Setting Up the Systems of Repression: The progressive regimentation of civilian life in Dooplaya District
While attention has been focused on the SPDC's violent attacks against villages in northern Karen State, the regime has been implementing a much more systematic campaign of repression in southern Karen State. The SPDC militarily occupied this region nine years ago, and has since been creating its model of society - through extending roads and military control to every corner of the region, establishing and training local controlling authorities, forcing villagers to join SPDC organisations, forced registration of all people and resources, forced double-cropping and other agricultural programmes without the required support, movement restrictions and crippling taxation on trade and mobility, and land reallocation to those complicit with the regime. All of these are part of the process of setting up local control mechanisms to implement the SPDC's hierarchical vision of society, in which the main purpose of the civilian population is to serve the military and support those in power. In return, local people get nothing except additional work, and violent punishment including torture and killings whenever they are perceived to be uncooperative or disrespectful. Little or nothing is provided for their education or health, while their crops and possessions are systematically looted to keep them poor. Drawing on the SPDC's own order documents and over a hundred interviews with villagers in the region, this report finds that people in Dooplaya feel worse off than ever before, and that their suffering is not caused by conflict or lack of foreign aid, but by SPDC repression.
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Introduction and Executive Summary
In 1997 the State Law & Order Restoration Council (SLORC) regime ruling Burma used a major military offensive to capture most of Dooplaya district, which makes up the southern portion of Karen State. Close to 10,000 villagers fled to neighbouring Thailand rather than live under state control, and most of them are still in Noh Po and Umpiem Mai refugee camps. Thousands more were internally displaced, many of them cut off by the Burma Army troops before they could reach the border. The open agricultural terrain and lack of mountains in most of the district make it difficult for villagers to remain hidden for long, however, and most of the internally displaced now live under state authority. Late in 1997 the SLORC changed its name to the State Peace & Development Council (SPDC), but with no significant change in policy or tactics.
Prior to 1997 the Burmese state controlled very little of Dooplaya; villagers ran their own lives and villages, with partial control by the Karen National Union (KNU). Capturing these areas so suddenly provided the SLORC/SPDC with a blank slate on which to carve its model of society. To symbolise this new beginning, General Maung Aye flew in to Kyaikdon and trod on the Karen flag on national television. The campaign then began with the immediate destruction of non-cooperative villages, forced relocation of remote villages to areas garrisoned by the Army, forced eviction of all Muslims from Dooplaya and the destruction of their mosques. Within a year this was followed by state seizure of much of the farmland, which was taken over for Army camps or Army farms or reparcelled and sold to the highest bidder. Many villagers were displaced and made landless; others had to struggle to keep their land while experiencing their first taste of regular forced labour and extortion demands. Villagers were forced to work along hundreds of imported convicts to extend a network of roads throughout the district so that more Army camps could be built and supplied. As these Army camps were established, the Army progressively restricted and attempted to control all aspects of villagers' lives. Smaller SPDC-allied armed groups, particularly the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) and Karen Peace Force (KPF), were used as proxies to control the civilian population in return for lucrative logging concessions and permission to run other businesses.
Nine years into the occupation, the societal experiment continues. Now confident of its military authority over most of the villages, the SPDC is allowing some people to resettle in newly garrisoned areas. In the past year, many villagers forcibly relocated or displaced in 1997-98 were finally allowed to return to re-establish their villages, but with many conditions and restrictions: they are not allowed to go outside their villages without SPDC-approved passes; they are forced to support local SPDC and proxy military units with food, funds, and forced labour; and they are told that if they fail to obey all forced labour and other demands by the military or if they fail to report people with KNU connections they will once again be forcibly relocated. To complement the military authorities, the SPDC is also in the process of extending the reach of its civil authority structures throughout the district. Villages have been forced to establish Village Peace & Development Councils (VPDC), made up of a chairperson, secretary and several 'members', to act as the local arm of SPDC authority. The VPDC is mainly used to impose military and Township Peace & Development Council (TPDC) demands on villagers, by assigning families responsibility for forced labour, organising bullock carts for SPDC use, collecting extortion money for the troops, etc. In October/November 2005 all VPDC chairpersons, secretaries and members in Dooplaya were forced to attend (at their own expense) an intensive Security and Management training in Moulmein, at which they were lectured on their responsibilities to 'organise' the villagers to provide all forms of support for military authorities, report on and control the activities of their villagers, and turn over anyone suspicious or uncompliant with orders.
As part of this, local VPDCs have been tasked with forcing villagers to join SPDC organisations, for which they have been assigned recruitment quotas based on village size. In this way villagers have been forced to join the SPDC's Pyitthu Sit paramilitary militia, Myanmar Women's Affairs Federation (MWAF), Myanmar Maternal and Child Welfare Association (MMCWA), Myanmar Fire Brigades, and other such organisations. Villagers are forced to pay for the training and support of those who join Pyitthu Sit . For the other organisations, those who join are forced to pay application and membership fees, though many of them say they have no interest in the organisation and are have not subsequently been called on to do much. Villages in Dooplaya have been ordered that at least 50 percent of the village women must join MWAF and/or MMCWA. It may be that the SPDC simply wants to pump up the numbers in these organisations, because it uses them (particularly the women's and children's organisations) as vehicles to obtain funds from UN and other international agencies.
Villagers have been informed that they will be required to pay for and obtain National Identity Cards or face arrest. VPDC leaders are forced to draw up village registers showing every household, adult and child and listing all land, possessions, livestock, carts, sawmills and other resources in the village. These are used as a basis to set 'taxes' and demand forced labour. Each family is supposed to pay for a laminated copy of their own household list, showing all occupants and possessions, which they must post on the outside of their house. If visiting troops find additional people staying in the house, they are arrested as suspected rebels.
Villagers are now complaining that movement restrictions are more severe than ever before. People are no longer allowed to live in scattered villages or outlying houses, because villages must be compact and centralised for easy control. Most people's fields are still some distance from the village but they are not allowed to go there for more than a few days at a time, for which they must obtain an SPDC pass. In growing season, when villagers traditionally live in their farmfield huts, this is inadequate to tend the crops and keep wild animals and stray livestock away. In mid-2005 the Kawkareik Township PDC went one step further, ordering the destruction of all farmfield huts (see order document in this report). To Karen villagers, such an order is equivalent to ordering the destruction of their way of life. Moreover, travel and movement of produce along roads or rivers has become extremely expensive because these are dotted with checkpoints which demand payment from all who pass. Some of these are manned by SPDC troops, but SPDC allied groups like the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) and Karen Peace Force (KPF) are also awarded permission to set up checkpoints in return for their loyalty.
Under Burmese 'law' the state owns all land and has the power to decree how it must be used, so with the consolidation of SPDC control villagers are increasingly being told what they can grow and when. Most villages are now ordered to grow a second rice crop in dry season, but without being provided any help to set up the required irrigation systems. Many are also now being ordered to plant rubber, sugarcane and castor bean. They are forced to buy seed, even if they do not want it, and pay part of the harvest or money if the crop fails. Touted as the path to riches and development, most villagers say these forced cropping programmes are instead driving them further into poverty. Overlapping and conflicting orders come from local military officers wanting to make a profit at the villagers' expense, and higher authorities seeking to force villagers nationwide to plant crops like castor for export. Meanwhile, many villagers have had their farmland confiscated without any payment to make way for new Army camps, Army farms or roads, where they are then forced to do unpaid labour. In some areas, local SPDC authorities have suddenly announced that land is to be reallocated. SPDC officials then survey and confiscate all the productive farmland without payment, repackage it into parcels, and sell it to the highest bidder - usually outsiders who come into the area to buy up cheap land, unless villagers can put together enough money to buy back their own fields. No one seems to know where the money from these sales goes.
Establishing and training local controlling authorities, forced recruitment to SPDC organisations, forced registration of all people and resources, movement restrictions and excessive taxation on mobility, and land reallocation to those complicit with the regime - all of these are part of the process of setting up local hierarchical control mechanisms to implement the SPDC's hierarchical vision of society, in which the main purpose of the civilian population is to serve the military and support those in power. In return, local people get nothing except additional work, and violent punishment including torture and killings whenever they are perceived to be uncooperative or disrespectful. Little or nothing is provided for their education or health, while their crops and possessions are systematically looted to keep them poor. Once established, these SPDC systems attempt to perpetuate themselves by attracting people willing to sacrifice others to obtain personal power, even petty power at the local level. The result, if this is allowed to progress further, is an entrenched system of intimidation and repression like that already existing in the central Burman heartland, where few people are willing to openly stand up against the regime. As this report shows, however, Karen village leaders in Dooplaya are doing a great deal to prevent this from happening by evading and undermining SPDC demands and protecting their villagers from the worst abuses whenever possible.
In Karen districts further north the SPDC is right now attacking villages in order to force civilians to live under their control, but with little success as the villagers escape into the hills and forests. Developments in Dooplaya since 1997 provide an example of what might happen next if SPDC forces succeed in those campaigns. Though not as completely under their control as central Burma - various other armies are still active, and villagers still do flee and escape - Dooplaya demonstrates what happens when SPDC authorities begin to feel confident in their power and are seldom threatened by the attacks of opposing forces. According to villagers living under this power, the results include increased militarisation; conscription of villagers into SPDC-run organisations; land confiscation for the Army without compensation; forced labour on Army farms, roads and other infrastructure, and portering Army supplies; excessive and corrupt taxation and outright extortion; looting of villagers' belongings and food supplies; violent abuses including rape, torture, shooting and killing of villagers with impunity; forced 'temporary' marriages of village women to soldiers; and restrictions on their access to health and education. In short, most of the violent abuses they face when there is armed conflict, plus an additional array of abuses which progressively erode their ability to survive while further extending the power of the military.
The full report is only available in PDF format. Click here to open the full report (1.4 Mb, 82 pages)
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