One Year On: Continuing abuses in Toungoo District
|These villagers fled from the Play Hsa Loh relocation site after the constant demands of forced labour and the lack of food became too much to continue to bear. This photo was taken in June 2006 as they were making their way towards the Burma-Thai border. [Photo: KHRG]|
The current offensive which began in November 2005 and intensified in February 2006, however, has differed from the norm. The beginning of the monsoon in May did not result in the usual troop withdrawal and the cessation of attacks that has been witnessed in most other past offensives. SPDC Army battalions have remained in place and have continued to mount attacks and commit human rights abuses against undefended villages throughout the rainy season. Toungoo District typically experiences very high levels of rainfall throughout the monsoon, making all forms of travel difficult. The few motor roads which traverse the district (of which none are sealed) become impassable to vehicles as the relentless rains wash away large sections and transform them into slippery rivers of mud. Similarly, foot trails become extremely difficult to negotiate, and even Karen villagers who have lived their entire lives in the area speak of the problems they face while trying to travel anywhere in the rainy season. The very fact that SPDC Army columns have continued to mount patrols under these conditions can not be dismissed nor taken lightly.
Over the past several months, the SPDC has moved even more battalions into the district to further consolidate their control and support the units already operating in the area. In addition to the regular battalions subordinate to Southern Regional Command who are consistently stationed within the district, numerous other battalions from Light Infantry Division (LID) #66, Military Operations Command (MOC) #15 and MOC #16, all of whom are generally used for offensive operations, have also been operating in the district. KHRG field researchers have identified 27 battalions formed into 54 columns now active within Toungoo District. One researcher has estimated there to be a total of 3,780 SPDC Army soldiers now operating in the district. A recent report by the Free Burma Rangers (FBR) estimates there to currently be 60-70 SPDC Army battalions operating in northern Karen State (in Toungoo, Nyaunglebin, and Papun districts) as part of the ongoing offensive. 
The SPDC has also used this time to build more army camps in the region. KHRG has now identified over 50 SPDC Army camps in Toungoo District alone (see map). While many new camps have been built along the main roadways to further consolidate SPDC control over them, an increasing number of camps are now being constructed further away from the roads in areas which the military has never been able to effectively control. Using these new satellite camps as staging areas from which to mount patrols, there are now few areas of Toungoo District that exist beyond the reach of SPDC Army columns. This, along with the fact that all of these camps have continued to have been supplied with food and munitions throughout the duration of the rainy season, may well indicate that we are witnessing the preparations for an all-out offensive against the Karen of a magnitude that has not been conducted in many years.
|Villagers fleeing Toungoo District for the Burma-Thai border in August 2006. The continued SPDC Army patrols and attacks on civilian villages throughout the rainy season meant that few villagers would be able to harvest their crops in November-December. Realising this, these villagers abandoned their crops and their homes and took their chances in heading for Thailand, where they hoped to be accepted as refugees. [Photo: KHRG]|
KHRG field researchers and KNU sources  have reported repeated incidents where SPDC Army units have forced villagers to construct new army camps and porter supplies to these and existing camps. Many of these camps are now fully stocked. On May 13 th 2006, soldiers from Infantry Battalion (IB) #53 (Major Thein Naing Htun commanding) ordered over 120 villagers from Zee Pyu Gone and Taw Gone villages to construct a new army camp near Shan See Boh. This order was later reissued to Zee Pyu Gone on May 19th, demanding a further 61 villagers to work on the construction. Also on May 13 th 2006, villagers from Kaw Thay Der village were ordered to porter rations to Koo Ler Der for Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) #108. Captain Min Zaw of LIB #5 then ordered the villagers of Kaw Thay Der on May 20th to build a new army camp in their village. The same day, commander Khin Zaw of LID #66 ordered 350 villagers from ten villages in the Kler Lah vicinity to porter 200 sacks of rice to the SPDC Army camp at Naw Soh. Seven more villagers from Kaw Thay Der were ordered to porter supplies to Naw Soh by LIB #5 on May 24th. On May 25th, six truck owners had their vehicles commandeered by Tactical Operations Command (TOC) #663 (under LID #66) and were ordered to make two trips between Kler Lah and Kaw Thay Der per day to transport rations from the former camp to the latter. Major Ko Ko Kyi, commanding officer of TOC #2 of MOC #16, ordered 72 villagers to porter supplies to the SPDC Army camp located at Tain Bpu on June 6th 2006. On June 7th, ten bullock cart owners from four different villages were ordered to carry military supplies and rations from Shan See Boh to the new camp at Htee Loh. Saw Htway, commanding officer of TOC #661 (under LID #66), forced 17 villagers from Ler Ghee Koh to carry rations for the military on June 12 th and 13 th. Also on June 13 th 2006, IB #25 ordered a number of villagers from Htee Poo Der village to porter ammunition for them. More recently, on September 20th 2006, Captain Kyaw Htun Win of LIB #439 ordered ten villagers from K'Hser Doh village to porter rice to the SPDC Army camp at Htee Loh. According to one KHRG field researcher, these soldiers have been ordering nearby villages to porter supplies as regularly as three or four times a month. The following day, on September 21st, 59 villagers from Play Hsa Loh were ordered by soldiers under MOC #15 to carry rations from Tha Pyay Nyunt to Play Hsa Loh. This trip took the villagers three days to complete. Then, from September 28th until October 2nd 2006, IB #240 and LIB #567 under TOC #2 of MOC #16 ordered 104 villagers from Taw Thoo Klah village to carry an unspecified number of loads from Tantabin town to Taw Thoo Klah. On October 4th, Saw Win, commanding officer of LIB #5, forced 20 villagers from Ler Ghee Koh (12 of whom were women) and 20 villagers from Ker Weh to porter rations from Than Daung Gyi to Ker Weh. The Free Burma Rangers has also been reporting on this pattern of re-supply:
"The Burma Army is re-supplying its camps and front line troops at an unusually high rate. There has been no letup of re-supply in the rains. ... This extraordinary re-supply effort in the rainy season demonstrates a very high level priority on this offensive. All the field commanders involved, from the MOC level and up have been to regular meeting[s] with the Burma Army supreme command throughout this offensive". 
Presumably in an attempt to deflect international condemnation of their continued use of forced labour, the SPDC has been increasingly relying on convict labour to porter loads for the military in frontline areas. According to a KHRG field researcher, on October 5th 2006, 500 convict porters were brought to the Bawgali Gyi army camp at Kler Lah. The following day they were sent on to SPDC Army camps at Kaw Thay Der, Naw Soh and Bu Sah Kee where they would be immediately available to active columns. Two days later on October 7th, another 100 convicts arrived at Kler Lah before also being sent on to Bu Sah Kee. KHRG was told that shortly afterwards 12 villages in the Kler Lah vicinity were ordered to pay 20,000 kyat per month for the salaries of each of the 600 convict porters, amounting to a total of 12 million kyat, or presuming the amount is divided equally between the 12 villages, one million kyat from each village per month. The villages said to have been issued this order include: Kler Lah, Kaw Soh Koh, Ler Koh, Wa Thoh Koh, Klay Soh Kee, Kaw Thay Der, Koo Plaw Der, Peh Kaw Der, Maw Koh Der, Der Doh, and Gha Moo Der villages. Convict porters, however, are never paid salaries by the SPDC and it is unlikely that any fraction of this money, if the villagers are able to produce it (which in itself seems highly improbable), will ever be given to the convict porters. Some unconfirmed reports have stated that as many as 40 of these convict porters have been killed by the SPDC Army soldiers they were portering for after becoming to weak too continue to carry their loads.
The general feeling among many Karen and numerous independent analysts is that the situation in Toungoo District and in neighbouring Nyaunglebin and Papun districts is soon to rapidly deteriorate now that the rains have all but stopped and the soldiers will soon intensify their attacks. The proliferation of many new army camps, their uninterrupted re-supply, the continued SPDC Army patrols and attacks on villages throughout the rainy season, the recent arrival of several hundred convict porters, and the existence of so many soldiers in the district indicate an imminent and acute increase in military activity in the region. Many villagers fear that the SPDC is preparing to move to wipe them out.
"The SPDC plans to clear the area around our village. We live in fear. Sometimes I can't sleep because of my fear. The SPDC plans to clear the area around our village of both the KNU soldiers and the villagers."
- Naw S--- (F, 68). K--- village, Tantabin township (April 2006)
"The SPDC said that they would not leave any seed of the Karen people; that they would kill them all. They also said that it would not be easy for women and girls either. Both men and women have to be very careful about it. Whenever they were going to leave the village, they first had to know whether the SPDC were patrolling or not."
- Saw N--- (M, 36). Refugee, P--- village, Than Daung township (April 2006)
"SPDC LID #66 said that they would not allow there to be any more generations of the Karen people. They said that they would kill us all; that they would kill both men and women: If women, they would rape them first and then kill them. If men, they said they would shoot them as they were running away, and if they could capture them, they would torture them before killing them."
- Saw P--- (M, 40). IDP, P--- village, Than Daung township (April 2006)
This increased militarization equates to a commensurate increase in human rights violations not only for the internally displaced, but also for villagers in SPDC-controlled villages and relocation sites. In addition to ordering the villagers to build new army camps and keep them stocked with supplies, the soldiers demand that the villagers also provide other forms of forced labour. Villages continue to be regularly ordered to provide villagers to serve as set tha ('messengers'), running errands for the soldiers and delivering written order documents to villages. Villages must also continue to supply the military with building materials such as bamboo, timber and roofing thatch. Extortion and looting also continue unabated. SPDC Army soldiers continue not only to issue regular written demands for food and money to villages, but also to make ad hoc demands whenever they encounter villagers, whether in a village, in the fields, or on a trail.
"The LID #66 soldiers who are operating in Daw Pa Koh [Than Daung] township have been entering villages and looting the villagers' chickens, ducks, dogs and cats to eat. They also demand fishpaste, salt, chillies and MSG [monosodium glutamate], and they cut bamboo shoots every day. They harass and threaten the villagers so they cannot live in peace. They are dong this in both Taw Ta Too [Tantabin] and Daw Pa Koh townships. They are buying things from the village shops but they do not pay the cost."
- a KHRG field researcher (Aug 2006)
|This truck, belonging to a villager living in Tantabin township was commandeered by soldiers from LID #66 to transport their supplies in late April 2006. This truck, and many others like it, was ordered to transport rice and other supplies for the military from the Bawgali Gyi army camp in Kler Lah to the Maw Ni Dtine Gyi army camp adjacent to Naw Soh. The owners are never paid for this, nor are they compensated for any damage done to their vehicles as a result. [Photo: KHRG]|
The ever-increasing militarization of the district has also had far-reaching effects on villagers' ability to access medical care. Few facilities exist in the Toungoo District where villagers may seek and receive medical attention, and those few that do suffer from a drastic shortage of medicine. The gross lack of supply has driven prices up so that now even the most basic of medicines are beyond the financial means of the majority of villagers who have been impoverished by the oppressive policies of the SPDC. According to a KHRG field researcher, routine treatments at the clinic in Kler Lah for fever or malaria will run up a bill of "at least 50,000 kyat". Most villagers do not have this sort of money on hand and so must use traditional herbal medicines to treat their illnesses, which, while of use in treating some ailments, are ineffective at treating many of the illnesses from which the villagers suffer. Independent Karen relief organisations and KNLA medics to whom many villagers turn for help are largely unable to gain access to many villages in heavily SPDC-controlled areas to distribute medical care to those in need. Continued military expansionism across Toungoo District has meant that the number of villages these groups are able to access is shrinking. Exacerbating this problem is that the SPDC has prohibited villagers from possessing medicine for fear that they may give it to the armed resistance; an absurd assumption in the face of villagers dying from easily preventable and readily treatable diseases such as diarrhoea, influenza and malaria. SPDC Army units stationed in the district very rarely provide any medical attention to villagers in areas under their control. Ultimately, in the absence of outside assistance, most villagers are therefore left to fend for themselves and look after one another.
"We don't have a clinic in our village. When the villagers got sick, we looked after each other as best we could. We bought medicines and treated the patients ourselves. If we couldn't treat them there was no other way for them to get any help."
- Saw P--- (M, 47). Refugee, P--- village, Than Daung township (April 2006)
"If the villagers get ill we must search for the roots and make herbal medicine for them. Some of the villagers have died because we didn't have [any medicine] and couldn't find any medicine to treat them."
- Saw N--- (M, 40). L--- village, Than Daung township (April 2006)
|Top of report | Table of Contents | Notes on the text | Terms and Abbreviations | Introduction | Military expansionism | Forced relocation | Movement restrictions and food security | Internal displacement | Landmines | Conclusion|
 See KNU press releases #20/2006 through 25/2006, all of which were released between August 28th and 30th 2006.
|All images and reports © Karen Human Rights Group||Top|