Nyaunglebin Interview: Naw Ka---, May 2011
This report contains the full transcript of an interview conducted by a KHRG researcher in May 2011 with a villager from Ler Doh Township, Nyaunglebin District. The researcher interviewed Naw Ka---, a 50-year-old villager who described the situation prior to and after her community was forcibly relocated by the Tatmadaw in 2007. Naw Ka--- cited the following human rights abuses in her testimony: forced labour, including sentry duty and portering; arrest and detention, including physical violence against detained villagers; forced relocation; and movement restrictions. The interviewee also described the humanitarian challenges people in her community have faced, including serious constraints on access to adequate education for children, healthcare, and food. In order improve their humanitarian situation, Naw Ka--- explained how residents of her village decided to return to their homes in 2010 without formal permission from the Tatmadaw, despite villagers' fears that this action entailed serious risks to their physical security.
Interview | Naw Ka--- (female, 50), Me--- 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.
How many people are in your family?
There are 21 people in my family. I have seven children. My daughter is married and has one child. I have a son in law.
Do you stay together?
Yes, we stay together but my son works on the Thai border at Mw---. And, two are working with organisations. One is working with a medical group, and the other is working for KORD [the Karen Office of Relief and Development] in the IDP areas.
Can you tell me about the situation in your old [original] village?
Before, I lived in Za--- village. We had to do sentry duty and go to work for the army [Tatmadaw]. We couldn't [do our own] work well. My father died and my mother asked me to come back and stay with her. On April 29th 1999, I came back to stay with my mother. I was ordered to work by the army [Tatmadaw], the DKBA and the Pyauk Kya. We had to face this. We had to carry [porter] rice up the mountain; we had to hire someone [to porter for us] when we were afraid to go. We just got income from [our] farms [but] we had to hire people [to porter]. We had little income, but we had to hire people. We faced difficulties like [access to] food and education for our children. We faced those problems.
There was fighting in our village in 2006. Before the fighting, there was a worship ceremony [scheduled] and it was supposed to be in February. The SPDC Army [Tatmadaw] said we had to take responsibility that there would be no fighting during this worship ceremony. They'd do something to us [punish us] if any fighting occurred. So we had to sign [guarantee] that the KNU [KNLA] soldiers wouldn't come and do [anything] near us [during the worship ceremony]. We signed, and on February 22nd, 2006, some fighting happened. The fighting happened and the SPDC [Tatmadaw] leaders called the village elders to a meeting. They called the village elders, and beat them. They arrested them and they arrested a pastor. The pastor was [also] beaten, and he almost died. But, gkaw koh kaw nah ['the top leaders', in this case referring to senior religious leaders] came and one was a medic who worked for the government. She went to talk to the battalion commander, but the officer at the front wouldn't let her meet with the battalion commander. But, she asked for [and obtained] permission and went to talk [to the battalion commander]. If she hadn't [met the battalion commander] they'd have killed our pastor. The gkaw koh kaw nah came and gave a guarantee for him. He had already been questioned [interrogated] and they [Tatmadaw soldiers] had punched him each time he was asked a question.
On March 6th 2007, fighting occurred [again] on the mountain to the east, far away from our village. They [Tatmadaw soldiers] said our village communicated with and fed the KNU [the KNLA], and the KNU became strong, and many government soldiers were killed. So, they ordered our village to move on March 6th, 2007. We had to move everything in less than two days. People who didn't have carts had to carry things on their own. Some people asked the other villages to come help us. We felt shy [uncomfortable] when we had to ask for help from other villages. We had to move, but we weren't given a place to stay. We had to go and stay with people we knew, or on other people's land. We faced water problems [shortages]. To come back and work at our village, we had to walk for one hour.
We stayed for years and years [outside the original village]. They [the Tatmadaw] didn't allow us to come back. We had to travel for our work. Children couldn't go to school because we had to move. For health, there was no health worker. We had to pay 2,000 to 2,500 kyat (US $2.58 to $3.23) when we went to have injections. So, we came back [to the village] family by family. We came back in Mach 2010. We came back even though we weren't allowed to by the military government. We did this with an understanding: we came back family by family, gathered with an understanding that nothing could happen [fighting or other incidents]. [We knew] if something happened, our village would be moved again. But, the villagers decided that we wouldn't move any more. We decided that we will face [whatever happens] bravely. If fighting happens and they kill us, they'll have to kill us all. That's our decision. To work now, we have to get a written permission letter if we want to go and do our work. For one permission letter, we have to pay 3,000 kyat (US $3.87). You have no right to go and sleep [outside the village] if you don't get a written permission letter. We [also] have to get a written permission letter when we go to the jungle. We have to do this.
How many households are in your village?
There were [number censored for security] houses before we moved. When we had to move, some people went to stay at other villages, and others went to Ben Gklaw [Mae La refugee camp, in Thailand]. There are many people from 3rd Brigade [Nyaunglebin District] which stay there. The situation [in the village] wasn't going well, and we couldn't stay because some of us working with organisations [likely referring to the KNU]. We had to move [from place to place], so we couldn't work. You had to sell things that you owned [to survive], year after year. After they [some families] had sold everything, they couldn't do anything more [to survive], so they fled to Ben Gklaw. In the beginning, there were [number censored for security] houses in our village, but just [number censored for security] houses are left.
Do you know the number [population] of villagers in the village?
Now, there are [number censored for security]. In the past there were [numbers censored for security] villagers, but many people left the village.
Do the villagers face any problems with their work like flooding, or fields which were destroyed by animals?
We can't do [work] well if there's flooding, and we do face this kind of situation.
What about human rights abuses? Has the SPDC Army [Tatmadaw] committed human rights abuses against the villagers, like burning their paddy grain?
In 1974, the government army [Tatmadaw] didn't burn down our village. They just demanded forced labour. We had to go and do sentry duty all the time, and do loh ah pay. We had to hire people [to replace us] if we were afraid to go.
How much did you have to pay the people you hired?
We had to hire them for 7,000 kyat (US $9.03).
How many armed groups are active in your village?
It's not only the government army [Tatmadaw]. In 1999, we were [living] in fear and no one would dare be a village head. So, we had to organise [a system], and we had to have two village heads each month. There was the government army [Tatmadaw], the Pyauk Kya and the DKBA: we had to live under these three groups.
What is the 'Pyauk Kya' group?
People called them 'Pyauk Kya'. Their responsibility was to kill people who communicated with the KNU, and especially people who were popular [prominent individuals suspected of links to the KNU]. [For example] now, if they knew what we're doing [participating in a human rights interview], they'd kill us. They just went around and killed people.
How many years did you have to stay at other villages?
We went and stayed there for three years.
Did you have to come back and work at your village?
Yes, we went to stay in another village, but we had to come back and work in our village. We had to walk very far; it took one to two hours' walk. It caused big problems for us, so now we've decided that, no matter what, we'll come back and stay in our village. We'll die if they [want to] kill us. People looked down on us when we went and stayed in the other village. So now we've come back to stay in our own village.
Do you remember the date when you were forced to move?
As I told you, we started moving on March 6th 2007.
Did the government army [Tatmadaw] order you to work for them when you went and stayed there?
Yes, we had to [work]. Currently, a LID [Light Infantry Division] has come from Yay Th'Cho. People call it an MOC [Military Operation Command]. They're transporting [rations or military equipment] from Shwegyin Town to N--- [village tract] by trucks. They will use humans to transport things from [Gw---, in N--- village tract] into the mountains. If they send 100 bags to Gw--- village, then N--- villagers have to go and to carry all the bags. If the villagers don't finish [portering], they can't come back to their villages.
How long does it take to do the work [portering] for them?
When you go, the trip takes a whole day. You have to go to work each time they ask; we don't just have to go once a month [labour is demanded as needed, not according to a fixed schedule]. They call you when they need you. There's no time limit.
So, only the government army [Tatmadaw] orders you to do forced labour?
Yes, the village head tells the villagers the orders from [issued by] the army. The army sends an order letter with a signature and a date. We have to go on that date. The village head is scolded if we don't go.
Did all the villagers go when they were forced to move [relocate]?
Yes, they all had to leave the village. They [Tatmadaw] said they'd come and burn down our village if we didn't move within two days.
But not all of them [the villagers who moved] came back?
No, some people stayed in other villages and others moved to refugee camps. They moved to wherever they could move.
What did you do when you went and stayed in another village?
We couldn't do anything. We sold the things that we owned like cows, pigs and goats. Little by little, more was gone each year. We were left with nothing.
Did the SPDC Army [Tatmadaw] demand more or less forced labour in the place you were relocated, compared to the situation in your [original] village?
You mean you had to do more forced labour for the SPDC when you lived in your [original] village than in the relocation site?
It was the same. There was no difference. We still had to do the same things as in our village, even we moved to another village.
Do you go and discuss with them [the Tatmadaw] when you aren't free to go and work for them?
They don't want a pot with a hole; they want the pot full of water. Sometimes village heads go and discuss with them, but they [Tatmadaw soldiers] say they don't need a pot with a hole. They just want a pot full of water. Even if there aren't enough people [available to work], you have to go as they demand. You have to work until you've done all their work.
Is there a clinic in your village?
Currently, there's no clinic. Before we had to move, the government came and set up a clinic and sent a medic. Now she's gone to stay in Lo--- [village]. But, now she wants to return [here]. So, we collected 10,000 kyat (US $12.90) from each household to build a house for her. However, it isn't finished yet because we don't have enough money.
Did the government come and set up the clinic, in the past?
No, the villagers had to stand up and built it themselves. The government sent the medic for us.
Did the government provide her with medicine?
No, the government didn't provide her with medicine. Even though they sent us a medic, we have to pay when we go and receive treatment: [we have to pay] 1,500 kyat (US $1.94) or 2,500 kyat (US $3.23) for one injection.
Was there a clinic in the villages where you [villagers] were forced to relocate?
No, there was no clinic. If people were sick, they had to go to the village where there was a medical officer placed by the government.
How far did you have to go?
Not far. It was [near] the place where we [our household] were forced to move. It took five or eight minutes to get there.
Was there a school?
Yes, there was a middle school which went up to Fourth Standard.
Where did students go after they graduated?
They went to N--- village tract. In the past, the government gave us a school which went up to Eighth Standard. Because of the fighting we had to move, so N--- village tract took our school. First they asked to use it temporarily, but now they've upgraded it to a high school. Meanwhile, our school is still only four standards.
Does the government provide teachers?
Yes. The government gives us full-time teachers.
Did the government come and build the school?
Yes, they came and built the school.
Do you have anything else that you want to say?
You've come and asked us about the labour that we've had to do for the government army [Tatmadaw]. We want you to report it, in order to decrease it, but don't show our names. [We want] you to report it and help us decrease forced labour.
 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.
 Pyauk Kya ('guerrilla'), is one of the terms 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.
 All conversion estimates for the kyat in this bulletin are based on the fluctuating informal exchange rate rather than the government's official fixed rate of 6.5 kyat to US $1. As of August 2nd 2011, this unofficial rate of exchange was US $1 = 775 kyat.
 Loh ah pay; a Burmese term now commonly used in reference to forced labour, although traditionally referring to voluntary service for temples or the local community, not military or state projects.
 Military Operations Commands (MOCs) typically consists of ten battalions. Most MOCs have three Tactical Operations Commands (TOCs) of three battalions each. A Light Infantry Division (LID) also consists of ten battalions.
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