Over 200 displaced villagers fled last week in Kyauk Kyi (Ler Doh) Township, Nyaunglebin District, as Burma Army attacks yet again threatened their hiding sites. Two Burma Army columns swept areas of central Nyaunglebin District, beginning on 21 December, 2008. Although their situation is tenuous, villagers have now been able to return to their former hiding sites as Karen Resistance soldiers have forced the attacking troops back to their camps. The area, which had just been visited by three multi-ethnic FBR relief team comprised of Arakan, Chin, Kachin, Karen, Karenni, Pa’O, and Shan team members, is now being assisted by the local Karen FBR team which has been able to provide relief, medical treatment and encouragement. The teams have reported that the Burma Army plans to continue their activity in the area, and displaced villagers remain constantly ready to flee further attacks.
Note: additional details of the attack follow the report below
Throughout the month of December, Free Burma Ranger Relief Teams conducted relief missions in different ares of Burma. This report covers missions in Nyaunglebin and part of Muthraw (Papun) Districts, Karen State, Eastern Burma. The Free Burma Ranger teams have been providing medical care, tarps, clothes and blankets to families in need. The teams also provided education and encouragement via the Good Life Club program. Each team documented the humanitarian situation and human rights violations committed by the Burma Army. Relief team medics have treated 1855 patients in 11 different villages. The Good Life Club has given out over 1000 t-shirts, taught hygiene and anatomy classes as well as many songs, and built 6 toilets for 6 different villages that had none.
The diverse team of Arakan, Chin, Kachin, Karen, Karenni, Pa’O, and Shan have all had the privilege of sharing this time of celebration and thanksgiving with the people here. We have seen that despite the Burma Army’s attempt to terrorize the Karen villagers, whether it be the grandfather who has fled more than 100 times or the 14 year old shot down before he had the chance, the people here remain undefeated, choosing instead to be thankful for every new day and celebrate with joy this Christmas season.
Thank you for your prayers and all that you have done to support the Internally Displaced People of Burma.
A relief team leader.
Free Burma Rangers
Northern Karen State
|Maw Pu Burma Army Camp|
|Maw Pu Burma Army Camp, 2nd image|
|porter with shoulder scars from heavy weights|
|Sentry in Burma Army camp KaBaw Tu|
|Multi ethnic relief team treats IDPs in Muthraw|
|Multi ethnic relief team treats IDPs in Muthraw, 2nd image|
|Relief team building a toilet|
|Children playing with the relief team|
|Karen children after a Good Life Club day|
As we were making this report, we received a message from one of our teams to the West in Mon Township, Nyaunglebin District, Eastern Burma, with new information about large scale movement of supplies by the Burma Army, and what the local people feel could be ensuing operations against them. A total of 904 truckloads of supplies have been moved forward at this time, by the Burma Army.
On 3/12/08, MOC 21/LIB 59, forced 16 villagers and carts from Tat Kon, No Nya La, Koni, and Wai Swan villages to carry things from Htee Ler Baw Hta camp to Ton Daw.
On 5/12/08, IB 53 Battalion Commander Aung Thu Ra, built a new camp near Thit Chat Seik village, and forced villages and carts to cut and carry wood and bamboo to build it. He required 8 carts from Po Thaung Su village, 8 carts from Tai Pin village, 10 carts from Thit Chat Seik village, and 8 carts from Myet Ye village. He also demanded 100 thacts from each village for roof.
On 6/12/08, the Burma Army, LID 77, sent 130 trucks of food and troops from Mone to Kyauk Kyi.
On 6/12/08, MOC 21 tortured and forced villagers and carts to go in front of them to carry thing from Htee Ler Baw Hta camp.
On 9/12/08, the Burma Army, LID 99 and 88, maintained security on the car road from Than Bo to Ko Pla Lay Ko and sent 162 trucks of food to Muthey and Por Kay Ko camp.
On 14/12/08, the Burma Army sent 324 trucks to front line camps.
On 15/12/08, LIB 599 Battalion Commander Tin Bo Aung, forced villagers from village-tracts to make fences at Aung Lung Sein camp.
On 17/12/08, LIB 599 forced 16 villagers and carts from Tat Kon, Koni, and Kyu Bin Seik village-tracts to carry food to Maw Ner camp.
On 17/12/08, MOC 21 forced 100 villagers and carts to carry food to Ka Mu Lo camp.
On 19/12/08, two bulldozers arrived in Ka Mu Lo to build a road.
On 22/12/08, the Burma Army sent 450 trucks of food to front line camps. After that it is felt that they will start operations in Mone township.
On 22/12/08, the Burma Army sent a bulldozer to Muthey camp and 400 prisoners to build the camp.
On 22/12/08, IB 53, Kyun Bin Seik Camp Commander Kyaw Thi Ha, demanded 750,000 kyat from 150 villagers of Koni village-tract who slept at their farms while working in their fields (some distance away from their village).
On 25/12/08, MOC 5/LIB 562 and LIB 372 arrived at Htee Mu Hta, and forced 75 villagers from Yulo and Kamulo villages to carry food to Lay Day and Play Hser Lo camp. On 25/12/08, IB 53 No.2 Battalion Commander Min Lwin Oo led 30 men and shot Saw Ba U Lat near Htee To Lo village. Saw Ba U Lat’s leg was broken. They then sent him to Toung goo Hospital.
Interviews with Prisoner Porters conducted by a Free Burma Rangers Relief team on December 18th, 2008
1. Name: Min Min Tun, Age: 28, Religion: Buddhist, Job: no steady job, move from job to job, most recently farmer, Ethnicity: Burmese, Education: 4th standard, Single
Why did you run away? I cannot carry the load, too heavy.
When did you start to porter? November 30, 2008 — He was in prison in Myin Gyi Na City in Kachin State. Nov. 30 they brought him to Ban Mah and stayed one night, then to Tha Beh Gyi where they slept in the car. Next day they went to Mandalay City, slept one night and then to Toungoo Prison where they stayed 5 days. Then SPDC brought them to Toungoo City. From there they walked to Kyauk Kyi where they met the loads. They left from there with the loads headed towards Muthey.
Min Min Tun and his group carried eating and cooking supplies, each carrying between 45 and 50 kg. They traveled with three porters for every 12 soldiers. Some of the porters were over 50 and 60 years old (Min Min Tun knew about ten other porters only and among these, two or so were over 60). The porters and soldiers eat separately, with soldiers eating well and porters not so well. Every day they got up at about 4 a.m. and went to bed at about midnight.
How did you run away? While walking a soldier stepped on a landmine (name: Captain Kyan Tray, hurt his leg, not dead) and everyone was distracted and so Min Min Tun and two others escaped. They had already talked saying, “If we do not escape we will die soon.” So they took their chance when it came. (These Burma Army soldiers had 383 on their arms, not sure if MOC, LIB, etc.)
When you ran away were you healthy? No, very weak. Already sick when they began carrying loads. Part way through he got very sick and could not carry more and asked the soldiers for medicine and the soldier said “You people are like dogs, you are worthless.” So he got no medicine and they beat him with a metal rod five times and they took his shoes. He told the soldier “you can shoot me, I want to die.” He tried to keep carrying his load.
The leader of the troops he was with is General Maung Maung.
2. Name: Gyin Tway, Age: 22, Religion: Buddhist, Job: Miner, Ethnicity: Kachin/Burmese, Education: 10th standard, From 9th section Min Gyi Na, Married with one child.
Gyin Tway was arrested for alcohol abuse on May 16, 2006, put in holding and then sentenced and jailed on August 18. He was sentenced to seven years. He’s served two years of his sentence at Min Gyin Nah, sometimes doing labor, such as digging, for the government. He is generally healthy in jail. Like Min Min Tun, he was taken to porter on the 30th of November. His load was a package wrapped in plastic that takes two people to carry strung on a bamboo pole; it weighs about 50 kg. and belongs to the brigade commander.He estimated that, at Toungoo, 1000 soldiers and 600 porters, from jails all over, walk together to Kyauk Kyi. From Kyauk Kyi to Muthey, he thought about 200 porters, but wasn’t sure about soldiers. They are from LIB 60. While walking, 3 or 4 porters walk together, two arm lengths apart, with soldiers between them. They walk all day, from 4 or 5 in the morning to midnight, sometimes without food. They only eat when the soldiers give them food. There were no women and children portering.
Because of the conditions he was sick but if he told the soldiers they would accuse him of being lazy and say he was pretending and say they had no medicine. He saw other porters who were sick and the soldiers would kick or punch or beat them with the butt of their guns. Another example: one porter could not cross the river and so one of the soldiers hit him in the head with a rock.
When you were in jail, how did you feel? He felt that he did wrong and deserved to be in jail. He was sentenced to jail for six months for alcohol abuse.
Why did you drink alcohol? Sometimes I am so tired and the battalion leader gave permission, so I used every day.
He was caught on February 22, 2008, in Laung Kyin Village in Kachin State and they sent him to Paghan City for 2 months and ten days while the case was made against him and then he was sent to jail.
After staying with the SPDC soldiers he thinks they are very bad as they treated the porters very badly and he now hates them and would like to kill all of the SPDC.
While with the Karen he feels very safe and not worried about his life.
3. Name: Myow Too, Age: 26, Religion: Buddhist, Job: sells motorcycles, Education: 3rd standard, Ethnicity: Mon/Burmese, Married with one son
Myow Too was jailed when one of his friends put opium in his motorcycle seat without him knowing and he was caught with it at a checkpoint. They let him go and took his address and came later to arrest him in his home. This was around 2002. He was sentenced to 7 years in jail and has already served 6 years.
He stayed in a children’s jail for three months, then moved to jail in Ban Moh City, Mon State; his prisoner number was 42138. He was able to be visited by family and they could bring him things including medicine and food. The jail compound was very big with a store and a pharmacy but there was not much medicine there. If his family sent him money for medicine he had to give it to the soldiers to buy the medicine and sometimes the soldiers would just keep the money.
On 7 December, 2008, the soldiers called 100 prisoners to carry loads. They went from Ban Moh City to Kyauk Kyi by car in one day. They slept in Kyauk Kyi one night and then began to carry the loads to Muthey, along with the other prisoner groups.
According to Myow Too, many porters were 40 years old or more, weak and had difficulty carrying their loads; these were beaten by soldiers. If they could not carry they were continually beaten. Many were sick but when they asked for medicine the soldiers said the medicine was not for them. Porters were fed once every two days. They were forced to walk in front of the soldiers as landmine sweepers. They slept at night with their bags still on. Myow Too carried a big gun that requires two people to carry; he also carried a radio and battery, about 40 kg or more per person.
His group stayed one night in a village — there the sergeant stole a chicken from the villagers for the soldiers. One of the porters in this group who could not carry the load was beaten in the head with a gun so his nose was bleeding and his head was broken. He then continued to try to walk. Four porters from this group did not escape.
The soldiers eat well and even feed their dogs well, but the porters don’t even eat as well as the dogs. The soldiers wouldn’t even give them fire for their pipes. Along the way, the soldiers rest in the shade and the porters must rest in the sun. Myow Too carried water for the soldiers and was one or two minutes late and was beaten three times. According to Myow Too, when they did get to eat, if they dropped any rice the soldiers would threaten to not give them any more. The soldiers said if one person ran away they will kill all, so now he worries about the others that stayed behind. One porter, very old, could not carry his load so they beat him and tied his hands and made him walk anyway. All the porters walked with hands tied so that they could not eat or drink water along the way. They had no shoes and so their feet became very cut up and sore.
After they ran away, they had no food or fire for three days. Then the KNLA found them. He doesn’t know about his family but he wants to fight the SPDC, even if he has to do by himself.
Two Burma Army columns from LIB 501 of MOC 1 threatened Ta Kaw Der and Thong He Der hiding sites on 21 December, 2008. One column moved into the old abandoned village of Ta Kaw Der, which villagers fled earlier this year during Burma Army attacks. This column is reportedly still active in the area. One column patrolled close to the Thong He Der IDPs on its way to Baw Gaw Ta (in the plains area of Nyaunglebin District). Both columns were from Muthey camp.
215 men, women, and children ran away and hid close to a nearby village. The villagers from Thong He Der packed their belongings, but did not flee their homes. The local FBR relief team team went to the IDPs and provided them with medical care, staying with them and encouraging them. The team was also able to send updated information about the situation. The local Karen National Union authorities were able to quickly send rice to the IDPs and FBR was able to send blankets for the teams to distribute.
Dec 21: Burma Army using new landmines against villagers in Northern Karen State.
While providing humanitarian assistance at an IDP hiding place, we were shown a new landmine that the Burma Army is using against villagers in this area. We don’t know who is making it and no one here has seen it before. It was found alongside the Kyauk Kyi – Hsaw Hta road near Muthey in Ler Doh Township. The Burma Army is placing these and other mines to block movement by the Karen people in this area. We will try to find out who is providing the Burma Army with these mines or if they are producing it themselves as none of us have seen this type either.
Dec 20: “My brother was too young and ran the wrong way and they killed him.”
“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. “
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 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 away fro their farms, that they have a difficult time to sustain themselves. In this area of Karen State, 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.
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.”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 in a 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).n 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 then 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.
Dec 19: A Christmas Story
We walked into the hiding place after four days spent looking at Burma Army camps. The people in this hiding place site were all displaced earlier this year by one of the new camps we just photographed. The people here had been fleeing since the Burma Army first started their attacks in this area of Western Karen State in 1972. Since then, they have fled attacks many times. One 62 year old man told us he thought he had fled 500 times in his lifetime. There were 17 families hiding here in a small ravine in a bamboo thicket. Their homes are small shacks made of bamboo and grass, some covered in tarps that our teams had given them earlier. There are two small water points where pieces of bamboo channeled the small flow of a little stream. Here the families can collect water and bathe. As we walked into the site, there was a plastic tarp spread on the ground, with children sitting on it, as one of the team led them in songs and games. Mothers and fathers stood behind, holding babies, smiling and laughing with their small huts right behind them. As we got closer, the team handed out presents for the children, and then the whole team sang a blessing song. It was a very moving melody, with powerful words about God being with us at all times. I felt very sad that the people had to live like this, but at the same time, I felt the more powerful emotion of love, hope and joy, as the team and the families bonded together. I thought, ‘ this is wonderful and the Burma Army probably wouldn’t believe it if they saw it’. Here are people that they are chasing who have lost so much, who are still smiling and singing and who haven’t given up. I looked around the cluster of small huts, and smiling and happy people. I looked as the medics began to prepare for treatment and I thought, ‘this is a wonderful thing’. I felt satisfied. Not satisfied with the situation and the people in hiding, but satisfied that all of us at this site were happy together and that on this day, we would all eat well and sleep well. Later that same night other Karen from different displaced villages came to sing carols at the hide site. They went to every family’s house and sang. As we looked up at the stars and listened to the singing, I thought, “This really is Christmas.”
I want to thank all of you who pray for, love, and help these people, and all of you who help us here.
Dec 9: Good News among the Displaced in Burma During the Christmas Season (see previous report for Photos)
Thanks for all of your love and help. We are sending you these photos from an area of displaced Karen people in Eastern Burma. In spite of the attacks and oppression the people here continue to rebuild their homes and lives, and now celebrate the Christmas season. These photos show some of the multi-ethnic relief teams from different parts of Burma who have come together to be with displaced families in the conflict areas. Along with the Good Life Club program and medical treatment, we’ve also had a wedding, as one relief team member married a local lady who had been helping to support the Advanced Training. They are very happy, and so are we as we share these moments of love and celebration with them and the Karen people.
God bless you,
A relief team leader
Northern Karen StateBurma.