Nyaunglebin Interview: Saw Th---, May 2011
This report contains the full transcript of an interview conducted by a KHRG researcher during May 2011 with a villager from Ler Doh Township, Nyaunglebin District. The researcher interviewed Saw Th---, a 37-year-old farmer and village elder, who described his experiences living in Tatmadaw-controlled relocation sites for over two years and in a village in a mixed-administration area, in which various Tatmadaw battalions and non-state armed groups operated. Saw Th--- described the following abuses: forced relocation; movement restrictions; taxation and demands; and forced labour including forced portering and camp maintenance. He said he believed that forced labour demands have decreased due to media attention on the issue. Saw Th--- also explained that villagers pursued agricultural livelihoods activities secretly while living in forced relocation sites, to lessen the impact of movement restrictions; and used herbal medicines because medical infrastructure and access to medical care were inadequate.
Interview | Saw Th--- (male, 37), Bo--- village, Ler Doh Township, Nyaunglebin District (May 2011)
The following interview was conducted by a KHRG researcher. It is presented below translated exactly as it was received, save for minor edits for clarity and security. This interview was received in May 2011 along with twelve other interviews with villagers from Nyaunglebin District.
What is the name of your old village?
In the area controlled by Na Wa Ta [SLORC], my old village was called So--- village.
How was the situation in your old village?
The SPDC Army [Tatmadaw] made us move to a relocation site, but that was 16 years ago.
How many households were in your old village?
There were over a hundred households in my old village [So--- village].
How many households are there in your new village [Bo--- village]?
There are [number censored for security] households.
How many villagers are there [in Bo--- village]?
There are over [number censored for security] hundred villagers.
What are the villagers' occupations?
The villagers ma hta nee aw hta nee [literally 'work one day, eat one day,' meaning that villagers work for daily wages which provides them with enough money to buy food for that day].
Whom do villagers work for when they do daily labour?
We work for Karen farm owners. They pay us at the end of each day. Some people who don't have money for food ask for loans from the farm owners. When they make enough money, they have to pay back the farm owners.
Do the villagers face food problems because they don't have enough food?
Yes, the villagers face many different problems because they don't have enough food.
Which villagers' rights have been violated by the SPDC Army [Tatmadaw]?
The abuses which occurred in the past are not the same as the abuses occurring today. Two or three months ago, the SPDC Army asked for food very often. They ordered villagers to bring them chicken and pigs. But, now it is getting better than before.
Did the DKBA have a base in your village [So--- village]?
Yes, the DKBA had a base in my village before [we were relocated].
Did the DKBA demand forced labour from the villagers?
Yes, the DKBA demanded forced labour from many villagers. The DKBA were worse than the SPDC Army. At first, we were happy when we heard the news that the Karen DKBA would be based in our village. We were so happy. But, when they came to our village they asked for food, tax money and for villagers to be porters. They did terrible things to the villagers and the villager leaders went to complain to the DKBA leaders. The village leaders went secretly to ask the DKBA leaders to move their soldiers from our village. If the soldiers knew that the villagers went to complain to their leaders, they would have killed the villagers. But, the villagers were able to get the soldiers out of the village.
When did you have to move to the relocation site?
We were moved to relocation sites from 1995 to 2005. We had to move to three different relocation sites. They forced us to move to three different places.
What are the names of the other relocation sites?
They were [in]: K--- village tract, L--- village tract, and G--- village tract. These three village tracts were where the SPDC Army forced villagers to relocate.
Who forced you to move to the relocation site?
The SPDC forced us to move to the relocation site. They didn't take us to the relocation site. We just had to follow the people who moved to the relocation site.
Why did they force you to move to the relocation site?
They said that we weren't supposed to share information with the KNLA. When they asked us about the KNLA, we didn't answer them and pretended to know nothing. So they said: 'If you don't tell us about the KNU, you'll have to move. Because your Karen people [the KNLA] come and do [commit] abuse, you'll have to move.'
Did they order you to move in person, or did they send an order letter?
They came to give us the orders in person. They didn't send an order letter.
When the SPDC Army came and forced you to move, what did the villagers do in response?
The villagers just prepared their things to move. Some of the villagers who had carts and oxen took their things in carts. But, the villagers who didn't have carts and oxen had to carry their things on their heads. We all had to help each other.
Did the villagers who didn't want to move to the relocation site go to hide in the jungle?
Yes, I think two or three families who didn't want to move to the relocation site fled to the jungle. The families who hid in the jungle had to hide well, because the SPDC Amy would have killed them all if they had seen them. The villagers who didn't want to go to the relocation site ran to the jungle and lived in the jungle.
Did the SPDC force other villages to move to the relocation site?
There were four village tracts at the relocation site in Ler Doh Township. But, if there were Burmese villages, the SPDC just passed them [allowed them to stay where they were]. They [the Tatmadaw] called a meeting at their base in the Na Thar Poe area. The SPDC Army threatened the villagers stating: 'If we hear that you welcome KNLA soldiers [into your villages], we'll kill all of you.' After a few days, something happened next to their army camp: a bomb exploded. They asked villagers to take responsibility for what had happened. If something happened beside our houses, we'd take responsibility, but this incident happened next to their army camp. Who should take responsibility for that? We talked about this with our villagers, but we didn't mention anything to them [the Tatmadaw]. If we had gone and asked them that [who should take responsibility], they had guns and they'd have killed us.
How many villages were forced to move to the relocation site?
Eight villages were forced to move to the relocation site: Bo---, Wo---, Ko---, Ha---, Gh---, Lw---, Kh---,,Ya---, Ta--- and Ma---.
What did they name the relocation site village?
They called it the su see [relocation] village.
Where are the relocation site villages located?
Some are located above Htaik Htoo village and some are located to the west of Htaik Htoo village. Villagers from our village tract were forced us to stay above the Htaik Htoo army camp.
How long did you live in the relocation site?
I lived in the first relocation, sites named Te--- and Ha--- for two years. But, we only lived in the new [last] relocation site [at Htaik Htoo] for a couple months. We sneaked back to our old village to farm when the soldiers weren't in their camp. If the soldiers came to check on us, we had to come back and stay in our relocation site, so they could keep an eye on us at all times.
How many people lived in the relocation site?
There were about 1,000 or 2,000 people in the relocation site. I guess if we look at households, there were about 300 to 400 households.
Was the DKBA based in the relocation site?
No, the DKBA wasn't based in the relocation site.
What were peoples' occupations at the relocation site [at Htaik Htoo]?
The people in the relocation site worked as day labourers.
What were the problems that people at the relocation sites faced the most?
The first step was that the SPDC Army restricted us; the second step [consequence] was that, because they restricted us, we didn't have a chance to work for our food.
Did they make the relocated people do forced labour?
Yes, they ask the relocated people to go and repair the army camp for them, but they don't force us to do the same labour they had in the past.
What is the [current] situation in the relocation site?
The situation in the relocation site is getting better now.
How do the villagers negotiate less forced labour?
There is less forced labour because the media [reports] about it in the news. The media news from above is helping us to reduce forced labour.
What's the most common disease [illness] that the relocated people face?
They face many different kinds of common diseases, like malaria. When people get sick and don't have enough medicine, we have to take patients to Ler Doh Town clinic.
Do they have a clinic in the relocation site?
No, they don't have one.
If there's no clinic, how do the relocated people receive treatment when they get sick?
We have to use herbal medicine, like thay hih wa sher [a general term for the use of tree roots and bamboo to cure diseases]. Some Burmese people sell us medicine, and we can use it to get better. But if we don't get better, we have to go to Ler Doh clinic.
How long does it take to get to Ler Doh Town?
If we walk, it takes us three hours. If we take a bicycle or motorbike, it takes only half an hour.
How much does the clinic cost?
It depends on the disease. If you're only a little sick, it isn't expensive. But, if you are very sick you'll have to go to a big hospital and pay a lot of money.
Did they have a school at the relocation site?
Yes, they had only four standards in the school at my old relocation site, but outside the relocation site they have eight standards.
What languages did they teach?
They taught in Burmese, because most of the people there speak Burmese.
Did they teach the Karen language?
They don't teach the Karen language, because the Karen language is not used much [in the relocation site].
Who set up the school?
The SPDC set up the school in the old relocation site villages [at Te--- and Ha---]. But, we were only at this new relocation site [at Htaik Htoo] temporarily, so we didn't have a school.
Do you have anything else you want to speak about which we haven't asked you yet?
I wanted to mention something. In the time when the DKBA and Baw Bi Doh [literally, 'short pants'] were in control, the Baw Bi Doh soldiers came and killed one of the villagers. They killed a boy, and left his sisters. His sisters were still young: they were only 20 years old. One of the Baw Bi Doh soldiers ordered her [one of the sisters] to come over to him. The Baw Bi Doh soldier was so drunk and holding a knife. When the girl saw him, she knew this soldier would rape her, or do something to her. She jumped off her house onto the ground and ran away, and they never found her.
 When conducting interviews, KHRG researchers use loose question guidelines, but also to encourage interviewees to speak freely about recent events, raise issues that they consider to be important and share their opinions or perspectives on abuse and other local dynamics.
 When these interviews have been processed and translated by KHRG and when sufficient information has been compiled and analysed, a full Field Report on the situation in Nyaunglebin District will be available on the KHRG website. Until then, KHRG's most recent analysis of the situation in Nyaunglebin District can be found in the recent Field Report, "Livelihood consequences of SPDC restrictions and patrols in Nyaunglebin District," KHRG, September 2009.
 The State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) was officially renamed the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) on November 15th 1997. In Karen, the Burmese phrases Na Wa Ta (SLORC) and Na Ah Pa (SPDC) are commonly used to refer to the Burmese government or to Burma's state army, the Tatmadaw. Many older Karen villagers who were accustomed to using the phrase Na Wa Ta (SLORC) before 1997 continue to use that phrase, even though the SLORC has not officially existed since 1997. Similarly, despite the official dissolution of the SPDC in March 2011, many Karen villagers continue to use the phrase Na Ah Pa (SPDC) to refer to the Burmese government or to the Tatmadaw.
 'Su see' is a Burmese term meaning 'to gather' or 'to collect'. The term 'su see ywa' is often used by villagers to refer to a village designated as a relocation site.
 Baw Bi Doh ('short pants') is a term used by villagers to refer to the Sa Thon Lon Dam Byan Pyauk Kya (Bureau of Special Investigations Guerrilla Retaliation Units) that were first reported to be active in Nyaunglebin District in 1998. KHRG has previously reported that these units operated independently of other regular Tatmadaw battalions deployed to eastern Burma, and were tasked with carrying extrajudicial executions of individuals they suspected of having links with the KNU/KNLA; they were notorious among civilians in northern Karen areas for their brutality. For detailed background on these units, see: "Death Squads and Displacement: Systematic Executions, Village Destruction, and the Flight of Villagers in Nyaunglebin District," KHRG, May 1998.
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