From a relief team leader in the field
This is written in response to the question asked of us as to whether the dictators of Burma move to the new capitol of Pyinmana has a direct relationship to the ongoing attacks that have displaced over 11,000 Karen people in Northern and Western Karen State. There has been speculation as to why the regime moved its capitol; from fear of invasion, advice from spirit mediums, desire to start a new dynasty with a new capitol, to a fear of a popular uprising in Yangon. We have no real idea from here why the move was made. Whether there is a direct relationship to the ongoing attacks or not is also not clear.
Relationship of the offensive to the move to the new capitol of Pyinmana:
1) There is not yet a clear relationship between the capitol move and these attacks. The attacks are worse and larger in scale than is usual, but are a continuation of the yearly attacks, and are part of an ongoing 50 plus year attempt to crush the resistance and control the people.
2) The oppression of Burman and ethnic nationalities in Burma, the crushing of the democracy movement, the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi, the move to a new capitol at Pyinmana and the tighter restrictions on NGOs working in Burma are only some of the many symptoms of a regime tightening its grip on power. The increased attacks on the Karen seem to be part of this process.
3)The area immediately around Pyinmana has no active resistance to the regime. The area to the west was an area that communist revolutionaries worked out of in the past. There is no longer any military activity there. To the east and north are Karenni State and Shan State. If there was to be a offensive related to Pyinmana, it would seem that it could be directed at the Karenni or Shan.
4) The areas now under attack are much further south in Toungoo and Nyaunglebin Districts, and the resistance in these areas pose no direct threat to Pyinmana.
5) According to people here, from villagers to resistance leaders, no relation of the capitol move is seen with these attacks.
A few quotes below.
a.A villager from Mon township “The dictators always want to crush us, this is only a worse time than normal.”
b. Mon Township Chairman- Karen National Union; “The attacks are not related to the move. The dictatorship likes power and they will try to build up themselves. They want a all powerful image. They want to occupy and destroy us. They want to destroy our land our people and the KNU.”
c. Toungoo District KNU/KNLA military commander: ” They have done this all the time, sometimes bigger some times smaller, but in the end they want to destroy us. This is a worse year than since 1997 but 1997 was worse than this. And the ‘Four Cuts’ operation in 1972-1974 was worse again. It is all bad and this year if the people can not get rice we will have a big problem”.
d. Karen relief team worker: “This is a bad year and maybe will be as bad as 1997 or worse but this is all part of their plan to control the people and destroy any who disagree with their orders. Slow or fast they want to crush us.”
e. One resistance soldier noted that because of the capitol move there are increased troop levels securing all roads and waterways. This increase of troops may have the indirect effect of freeing up the troops already in the area but there is no evidence to support that yet.
6) There are now ongoing attacks into Muthraw district in areas closer to Thailand than Pyinmana and there have been extensive laying of landmines by the Burma Army especially around the Thandaug area to block access from the hills to the plains. This seems to be part of a plan to starve the people out.
Summary: While this offensive may yet prove to be part of the move of the capitol from Yangon to Pyinmana, there is no clear evidence now. This offensive seems to be just another cruel move by a increasingly hard-line regime.
Thank you and God bless you,
A relief team leader
Note: I would like to thank the Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG) for their input into this report.