“My brother was 14 years old when the Burma Army attacked our village in 1997. We all ran away but he was not near us and was too young to know how to react. He didn’t have experience, and he ran the wrong way, right into the Burma Army. They shot him dead. When I think about him, I am sad. But after these years, the pain is less. Still I want to defeat the Burma Army, but I cannot. And so when they come, I have to run away. But if I could, I would defeat them. They kill the Karen people just because they like to. My husband and I and our children ran to this hiding place this year after the Burma Army attacked in this area and built a new camp near our old village. We were afraid we would be killed so we’ve come to this place. When the Burma Army comes we have a food problem as we can not go to our fields or look for food easily. “
|Naw Eh Moo, sister of 14 year old killed by the Burma Army|
The Karen lady who told us this story is named Naw Eh Moo Paw, aged 30, with 1 child, from Thong He Der village. She is in this hiding place with other families who fled the Burma Army.
These villagers have fled hundreds of times and for one grandfather, Saw Nya Tha Doo, aged 62, has fled over 100 times since he was born here. He said the attacks started in earnest during the Burma Army’s Four Cuts Operation in the early 1970’s.
We are here with them providing medical care and distributing relief. On this mission we have a Chin team from western Burma as well as PaO, Shan Kachin and Karenni teams working with our Karen teams. The Karen IDPs are surprised and glad to have these men and women from different ethic groups and areas here to help them. especially because these other groups are also oppressed by the Burma army. Before arriving at this hide site, we divided our relief team up into two groups. One went to provide medical relief, tarps, blankets, and clothes as well as conducting Good Life Club program for displaced villagers in the area. We took another small group to go and pinpoint Burma Army camps, to try to document forced labor as well as to photograph abandoned villages and fields. One of the areas that we went to was near the town of Bogawta in Ler Doh (Kyauk Kyi) Township, Nyaunglebin District, Western Karen State. Between Bogawta in the plains to the west, to the foot of the mountains to the east, at Ler Wah, there used to be many Karen villages and productive wet paddy rice fields. In 2005 I remember going there and still seeing one village and a school and many fields in production. This time when we arrived, all we found were two Burma Army camps dominating the area. All of the Karen villagers had been chased away and all the fields were abandoned and overgrown. One of the photos below shows the now empty valley and there is a closeup of one of the Burma Army camps there.
A major main problem that people face, along with direct attacks of the Burma Army, is a scarcity of food. Because of the attacks, ongoing Burma Army patrols, and camps, most of the highly productive wet paddy rice fields have been lost. And much of the dry hill rice fields are no longer safely accessible. This is part of the strategy of the Burma Army to gain complete control over Karen State. They do it by forced relocation of villages, by attacking and killing those who refuse to comply, and by chasing families deep into the jungle and away from their fields. Once they have been chased away from their farms, the people here find it very difficult to sustain themselves.
In this area of Karen State alone, between 2006 and now, over 30,000 people have been displaced.
In the face of these attacks, the people here remain hopeful and the Karen National Union (one of the pro-democracy ethnic resistance groups) does its best to help bring food, medical care, and schooling for the people. The KNU attempts to protect the people from attacks of the Burma Army by helping them to move out of the way as well as trying to block advancing troops. Our relief teams give help, hope, and love. The teams also help the villagers and IDPs in their early warning system. We also want to help to remind the people that they are not forgotten. A grandfather and a young lady tell their stories below.
|Now empty, Kwe La and Ler Wah valley|
|Burma Army camp at Baw La Soe near IDPs|
|Burma Army camp at Kwe La and two soldiers in huts|
|Good LIfe Club progam for Karen children with Karenni medic|
|A grandmother goes to get water|
|A Karenni medic treats a child|
Saw Nya Tha Doo – age 62 -Animist- married – 6 children and is a grandfather.
Born in Thong He Der village, now in a hiding place.
|Has fled over 100 times. Grandfather Nya Tha Doo with grandchild in hiding place|
“Thank you. I do not know what to say or how to answer but i will try to tell you.
” The Burma Army first started attacking this area in 1972 during the “4 Cuts” operation. Since then we usually have to run many times a year. I feel like I have run 500 times and it has been over 100. The Burma Army kill people and burn villages. They want the Karen people to disappear. They killed three people in Thong He Der in 1997 and since then we have managed to run away before the Burma Army could shoot us. We get early warning from villagers who are hunting or working in their fields and from Karen (KNLA) soldiers. The Burma Army comes to kill us. Bad people come to kill and destroy and even kill children. Good people come to encourage and help. The Burma Army comes to kill and destroy, so they are bad people. They want the Karen to disappear. The Karen soldiers are our people, we love them, work together and go together. When we have no rice the KNU gives us rice. The goal of the KNU is freedom but the SPDC wants us to disappear. We need food, rice, blankets, pots, clothes, and tarps for shelter. We cannot go to our fields to plant and harvest. We want the people of the world to help stop the SPDC from burning our villages and and so they will leave us to live well. If the ethnic people unite we can change Burma without the USA helping us. Thank you.”
Naw Paw See (named changed to protect her family relocation site) -age 20-Christian- married to a Karen soldier
“I used to live in the plains. Then the Burma army forced us to leave our homes and move to a relocation place. Me and my family did not want to go. I was there three years; then I came up here into the mountains to be with the Karen here. I married a Karen soldier and live here in this hiding place.
“The Karen Army is good because they work for the Karen nation and for the Karen people. The Burma Army gives us our problems so I had to flee here (Thong He Der hiding place).
“In 2006 the Burma Army forced us to destroy our homes and move 1 hour away to Tay Tu forced relocation site. 7 villages were forced to relocate 3 years ago in 2006. They are:
1. Tha Ku
2. Tae Pa
3. Pa Tha La
4. He Po Der
5. Per Ane Thaw
6. Thoo Ka Bee
7. Wa La Dah
“Oh, the Burma army force us to do so much and do so many things. The Burma Army said the people have to move and stay with the Burma Army or the Burma Army will kill all of them. We were then forced to destroy our homes. Three people resisted and were beaten and forced to destroy their homes. We lost most of our belongings.
“We were forced to build four layers of fences at the Burma Army camp at Tae Tu. Commander Ko Ko Oo was the name of the Burma Army commander there. They forced us to work for no food or pay. All three years I was forced along with the others to do forced labor. About once a week we have to do forced labor such as Burma Army camp repair, gathering bamboo, wood and anything else they want. Karen villagers do double the forced labor of the two nearby Burman villages. I and others were forced to porter for the Burma Army when they go on missions or when they move from camp to camp.
“There are curfews there and all our travel is very restricted.
I saw a man beaten. Also, I saw the Burma Army tie people and put them in stocks for 2-3 days.
I really want to go back to my real home and live in freedom. Thank you.”
Thank you for the help you give these people under pressure and for your prayers.
God bless you,
A relief team leader,
Relayed out directly from Ler Doh Township, Nyaunglebin District, Western Karen State.