Mission Overview: Ethnic relief teams recently completed missions in the Moo Township of Kler Lwee Htoo District, in northwestern Karen State. Karen, Karenni, Lahu, Mon and Shan teams did Good Life Club programs and medical treatments at 6 IDP sites for people from 29 villages. All together, the teams helped over 1200 children through the programs and treated 922 patients. Additionally, representatives from each team visited the plains area of Moo Township and met with leaders from 24 relocation sites there.
|Good Life Club program, northern Karen State|
The teams interviewed teachers from 29 different schools in southwestern Moo Township. Of those schools only one was a high school. About 20% of children in the villages represented by these interviews cannot go to school either because they are needed to help their family or because they cannot afford to go to boarding school or refugee camp after theyve finished the highest level of school offered in their village. The schools themselves rarely have enough school supplies and often must mix curriculum from the Karen Education Department with supplies bought in Burma Army-controlled villages. Besides basic school supplies, many teachers also request solar light kits and sports equipment.
In the plains area, west of the mountains, most of the villagers are living in relocation sites under control of the Burma Army. Education is controlled by the central government. Most schools in the relocation sites are grammar schools while high schools are in the cities and most students cannot afford to board in the city and attend school.
None of these villages have clinics. In the plains area there are Burma Army-controlled clinics but few villagers can afford to go to them. Common illnesses are dysentery and malaria and severity depends often on the time of year.
|Medics caring for young girl after surgery|
|Giving out glasses while on a mission in northern Karen State|
FBR teams also visited brown zone areas in the plains. Because of Burma Army control throughout the area, they were only able to meet with a few village and church leaders from each village in the area. These churches and villages are in brown zone areas of Karen State; they have all been forcibly relocated and live side-by-side with the Burma Army. They are regularly subjected to forced labor and arbitrary taxation and frequently imprisoned, tortured and killed by Burma Army soldiers. They can be imprisoned on any pretext and jailed without trial. They are forbidden contact with their organization, the Karen National Union (KNU), and so receive none of the services offered by the KNU, such as education and health assistance. Despite this, the underground resistance is strong.
|Looking back at the mountains from the plains.in Karen State|
(The following report and information was sent out on 3 February 2012, and can also be found at: http://www.freeburmarangers.org/Reports/2012/20120203.html)
Standing for Freedom in the Midst of Change – a Report from the Field.
(For the security of the people we met in the relocation sites, we have not included pictures from the plains)
Here in Burma there are some good changes, yet oppression continues and in some areas such as Karen and Kachin States, shooting by the Burma Army continues.
The sun is coming up after a night movement from the mountains down to the plains of Burma. It is here that the Burma Army has feudal rule with tight control over people’s lives and camps surrounding the forced relocation sites. Up in the mountains the Burma army shoots to kill, but there is room to get away and the resistance is strong enough to slow and sometimes stop Burma Army attacks. Two days ago in the mountains, we could hear the Burma Army shelling towards Karen villages as they advanced to supply their camps. In Kachin State our team is helping over 40,000 IDPs displaced in ongoing attacks.
Down in the plains the Burma Army has almost complete control. But it is impossible to fully control people who have the conviction that all people are equal in the sight of God and that this is their home. Here in Burma we still face giants, but we do not face them alone.
We moved like mice in between the Burma Army camps and patrols to meet the people in the relocation sites. We met them in the bushes and trees that separated the miles and miles of rice fields. “The church is the greatest source of unity here,” the local underground resistance leader told us. “Oppression, imprisonment and death has caused fear to grow in us and between us, breaking down our trust and unity.”
As we prayed about our meetings with the people here, our medic, Eliya, shared these words from Psalm 100: “Make a joyful shout to the Lord all you lands, serve the Lord with gladness, come before His presence with singing, know that the Lord, He is God, it is He who has made us and not we ourselves, we are His people and the sheep of His pasture, enter into His gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise, be thankful to Him and bless His name, for the Lord is good, His mercy is everlasting and His truth endures to all generations.”
We did not make ourselves, God made us and we are His and we also belong to each other. We can live with joy and boldly, knowing we are God’s children. From this relationship with God and each other, come the convictions that we live and act on. We met Karen Christians, Burmese Buddhists and Karen Buddhists and felt close to all. Into our little hide site came a man we had met on the last mission to the plains, the father of one of our team members and the leader of the underground here. He was beaming and under his thin windbreaker showed us the FBR t-shirt he dared to wear. He smiled proudly and then grabbed my arms and we began to wrestle like we did when we met last year. He was testing my strength, courage and sense of humor, and to see if we were still brothers. I call him “Big bear” as he is a very stout and strong man, built like a Mongolian warrior, with a bull neck, broad chest, powerful arms, and tree-stump like legs. His smile is clear and the love of life shines through him.
Later that night we met other church leaders and for the next four days and nights moved and met many leaders from different relocation sites. We prayed together and shared experiences and listened to their thoughts, needs and convictions. An elder told us, “I had to watch every step to come here. No matter what is said about changes, the Burma Army can still kill you anytime. We are glad you came and we pray for the end of restrictions we live under.” Another man from this village told us of two farmers who were shot by Burma Army troops two months ago, one a father of four, killed, and another one wounded.
One pastor told us, “We have been praying for the leaders to change and thank God we do see some changes. But still there is oppression, so it seems the change is only of the mind. We need a change of heart too. We pray now that God will grab Senior General Than Shwe’s heart! Last week the Burma Army told us, ‘Now there is change in Burma, if you contact the Karen National Union (Karen pro-democracy resistance), you will be severely punished.'”
Another church leader said, “We have been forced to move three times. The Burma Army just told some of us that we could go back home, but when we asked about proof in writing, there was none. Is it a trap? Going back to our original homes can be true vision if we pray. I know God’s plans are above ours, and dreams like this can come true.”
A woman’s group leader told us, “We need to be free. We want unity and we also need help with our schools, churches and Early Child Care Development programs.”
One man had just been released from prison after serving five years after being accused of helping the KNU. “I was beaten badly when I was arrested and then taken to Toungoo prison. There I was fed rice and salt water. I was watched all the time and only allowed to pray in Burmese and not in my Karen language. I spent much time in solitary. I knew the Karen lady medic who was captured and saw her in prison too.”
Another man in his 60s told us, “Last year, I was captured by the Burma Army on the trail and had four of my teeth knocked out by the soldiers. I was beaten with sticks and clubbed with a rifle to my entire body. After six days of torture my friends were able to pay 300,000 kyats to the army and I was released.”
A pastor told us, “Things have gotten a little better and we are stopped at checkpoints less than before. After 60 years of war, hearts need to change. My message to Aung San Suu Kyi is, ‘Please remember the ethnic people of Burma.’ All of us should be united, and for me the church is the central pillar of unity. We want all churches to be free. We do not want to have to apply for permission as we do now. Now we have to apply for permission to hold special church events, for building projects, and for any traveling we want to do. I do want to thank you all for the gifts you gave us last time and for the bibles and hymnals. We used the gift to make a wooden library to safely store all of our bibles, hymnals and books. Now we need more Bibles and hymnals. Thank you so much and may God bless all of you.”
We committed to helping each community and church as much as we could and are grateful for the help of Partners and others. As we talked, I told them about how the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer stood for the Jews and other oppressed people in WWII. Bonhoeffer gave up his life to stand against Hitler’s Nazi oppression. Bonhoeffer died in a concentration camp just before the war ended and freedom came. Even the end of World War II did not mean freedom for all. For many in Eastern Europe, China and other places, oppression under another name continued. Last year the former Czech President, Vaclav Havel, died. He was one of many who stood for freedom until Eastern Europe too was free. He was a friend of FBR and here in Burma we paid tribute to him with a memorial service, prayer and song. Here in Burma, like Havel and Bonhoeffer, we are directed by the conviction that God wants us to stand with and help His people be free. God’s power of love brings change in each of us and helps us to move forward together to be part of His freedom, mercy and grace everywhere.
Thank you and God bless you,
Dave, family and FBR teams.
Karen State, Burma.
Doo Pla Ya District From 16-23 January 2012, Burma Army soldiers shot at villagers, and forced villagers to support their resupply activities. Burma Army Infantry Battalions (IBs) 61 and 62, and Light Infantry Battalions (LIBs) 591 and 343 advanced and secured the road in the Anankwin and Thaphuzaya areas. They resupplied food and supplies. When they arrived at Anankwin Village, they told villagers to make baskets for their loads. They demanded four baskets from Htee Kler Ni, Ten from Htee Ler Hsaw, ten from Lu Shah and ten from Mae Klu villages, Win Ye Township, Dooplaya District, south- central Karen State.
On 18 January, a soldier from Burma Army LIB 562 (battalion commander Kyaw Soe Naing) under control of Military Operation Command (MOC) 5, shot a villager, Saw Pa Dah, 35 years old from Ta Pho Poh Hta Village, Noh Ta Kaw Township, Doo Pla Ya District. Saw Pa Dah was wounded in the leg.
Taw Oo District On 22 January, Burma Army and Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) forces fought between Lay Day Burma Army camp and Play Hsa Lo camp at 1200 hrs. Burma Army had one killed and one wounded, the KNLA had no casualties. The clash occurred on the mule trail between Lay Day Burma Army camp and Play Hsa Lo (They Pu) Burma Army camp as the Burma Army was sending supplies to Play Hsa Lo camp. Play Hsa Lo, Htantabin Township, Taw Oo District, Northern Karen State.
Kler Lwee Htoo District
On 24 January, Burma Army troops mortared and shot machine guns into IDP and village areas in Kyaukkyi Township, Kler Lwee Htoo District, western Karen State. At 17:20 hrs on 24 January, Burma Army troops of the Southern Command, (Battalion 351 and Battalion 60 identified. One commander identified from Battalion 351- one Company Commander named They Ko) advanced on the Kyauk Kyi-Muthey- Hsaw Hta road, shooting mortars and machine guns into the surrounding area. Some of the mortar rounds were directed at the villagers of Khe Der Village Tract and in Khe Der Village itself the people are on alert. As the Burma Army moved they fired mortars, machine guns and small arms. Over 150 horses and mules are being used for their resupply operation now and we have a report of 60 trucks of ammunition, food and supplies but can confirm the 41 trucks we saw and videoed. We have not yet heard of any casualties however. The shelling was from Wa Me Kwee and Kler Soe camps.
Mu Traw District
On 24 January, Burma Army troops shot at villagers in Kay Pu area, Lu Thaw Township, Mu Traw (Papun) District, northern Karen State. At 0845 hrs on 24 January, Burma Army troops from MOC 9 shot at villagers near the old Kay Pu Village site. The Burma Army has a camp above the old village that was abandoned when the Burma Army attacked here in a major offensive in 2006. The villagers were animists on the way to a religious ceremony. The Burma Army was patrolling down into the IDP areas near the Plo Lo Klo River (south of the junction with the Yunzalin River). When the Burma Army saw the villagers, they opened fire. The villagers ran and no one was hurt.
On 28 January, Burma Army troops and KNLA troops shook hands at a road crossing near Ler Mu Plaw, Lu Thaw Township, Mu Traw District, northern Karen State. At 1145 hrs on 28 January, Burma Army troops on the Saw Mu Plaw-Baw Ga Li Gyi road between Saw Mu Plaw and Ler Mu Plaw, met KNLA troops on the road. The Burma Army called out, “Don’t shoot, we will not shoot you.”
The Karen soldiers responded, “We will not shoot you.” The Karen troops moved out onto the road and talked briefly with the Burma Army troops.
The Burma Army troops said, “You can go back to your farms and villages now.”
The Karen troops responded, “We cannot go back to our homes until you leave your camps and this area.” The troops smiled and laughed together, shook hands and the Burma Army troops continued down the road.
Starting 15 December 2011, the K5 Bu Tho FBR team began a mission to the Day Wah and Kyaw Pa village tracts in Bu Tho Township. They met students from 12 schools in this area, did medical treatment and observed and recorded Burma Army and Border Guard Force (BGF) activity. This was the first time these villages had received help from FBR.
In this area, Burma Army Division 11, Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) 218 and BGF unit 1014 are active. They have been patrolling in the areas of Meh Nyaw Village, Na Kyaw Village and Pwa Day Mu village, and also in the Kyoe Lo, Thoo Mweh Hta and Meh Pa areas. LIB 218 is controlled by Tun Tun Nai. He has ordered the his troops to patrol in this area in groups of 20-30 soldiers. Division 11 has 80 troops all together. Also active in this area is the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, unit 3/3.
Enemy activity here has forced over 100 villagers into hiding, and several schools are shut down while the activity continues. In the Meh Lah area, school was shut down because of Burma Army and BGF activity, while the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA- a proxy force of the Burma Army) plans to build a dam there.
|FBR mule team carries supplies into a village.|
|Team member practicing at mule training|
|Shan team leader prays before a program, northern Karen State|