War Crimes Force Thousands to Flee
29 January, 2021
Keh Der village tract, Karen State, Burma
Hiding in the jungle today is a 93 year old woman who cannot walk and was carried on someone’s back to the IDP site, a 80 year old blind man, and a 5 year old disabled boy. These are just some of the people forced to flee recent Burma army attacks in Kyauk Kyi (Lerdoh) Township.
As Free Burma Rangers met with the Keh Der village leader, who the night before held a funeral for his elderly father, the mortars started booming in the distance. The Burma army was a kilometre away shooting mortars, machine guns, grenade launchers and rifles. “At night we sleep in the jungle, but we came back last night to have a funeral and bury my father,” he told us. Several of the nearby villages were eerily empty; clothes left drying on the line, water taps left running into overflowing buckets, doors closed, and no life except a few stray chickens, dogs and pigs searching for food – all signs of a speedy escape. “We try to come back to feed our animals and take care of our crops during the day if there is no shelling,” the village leader continued. The sound of the mortars became closer and closer, and eventually became too close for comfort, forcing the few villagers remaining from the funeral service to quickly pack what they could carry and run into the jungle.
Burma Army Battalions 603, 350, 57, 92, and 75 are aggressively trying to build and reinforce a road network through these villages. Local villagers and the Karen National Union (KNU) have strongly objected to this roadbuilding-project, about which they were not consulted. This is a clear violation of the 2012 bilateral KNU-Myanmar government ceasefire, and also of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), which the KNU signed in October 2015 (NCA Article 5, prohibiting post-ceasefire military expansion and reinforcements; NCA Article 9 on protection of civilians.)
Since late December, the Burma army has sent reinforcements to the already militarised Kyauk Kyi area (‘Ler Doh’ in Karen). 250 troops from division 77 of the Burma Army has come to reinforce the battalions already in the area.
Especially since 2018, increased Burma Army militarisation of the area has included killing civilians and forcibly displacing several communities. Since December 2020, violations of the ceasefire and NCA have increased. A local Karen civilian told FBR that “they do as they like; there is no ceasefire here.” The ceasefire is one of the head, not the heart. It is not let by love or a desire for reconciliation but is a technique to maneuver the ethnic groups into compliance. There are some in the Burma army, including retired General Aung Min who were sincere in their attempts to find peace, but he doesn’t control the process. Despite the ceasefire, the Burma army has been indiscriminately shooting into the jungle on either side of the road, and firing shells into the jungle, farms and villages, to scare people away as they try to work on the road.
Since December, Burma army attacks in KNU Mudraw and Nyaungleybin [Kler Lwee Htoo] Districts have displaced well over 4000 people – but this is not yet an all-out military offensive. The purpose of Burma army aggression seems so far to have been resupply and build-up of its camps, extending militarisation through developing a network of roads. Although this is not a military offensive on the scale of those experienced in this area in 1997, 2006, or 2010, the Burma army’s recent aggression is unprecedented since the ceasefire of 2012.
The KNU/KNLA have told the Burma army that they will resist these ceasefire violations and attacks against civilians. Therefore the KNU/KNLA defence forces are engaging the Burma army everywhere they can, in order to protect the villagers and attempt to prevent the Burma army from occupying more Karen lands.
The Burma army has not only violated the ceasefire, but regularly violates the Geneva conventions. This includes Convention IV, which the Burmese government signed on 25 August 1992, protecting civilians in times of conflict. The government has refused to sign Geneva Convention addition Protocol I, which includes prohibition of “indiscriminate attacks (on civilians)” (Protocol I, Article 51, Section 4). Regardless of whether or not they have signed the additional protocol, recent attacks in northern Karen State and eastern Bago Region indicate that the Burma Army is guilty of war crimes.
Six out of 14 villages in the Keh Der area have been abandoned: Keh Der, Baw Kaw Kee, Wah Doe Kee, Htee Hser Day, Too Hta, and Hta Kah Der. Over 1000 civilians are currently hiding in the jungle, in this area alone. Free Burma Rangers are with the IDPs now, giving medical care and documenting the situation.
The Burma army has blocked aid from reaching this area, with local villagers, community support groups and NGOs being prevented from travelling in or to the affected area. The UN World Food Program (WFP) reportedly has rice available for delivery to the IDPs in Kyauk Kyi town, but so far has not secured permission from the Burma army to transport these essential relief supplies to needy civilians. Please pray that Burma army leaders change their mind and give permission, or that another way to move the food opens up.
The villagers need all the help they can get. Their biggest need is for basic protection: for the Burma army to stop its deadly aggression against civilians. “We don’t need the help of NGOs for our livelihood; we are farmers, we can take care of ourselves and provide for ourselves.”, said Saw **** the Village Tract leader. “What we really need is for the Burma army to go leave this area, so we can farm and live peacefully. If the Burma army goes back, we can expand our rice fields. But as long as they’re here we live in fear. Our children cannot go to school. We can’t farm. Right now we will use what food we have from our farms, and what we can find in the jungle, but soon we will need more. We also need more tarps and material for shelters, because now we’re are living outside in the jungle.”
Below are picture taken by the Free Burma Rangers with the IDPs.
Thank you, God Bless you,
Free Burma Rangers
Karen State Burma