Nyaunglebin Interview: Saw My---, 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 Saw My---, a 45 year-old farmer who described his experiences when he was forced to leave his village in a mixed-administration area and live for two years in a neighbouring village, including specific incidents in which Tatmadaw soldiers fired small arms at children in school uniforms, forced women to serve as human shields for Tatmadaw columns during patrols, and ordered villagers at gunpoint to leave their homes and possessions during the rainy season. He further cited the following abuses: movement restrictions; forced labour; and arbitrary taxation and demands. Saw My--- also highlighted the difficulties his village currently faces accessing health care and education, but explained that villagers counter these difficulties by using traditional medicine and by hiring and supporting local teachers.
Interview | Saw My--- (male, 45), Ta--- 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.
Can you tell us about the situation in your village?
The village situation and the villagers' suffering happened because fighting took place in T--- and Ky--- villages. An SPDC [Tatmadaw] officer told us that he loves his people, and the Karen people aren't his people. He also said: 'Your Karen people gku [a Karen term which approximates to 'plotted against' or 'conspired to kill'] us two or three times.' In the past, there were several [incidents of] fighting near the upper village and it seemed to him like we knew the people [the KNLA] who were attacking them. Actually, we knew nothing. He blamed us. As he saw it, we knew.
The fighting happened and there was shelling and shooting in the village, and it hit a woman. Villagers didn't dare to stay in village, because they [the Tatmadaw] shelled and shot in the village. They shot at people when they saw them. We ran away because we didn't dare to stay in the village. We ran and they followed us. One day, there was fighting and a child [a young man], who was harvesting grass for his cows, didn't know that there would be fighting. They [the Tatmadaw] said that young guy knew that there was going to be fighting and that he had not informed them. He said he didn't know there was going to be fighting: 'If I had known, I wouldn't harvest the grass there.' But they [the Tatmadaw] said that he had known. That guy was Karen, so they blamed him.
The next morning after the fighting, they came to our village. They called the village head [to their camp] and they tied him up and beat him. He [a Tatmadaw soldier] said the village head gku [plotted against or conspired to kill them] in a clever way. They [the Tatmadaw] didn't dare to come to the village. They called the village head to come to them, and they arrested him and beat him. Because of the fighting, the villagers had to move [relocate]. Villagers came back and stayed in the village sometimes [after relocating] but they could only stay temporarily. They [the Tatmadaw] also patrolled, and forced the young people to walk in front. The Tatmadaw soldiers pointed at them with guns [while they walked]. Just the women went. There were no men because the men were afraid, and they all fled. The Tatmadaw soldiers forced the women to walk in front, and they pointed at them with their guns because they [the soldiers] didn't dare to go in front [walk first]. So they took cover behind the children and the women. After they went and cleaned the place [patrolled], they came back [to the village] and saw students who were going to school. They shot at them. I thought the fighting would happen again. We didn't dare to stay in the village. Later, people said they shot at the students. The students wear white and green school uniforms in Burma. They all got dirty. Their rice was overturned, but no one was hit.
How many households are there in your village?
There were [number censored for security] households in my village before we were forced to move. Now, there are just about [number censored for security] households, maybe about [number censored for security] households.
Do you know the village population?
The total number of villagers is [number censored for security] women and [number censored for security] men living in the village. This is the number after we came back [since being relocated]. Before we were forced to move, there were over [number censored for security] villagers, including men and women.
Do you face any hardship when you live in your village?
There are no problems. We work one day and eat one day. We just do things like this. Villagers can buy a sack of rice when the support groups come and give support there. For the rest of the money, villagers buy other things that they needed for their houses. So, the villagers' food situation is a little bit better.
Which support groups come?
People who supported us were from the Karen National Union (KNU). I don't know the organisations' names.
Do you experience SPDC Army [Tatmadaw] abuse when you live in your village?
There's nothing so serious that we can't suffer it. But they [the Tatmadaw] do discriminate against Karen people. [When] He [the Tatmadaw officer] said he loves his people and doesn't love Karen people, we didn't dare to say anything back. We just had to be silent.
Are villagers forced to do work, such as portering, for the Burmese Army [Tatmadaw]?
Yes. We have to go and do things like build their camps. We have to go when they call us. If they order us to bring them two pieces of bamboo, ten small logs and ten shingles of thatches, we have to go and do as they order.
Did the villagers have to go stay in a relocation site?
They didn't tell us the place where we had to stay when they made us move. We had to go and stay at people's houses, like under their huts.
Do you remember the date when you were forced [to move]?
I don't remember, but I think that guy [indicating another villager] will know because he was the village head at the time. I think he'll know about this, and answer you when he's asked.
Why did they force villagers to move?
They [the Tatmadaw] saw us like this: sometimes, we didn't send them messages when the KNU Army [KNLA] came. They said that we kept secrets from them. So they didn't want to be friends with us. They said: 'They [the KNLA] are your people, your relatives.' We couldn't respond when they talked to us like this.
Did all the villagers move when they were forced to leave?
If you didn't move, they'd come and guard you with guns in the village. They stayed in our village. We had to go and sleep at the [new] places where we were going to stay, even if we hadn't been able to take all of our belongings [yet]. We didn't dare to sleep in the village; they [Tatmadaw soldiers] slept in the village. We had to come back and take our things in the morning. At first, we didn't move and just stayed in the village. But they came to our village with guns and they forced us. They asked us whether we were going to move or not. We said we were going to move. Then we moved.
Did all the villagers move to the same place?
We went and stayed with people we knew, like relatives or friends, because they didn't tell us exactly where we had to stay.
Was just your village forced to move or were others villages forced to move as well?
All of the villages had to move at that time. All of the villages in Ler Doh Township.
How many years did you have to go and stay at another village?
It took more than two years [before we could return].
What did you do [for work] when you stayed at the other village?
We farmed. We came back to our farms during the day. We went back and slept [in the other village] at night time. They [the Tatmadaw] didn't allow us to stay and sleep at our farms. They only allowed us to go back and work during the day time. We can go to our farms at 6:00 am and have to come back before 6:00 pm.
Do you have to get a travel permission document [to travel]?
We have to get travel permission documents, but we can get them from our village head.
Do you have to get a new travel permission document each day?
If they give us [the document] once a week, we get it once a week. After one week, we go back and change [renew] it. We can't stay and sleep [at our farms]. They [the Tatmadaw] will give you trouble if they see you.
Do you have to pay money when you go and get a travel document?
We don't need to pay, because we get it from our village head. We have to pay if we went and get it from them [the Tatmadaw]. Even though we don't need to pay money to our village head, we have to pay them [the Tatmadaw] if they sent an order letter. If they demand 1,500 kyat (US $ 1.94), we have to pay 1,500 kyat, and if they demand 3,000 kyat (US $ 3.87), we have to pay 3,000 kyat.
Do you know which army units are active in your area?
At that time [when we had to move], it was #439. They were an IB [Infantry Battalion]. They were based near Mone. They were just a battalion. Their battalion headquarters were close to Mone.
What's the [villagers'] relationship with the different battalions?
There's no difference, because they're from the same battalion [they are all Tatmadaw soldiers] and they all do what they're ordered to do. The first officer came [to issue a relocation order] and it was the rainy season. It wasn't easy for us to travel. We told him that, and he listened to us. But he was removed [rotated to another location] directly. Another one [officer] came and they told us to move at gunpoint. We knew it was the rainy season and it'd be difficult for us to move. Another thing was that [if] we had to move, we'd have to stay under people's huts; so it wasn't possible. But the last group [battalion] who came, [they] entered the village with their battalion commander and we didn't dare to stay anymore.
Did they bring a letter from their commanders, or did they just come with soldiers and give an oral order?
They didn't send a letter. They gave an oral order. When they gave us a letter, we didn't move. We stayed in the village. But we didn't dare to stay any more when they came and guarded us with guns in the village. They asked us whether we were going to move or not. We didn't dare to stay anymore and we moved. We moved to a Burmese village, Ky---, east of our village. We moved there because they didn't tell us where we had to move.
How many village tracts moved to Htaik Htoo?
There are three village tracts that had to move to Htaik Htoo. Some villagers from H--- [village tract] went to Htaik Htoo. For our village tract, they just forced us to move separately, and let us go where we wanted to go. Some people whose relatives lived near them went and stayed with their relatives. They [the Tatmadaw] didn't us [to go to] a place like Htaik Htoo.
How often does the army rotate in a year?
Sometimes, they rotate once every four months. [Battalions] #60, #351, #599 and #590 all stay in our area. They are like the mee kin tat [literally 'mother army', likely implying that these battalions are permanently stationed in the area, and do not rotate to other districts].
Are they IBs [Infantry Battalions] or LIBs [Light Infantry Battalions]?
They're IBs. Most of them are IBs. There's one LIB: #351. For IBs, there are #60 and #73. They came and arrived [rotated in] to Kyauk Kyi [Ler Doh Township].
What MOC [Military Operation Command] are they from?
The MOC never arrived [rotated in] before, but they arrived this year. They stay for a long time when they arrive [rotate in].
Is the [villagers'] relationship with the guest army [temporarily-stationed Tatmadaw soldiers] and the local army [permanently-stationed soldiers] different?
The guest army is a little more evil. The local army aren't sharp when they give orders. It isn't good to hear what the outside soldiers say to us. They say things like 'Your people' and he [a Tatmadaw officer] said: 'I love my people.' He doesn't love his people [but] we couldn't say anything back to him. We just had to look at his face.
How is the situation different between your [original] village and in the other village [Ky---]?
It's different. We're happy in our village. We had to listen to other people when we went and stayed in the other village. We can travel freely when there's support [security] from the KNU [KNLA] when we stay in our village. We had to travel secretly when we went and stayed in the other village. We had to inform them [Tatmadaw authorities] where we were going and what we were going to do. Sometimes it [work] takes two, three or four days. We had to lie to them.
Does the KNU [KNLA] give trouble to the villagers?
No. They come and say they want to support villagers, but they can't support them. They don't cause trouble. They're friendly when we go to them but we have to be careful because we worry that people will know [that villagers met with the KNU/KNLA]. They're good. But we don't dare to report [about the KNU/KNLA] to the SPDC Army [Tatmadaw]. We have to keep it secret.
Was there a clinic in the village [Ky---] where you had to move?
No, there wasn't a clinic.
Where did you go when you got sick?
We went to Ler Doh when we got sick. It was very far.
How long does it take to get to Ler Doh?
Ler Doh is about [distance censored for security] miles away. But we can say it isn't the same as our village. In our village, we're close with organisations [providing health and other support] and we have an uncle [village elder]. Before, he [the elder] used to work with the KNU, but now he just stays in the village. He knows about medicine. When we get sick, we go to him and he writes down the name of a medicine for us. We go and buy the medicine and he treats us. This became a problem. Later, the government came and stationed a medic in the village.
What do you do now when villagers get sick and can't get treatment in your village?
When they get sick and can't get treatment in the village, we carry them to Ler Doh.
Does the army give you trouble when you go to Ler Doh with a sick villager?
No, they don't. Whether it's night-time or daytime, they don't interrupt villagers if it's a health issue. They let them go. They don't ask questions when we tell them a patient is travelling with us.
What about carrying medicine in and out [of the village]?
We can't do that. If you carry medicine, you have to carry it secretly. We can't carry it publicly.
What if you carry the medicine back yourself?
They don't like that. Definitely, you can't carry it [yourself]. If you carry it, you have to carry it secretly.
Why don't they allow you to bring medicine?
I don't know how they see villagers and why they don't allow us to carry medicine. Maybe they think we're bringing it back for the KNLA. I thought of this because the KNLA lives in the jungle and doesn't have medicine. They [the Tatmadaw] will think about this. That's my opinion.
Is your village close to an army camp?
No. They're separated by about three miles. We live in the He--- [area] and the army camp is in Ka---. He--- and Ka--- are about three miles apart.
Do villagers go and ask for treatment at the army camp?
No. They don't go and ask for treatment.
Do their medical officers ever come to the village and give treatment to the villagers?
No, the medical officers stay in the army camp. We're far from the camp, so villages that are closer may receive treatment.
What kind of diseases do villagers usually face?
I know two people who were suffering from disease [tuberculosis] in two families, one person from each family. They had to take medicine for five or six months. They went to the hospital for a month. People [medics or doctors] gave them medicine there. There are one or two families like this.
What about other diseases?
There are no other diseases. We have fevers and other illnesses, which can be cured with tree roots [traditional medicine].
What about headaches, diarrhoea and other illnesses?
Sometimes they [medical officials] come to give treatment [for those illnesses].
Do they come and give you vaccines?
They give vaccines to pregnant women and children.
What kind of vaccines do they give?
I don't know what they are called.
An uncle [older male villager] said two villagers were killed. Do you know where this happened? Do you know their names?
There was an incident when a mine exploded close to their [the villagers'] sentry hut. That's the only case I know.
Is there a school in your village?
Yes, there's a school. The school goes up to Fourth Standard. After they graduate Fourth Standard, they [students] have to go and study in Ler Doh. If they don't go to Ler Doh, they have to go to Bo---. There is a middle school in Bo---.
Do the students come back and help teach in their villages after they graduate?
Not yet. They haven't come back yet. They will come back. They'll come back to teach for two years. We need to collect money to pay them a salary.
Was the school built by the government?
Yes. They provide enough support to the teacher, but the teachers don't come. They come when they want to come and they don't come when they don't want to come. For the school principal, mostly he or she doesn't come. For the teachers, when they do come they have to teach a lot of students. Sometimes he [one of the teachers] complains and says he can't take care of the children because there are many children. He doesn't dare to say that to the school principal, because he's under [subordinate to] the school principal. He's alone and there are many students. He can't take care of everything alone. He said he'll leave if one or two more teachers are not added. For the principal, sometimes he or she comes, and sometimes he or she doesn't come.
Don't villagers complain to the government?
You can't complain to the government about the principal or teachers, because it's their [the government's] staff. They organise something, and it's done [there is no more support]. We've complained many times. In our village, there are fewer teachers from the government. The teachers would rather teach in other villages.
Do villagers find another way to educate the students, without disruption?
There's one teacher we asked to help us with the students. She teaches middle school. So, if students have graduated four standards she can work with them. But, if students haven't graduated Fourth Standard, they'll go to another teacher. He teaches the students step by step. So, we need both of these teachers to help with the students.
Sometimes villagers gather and collect money or rice, and they find a teacher to come and teach in their village. Does your village do anything like this?
This kind of thing happened in the past. [The teacher said] her mother and father were old and she said she would help her village [by teaching]. So we supported her.
Has support from the border [from organisations operating cross-border from administrative offices in Thailand] ever arrived to your school?
Would you dare to come and take [accept] it, if there was support like school materials?
The paper isn't the same. The paper from there [Thailand] is good quality, but the paper quality here isn't good. They [the government] would know directly [that we had accepted outside support] if we brought it back.
We've asked you a lot, but is there anything else that you want to say?
There's nothing else special. For the books that you mentioned, we need them, but we don't dare to bring them, because they aren't the same [paper quality]. Something like clothes is different here and there. They know directly when you see that you wear clothes from there. When they ask, we have to say we bought them in Myawaddy.
 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.
 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 3rd 2011, this unofficial rate of exchange was US $1 = 775 kyat.
 For previous KHRG documentation of forced relocation in Ler Doh Township linked to LIB #439, see: "Forced Relocation, Restrictions, and Abuses in Nyaunglebin District," KHRG, July 2006.
 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.
 This incident was also mentioned by Saw L---, a 53-year-old villager from Ler Doh Township who was interviewed by a KHRG researcher in May 2011. Saw L--- said that the villagers in question were detained by Tatmadaw soldiers in August 2010 after a bomb was detonated near a hut where they were performing forced labour as sentries for the Tatmadaw, and that the men had 'disappeared since they were arrested.' See: "Nyaunglebin Interviews: May 2011," KHRG, June 2011.
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