FBR REPORT: The Shadow of the Oppressor
Karen State, Burma
20 January, 2009

Today we went to look at a Burma Army camp that sits on a hill immediately above the Karen village of Tha Moo La* in western Karen State at the edge of the mountains and the plains. The village has 160 families with over 1,000 men, women and children. The villagers were forced to move here from other areas of Karen State as part of the Burma Army forced relocation program. The pictures attached are of these people being forced to work for the Burma Army.

Burma soldiers watched over the villagers as they were forced to carry water up and down the hill

Porter carries water to camp as soldier watches

As we watched the camp and village below it, we noticed Burma Army soldiers come out of the camp and position themselves along the steep trail that led from the camp 100 yards down to the village. Soon villagers, both men and woman, were climbing up to work at the camp.We could see the villagers carrying water containers from a water filling point at a hut near the stream.
Burma soldiers watched over the villagers as they were forced to carry water up and down the hill.

One of the villagers told us that every day villagers must carry water for the camp and report to do any labor demanded of them. They are not paid and have no choice but to obey. The villagers use a rotation system so that those who are not doing forced labor for the soldiers can tend to their own fields. At the camp we could see the small bamboo hut where every day the villagers must supply a runner to relay out Burma Army orders to the villagers. Anyone who wants to go out of the village must obtain a pass from the soldiers in the camp.

Soldier watches as porter carries water to camp
Soldier watching porters carry water

The Burma Army occupies and relocates many villages and have built their camp on the high ground above this village to control the villagers.

One young man who left this village and joined the FBR and is now a relief team leader told us this story:

“The Burma Army occupied the Tha Moo La area for first time when I was a child. We have been forced to move many times. The last time in 2006. The Burma Army occupies and relocates many villages and have built their camp on the high ground above this village to control the villagers and to protect themselves in case the KNU (Karen National Union-Karen pro-democracy resistance) came to fight for it. The Burma Army also built a pagoda on the hill on the other side of our village against our will. The Burma Army general who commissioned the Pagoda is named Gen. Thet Oo. He was advised by a monk that if he built the Pagoda there would be peace in Tha Moo La. Next to the pagoda he bulit a monument to himself with these words inscribed on the front.” (see photo of sign and pagoda below).

‘ In remembrance of General Thet Oo and his grandparents on both mother and father side, (Oo Ka Myint, Daw San San Win and Oo Thay Min Let, Daw Wa Wa So, and Oo Moe Zaw, Daw Tu Ma, and Oo May Den To, Daw The Da). These families built this pagoda in 13, 12, 2006 at Yin Oo Taung with the leading of Monk Oo Kin Mein Da. The spirits will say amen forever.’

Karen soldier looks at pagoda built by Burma Army

The Burma Army has killed many of my friends. For example, Saw Pa Au La. The Burma Army suspected that he was organizing KNU activities. Nobody knows what happened to him. He was captured by Burma Army in late 2007 along with one friend and was never heard from again. The Burma Army ordered the headman to send Saw Pau La to the Burma Army camp. He went with a friend and both disappeared. He has a wife and 1 daughter age 3. His wife is a teacher in Tha Moo La.

Another friend was killed in the beginning of 2007. His name was Saw Wa Shi. One day he went to his beetle nut farm. The Burma Army came from another direction. One Burma Army soldier stepped on a landmine. The Burma Army accused him of setting the mine and they beat him to death.

“Saw Poo Bal had his face blown away and lost both eyes.”

They also make us act as human landmine sweepers. Sometimes the Burma Army makes the villagers work in front of their trucks so that they detonate any landmines placed there by the resistance. Many have died doing this such as my friend Saw Thaw Mo and others have been injured such as my frined Saw Po Oa. He lost one leg and broke the other one. And there is Saw Poo Bal who had his face blown away and lost both eyes.

Forced labor happens all the time. Every day two villagers have to go to the Burma Army camp where they are given job assignments. They have to cut bamboo, carry food, use their ox carts to carry supplies, haul water (because the KNLA ambushed them so they are afraid to get it themselves), and whatever else they want done.

In addition to all this a very big problem in my mind is that the Burma Army has brought a teacher from the city in the plains and built a school. They are teaching their way and do not allow the children to study in their Karen language anymore. The only time they are permitted to learn in Karen right now is at Sunday School which we run ourselves. The headmaster used to be a Karen Man named Saw Htoo. The Burma Army replaced him with a Burman, The salary for one month is 15,000 kyat.

Thank you for the time to talk and for your help.”

Karen woman returns to village from the camp

“This is not right and we try to stop them.”

One of the resistance soldiers told us, “That was my village where I was born. The Burma soldiers came and they make our people suffer everyday and force us to do many things for them. This is their way and the way they always are to us. They want to control our lives, force us to serve them, take our wives and daughters and use us to work the fields for them. This is not right and we try to stop them.”

Here the soldiers treat the villagers as if they are their servants. In addition to forced labor and acting as human mine sweepers, the villagers are ordered to help buy chickens and feed and take care of them for the soldiers. The villagers were also forced to dig the bunkers for the camp and contribute thier own coconut and beetle nut trees to cover the bunkers.

We have hope because we believe God’s light of love can burn through the darkness. We see this light in the faces of the people here.

The shadow of oppression is over this village as it is over all of Burma. We stand with the people like the one who told his story and the resistance soldier who wants freedom and justice for his home. We work and pray for the day when this oppression ends. We have hope because we believe God cares and will lead all of us who care and that God’s light of love can burn through the darkness. We see this light in the faces of the people here. We thank all of you for your love, prayers and help.

God bless you,
The Free Burma Rangers
Karen State, Burma
January 20, 2009

(*Tha Moo La means ‘hope’, it is not the real name of this village.)

Karen village with Burma Army camp above
Water filling point for porters