside Burma. The pills are sent to the Thai-Burma border and distributed there also. We have heard that the production is sanctioned by the military regime and the DKBA. The DKBA produce it. It is reported that the pills, used excessively, will cause the user to be restless, depressed and possibly suicidal. The pills are illegal in our area because both the KNU and the DKBA forbid drugs. The DKBA produce the pills and forbid them, deepening oppression of their people.
I was appointed and have the responsibility of preventing drug abuse. The head of the village area and our village leader also are participating in drug prevention programs. If these programs do not work, I want to do a workshop with youth and explain the dangers of drugs. I am also hoping for help from the Karen police force. Even some women are using drugs in our area.
Age: 45 Occupation: Territory AuthorityReligion: Christian
Q: Please tell me about drug abuse in your area.
A: I am the person with authority and responsibility for the eastern Dawna Range (KNU administered territory) from Maepalae – Hwe Shan village area to all of the villages located in the Maepalae Valley. This year, the distribution of pills has been more than in the past. The pills used to be used when people were at entertainment spots and cause sleeplessness, helpful for people who wanted to gamble the whole night in groups of 3-4 people. Some people used them at work in the timber industry, some using excessive amounts of 10-30 pills at a time. Some users are 18 year old, male bachelors, but some were family men with children. Some people have become addicted to the pills.
I have learned that most of the villages in the Maepalae Valley have some drug problems and the drugs originate with the DKBA. I received a message that said each DKBA Battalion would receive machines that produce meth amphetamine pills to provide for their funding. The DKBA Special battalion received more than one of these machines and there are three kinds of pills. The WY brand is used most often. In the western region of the Dawna mountain range, DKBA #999, Battalion 3 is the most popular among the pill traffickers. They used to secretly shift their machines every 2-3 months to a new place. Everyone knew that the DKBA was making money from their timber contracts, but that income was less than that of producing meth amphetamines. I don’t know their current place of production but they used to issue 30-40 pills to each DKBA soldier at one time.
Sometimes the DKBA and Burma Army soldiers use drugs with the villagers. The KNU should take action. Some youth do not obey their parents and other family men end up with broken homes as a result of their drug use. I can’t prevent the drug use, but higher ranking leaders should get involved and solve this problem. If they don’t, the problem will endanger our community. Two years ago, I received news from a DKBA soldier in DKBA #999 , battalion 3. He said that the production machines were sent to Myawaddind and then to Maepalae village by truck. it was then sent by boat to Per-talu. After that the machines were issued to each DKBA battalion.
We can’t solve this problem because the DKBA are producing the drugs and the military regime is involved. We need high-ranking leaders to take responsibility and crack down on the drug abuses.
Occupation: Head of Spinsters
Q: How many youths are using drugs in this village?
A: They only drink
Q: Are any people using drugs like opium, marijuana or amphetamines?
A: They don’t have opium or marijuana here but there are amphetamines. I heard that they use these but I haven’t seen any here.
Q: What are the ages (of drug users)?
A: Most of them are between 10-20 years old.
Q: Why do they use drugs?
A: They use it when they are at entertainment or at work in the timber industry.
Q: What is the timber industry and the entertainment like?
A: The timber work is constant, but is not a large business. There are many types of entertainment including pagoda festivals, which are held from 2 days to one week. Sometimes they rent a video or do dramas. It depends on the extra money they have earned.
Q: Who sells drugs in your village?
A: (looking left and right) I don’t know. They smuggle them in but I have never seen them.
Q: Do you know the producer or where the pills come from?
A: I don’t know.
Q: Do any KNU, DKBA or Burma Army take action about regarding this problem?
A: DKBA and Burma Army say nothing. The KNU soldiers take action if they see any of the drug abuse taking place.
(the woman denied a video interview)
ORDERS from the DKBA and Burma Army
The Annual Meeting with the village heads and the leaders of Special battalion
Time 09:00 hours
Place Special battalion (office)
Chairperson Colonel Saw Chit Thu, Commander, Special battalion, DKBA, #999Master of Ceremonies Capt. Saw Kyaw Nyunt, Office superintendent, Special battalion, DKBA, 999Record Saya Sha Maung Kot Da, Second Lt. Hto Lwe Wa (photo)
1) Open the meeting with national anthem
2) Opening speech of Chairperson
3) The given quota to villagers for three years of recruiting DKBA soldiers
4) To report the condition of each village
5) The discussion about the general purpose
6) The concluding speech of the Chairperson
7) Close the meeting with the recital of Buddhist ceremonial prayer
8) The declaration that the meeting is finished.
Number 391 Light Infantry Battalion
No. 3 Company
Village HeadXX XX/XXX XX village
Date 17 March 2004
Subject: Inform about leaves for roofing
As regards the matter above, your two villages must send 1000 sheets of leaves for roofing for the strategic post, which is located in 1450 camp, to the Htichara monastery on 20 March 2004. The village leaders must take responsibility for this if the leaves do not arrive.
By the instruction of Strategic Camp
(Commander, No 3 Company, No 391 Light Infantry Battalion, Mobile Column, Htichara)