Toungoo Interview Transcript: Saw L---, December 2011
This report contains the full transcript of an interview conducted during December 2011 in Day Loh Muh village tract, Daw Pa Ko Township, Toungoo District by a villager trained by KHRG to monitor human rights conditions. The villager interviewed Saw L---, who described the destruction of Y--- villagers' cardamom and coffee fields in 2006 for the construction of a Tatmadaw camp. He also noted the forced portering of building materials and food rations, the forced construction of a food storage building, and demands for bamboo poles in the period between 2006 and 2007. Saw L--- described how in 2010 and 2011, villagers from Y--- and surrounding villages were forced by Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) #306 to clear vegetation from the road between Lay Loh Day village and the military camp. Saw L--- also talked about the torture of A--- village heads for failing to comply with orders for food from LIB #306. He also detailed an incident in which a villager, Saw P--- from B--- village, was killed by Tatmadaw soldiers. Other concerns noted include food shortages, exacerbated by the rising price of food; the cost of medical treatment; and the prohibition on the transportation of medicine. The absence of accessible education beyond grade four, and the omission of the Karen language from the Y--- village school curriculum were also raised.
Interview | Saw L---, (male, 48), Y--- village, Day Loh Muh village tract, Daw Pa Ko Township, Toungoo District (December 2011)
The following interview was conducted by a villager in Toungoo District and is presented below translated exactly as it was received, save for minor edits for clarity and security. This interview was received along with other information from Toungoo District, including four incident reports, five other interviews, one situation update, and 346 photographs.
Ethnicity: Bweh Karen
How do people address you?
People call me Saw L---.
How old are you?
What is your ethnicity?
What is your religion?
What is your job?
I work as a hill field farmer and do agricultural work.
What is the name of your village?
The name of my village is Y---.
Which village tract and township is Y--- village in?
Y--- is in Day Loh Muh village tract, Daw Pa Ko Township.
Do you have any family?
Yes, I have [family].
How old is your eldest child?
My eldest child is 18-years-old.
How about the youngest [child]?
The youngest [child] is eight-years-old.
How many children do you have?
I have five children.
What is your job in the village?
I don't have a specific job, but since we are villagers, we help each other when it is needed.
Can you explain your experiences as a villager living under the control of the SPDC Army [Tatmadaw], and your experiences being tortured by them?
We have been tortured often. We have been forced to relocate by the SPDC Army. They entered our village and destroyed the villagers' plantations, and then they built their military camp there. They destroyed all of cardamom and coffee fields.
When did it happen?
It happened in 2006. They destroyed two or three cardamom fields.
Did they build their camp in those places [in the cardamom fields]?
Yes, they built their camp there.
How many baskets of cardamom and coffee were destroyed by the SPDC Army, approximately?
They destroyed about 20 or 30 baskets (418 kg. / 921.6 lb. or 627 kg. / 1,382.4 lb., respectively).
Were all three fields destroyed?
There weren't three fields; there were four fields. Combining the four fields together, there would have been 20 or 30 baskets of cardamom and coffee.
Do you know how many SPDC Army soldiers were involved in building the military camp in your fields?
Yes, I know. The first battalion had 53 soldiers, the second battalion had six soldiers, the third battalion had 35 soldiers and the fourth battalion had 124 soldiers.
How long did they stay there?
I think one and a half years.
How far was their camp from your village?
I think it was one furlong (.125 miles / .2 kilometres) away. Their camp was on a hill and our village is on flat ground.
What was the military unit that usually stayed in the camp?
Sometimes there was a big military unit and sometimes there was a small unit. The first battalion was a larger military unit, so they split it into two companies.
Do you know their battalion commanders' names?
I know three of their battalion commanders' names.
Can you tell us?
Yes, I can. The first battalion commander's name was Saw Nay Myo, the second battalion commander's name was Aung Kaing So, and the fourth battalion commander's name was Myo Myo Oo.
While based close to your village, did they [the Tatmadaw] ever loot the villagers' food?
Not often, just sometimes.
Did they ever order the villagers for forced labour?
Yes, sometimes we had to porter their materials. Sometimes, we had to cut bamboo, repair roads, or carry water for them.
What kind of bamboo did they ask you to cut?
They asked us to cut many different kinds of bamboo around our village. Then we also had to construct a building for them to store their food rations.
How many cubits of wood did they order you to cut?
They ordered us to cut many different kinds of wood. For the big bamboo poles, we cut five or six cubits (90 inches / 228.5 cm. or 108 inches / 274.2 cm., respectively), and for the small bamboo poles, we cut 10 or 20 cubits (180 inches / 457 cm. or 360 inches / 914 cm., respectively).
Did they give you food while you were working for them?
No. We ate our own food but did their work.
Did they pay you for that [working for them]?
They didn't give us anything.
Could the villagers who were not healthy ask for a rest or refuse to go?
They didn't order people who were not healthy [for forced labour].
How many households are there in your village?
There are [censored for security] households in my village.
What is the population of your village?
Including children, old people and teenagers, there are over [censored for security].
Did they ask you to carry water every day?
They asked us to carry water in shifts; one person for one day.
What did they [the SPDC Army] plan for villagers whose turn it was to not carry water?
They asked them to send letters to other villages.
Have you ever done forced labour for the SPDC Army?
I have done forced labour three or four times.
When was that?
It was during 2006 and 2007.
Can you remember the date?
No, I can't.
Where did they ask you to start portering and where did you finish?
I started in Lay Loh Day camp and finished at our village.
How far is Y--- village [your village] from Lay Loh Day camp by foot?
Two and a half hours.
What kind of materials did they ask you to carry?
They asked us to carry all kinds of rations, including salt, fish paste and milk.
What was the weight each person had to porter? How many viss did they have to porter?
Two people had to porter 50 kg. (110.2 lb.) of rice, so for one person it was 25 kg. (55.12 lb.). I don't know about in viss.
Did they also call women to porter?
Yes, they did.
Did they order women to porter the same amount as men?
Yes, but our villagers understand one another, so we men porter more than women.
How old was the youngest woman who had to porter?
The youngest woman was 16- or 17-years-old.
How about the eldest?
The eldest woman was 30- or 40-years-old.
How old was the youngest man who had to porter?
The youngest man was 16- or 17-years-old.
Were other villagers [from other villages] also portering while your villagers were portering?
Yes, the other villages included Lay Loh Hkee, Lay Loh Day and Htee Bu Hkee Der Koh.
How many villagers from each village went to porter?
It was dependent on the number of households in a village. If there were [censored for security] households, [censored for security] villagers from that village had to go. But because everyone didn't go, sometimes there were only [censored for security] villagers.
How many people from each of the other villages went with you for portering?
Usually 17 or 18 villagers from Y--- village went to porter each day. 15 or 16 villagers from Lay Loh Hkee village went to porter each day. More villagers from Lay Loh Day village participated because they have a larger number of households.
When you were portering, did the Tatmadaw guard you?
Sometimes they guarded us, but sometimes they didn't.
How many soldiers guarded you each time when you were portering?
They just guarded us for security, so only one section or two sections [one or two groups of Tatmadaw soldiers].
Could you ask for a rest if you became tired while you were portering?
Have you ever seen the Tatmadaw torture the villagers while you were portering?
I have never seen that while I was portering.
Were there any villagers who ran away while portering?
No one. Even if we ran, we couldn't escape.
Were any of the porters convicts?
There were no convict porters, only the villagers.
Can you explain your village situation during 2010 and 2011?
In the past we had [censored for security] households in our village, but now we only have [censored for security] households. Even though we are not rich, we have enough food to survive each day. When the SPDC Army wants food, they write a letter and order the village head to go and send it to them.
Did the SPDC Army ever come to your village during 2010 and 2011?
They came once or twice.
Did they ever loot the villagers' food and animals when they came?
No, they didn't.
What did they do when they came to the village?
They met with the village head and asked some questions, and if it was too late to go back, they would sleep in the village. If it wasn't too late, they would go back on the same day but a set tha would have to go with them.
Did the SPDC Army ever ask for porters between 2010 and 2011?
They haven't asked for porters yet this year, although they asked the villagers to cut the bushes that cover the roads.
Can you remember the date when the SPDC Army asked the villagers to go and cut the bushes?
No, I can't remember anymore.
Which season was it?
[It was] after [the villagers] finished harvesting the paddy, so it might have been October . Another time was in March  during the summer season.
By which road did the SPDC Army ask the villagers to cut the bushes?
The road between Lay Loh Day village and their military camp.
Where is their military camp [now]?
Their military camp is on the hill [near my village and Lay Loh Day village].
Do you know the number of the military unit?
Yes, it is LIB [Light Infantry Battalion] #306.
Do you know [each] battalion commander's name?
No, I don't know.
Don't you know any of the battalion commanders' [names] whose camp is based close to your village?
I only know Thuh Hkoh [Major] Hkay Maw Thah.
What is Thu Hkoh [Major] Hkay Maw Thah's job?
He is a company commander.
How many days did it take to cut the bushes alongside the road from Lay Loh Day village to the military camp?
It took a day and a half.
Did the [SPDC] Army give the villagers food while they were working for them?
No, we brought our own food and our own knives.
How many cubits did they ask villagers to cut?
I don't know how many cubits, but we worked for one and a half days and then our turn was finished. Then they asked another village.
How many villages did they ask to cut the bushes?
Y--- village, Hpeh Hpu Hkee village, Lay Loh Day village, Lay Ku Kah village, Lay Loh Way village, and many other [villages].
Does the Army (Tatmadaw) still stay in the camp that is close to your village?
Yes, they [still] stay there.
Did they order the villagers for forced labour last month?
No, they didn't.
In your opinion, do you think there have been any changes regarding the forced labour used by the SPDC Army in the past and this year?
If we compare the past with this year, the past was worse than now. They don't ask [for forced labour] very often anymore. However, I still haven't seen them support [provide any general services or assistance for] the villagers in any way yet.
Why do you think they asked the villagers to do forced labour?
We don't know their thoughts, but they told us that they asked us to do forced labour – to cut the bushes – so that we would be able to travel by motorbike.
In your opinion, do you think there are any advantages for the villagers from the SPDC Army's demand to cut the bushes?
I don't think there are any advantages. The only thing is that motorbikes can travel without danger.
Were any plantations destroyed while cutting the bushes [in 2010 and 2011]?
Yes, a lot were destroyed, such as the cardamom fields.
Has the SPDC Army ever come to the village and tortured the villagers?
They don't usually come to our village, but they went to A--- village and tortured and hit the village heads because they asked the villagers to bring them food, but they didn't.
Do you know the names of the A--- village heads?
Yes, but I know only one and I don't know the other two. His name is Saw W---.
How old is he?
I think he is 50-years-old because he is older than me.
Did they hit them very hard?
He said his wounds weren't that serious but I don't know about the other two village heads.
Do you know which SPDC Army military unit hit the three village heads?
They are LIB #306. I don't know about their company.
Have you ever heard that the SPDC Army killed villagers before?
They haven't killed anyone in our village, but they killed a villager from B--- village.
Do you know why they killed him?
I don't know the reason. I just know that the SPDC Army killed a villager from that village.
Do you know the name of the villager who was killed?
I think the other villagers said his name was Saw P---.
How old was he?
I think he was the same age as me, so between 40- and 50-years-old.
Do you know which military unit killed the villager?
I don't know.
Was he a villager, or someone who has responsibility in the village?
People said that he was a villager. I don't really know because B--- village is far from Y--- village. I just know that he was killed, but I don't have any more information.
Did you know at that time that he had been killed?
We found out after he was killed.
Did the SPDC Army just leave him after they killed him, or did they bury him?
I'm not sure about that, but a pastor saw the dead body and took pictures, so I don't think they buried him.
Did Saw P--- have family?
Yes, he did.
How many children did he have?
I also don't know about that because his village is a little far from our village.
Where did he live again?
He lived in B--- village.
What are the most common occupations of the villagers in your village?
Most of the villagers farm hill fields.
Does everyone get enough food?
Some people get enough food, and some people don't.
Is there anyone who is facing a food shortage?
Yes, one or two people [don't have enough food], but other villagers also work poorly and live poorly like us [only grow enough food to feed themselves and their families].
What kind of crops do the villagers plant in their hill fields?
The main crops are cardamom and coffee.
How much do you sell one viss of cardamom for now?
One viss (1.6 kg or 3.52 lb.) is sold for 5,000 kyat (US $6.11).
How about coffee?
For coffee, one viss is sold for 2,000 kyat (US $2.44).
Are there any other crops that you plant?
Recently the villagers started to plant betelnut trees, betelvines, and dog-fruit. These are not for sale but for ourselves because sometimes we have to go very far from our village [in order] to buy those.'
In what season do you get the best income?
The season when we sell cardamom.
Where do you go to buy your foods?
Mostly, we go to Than Daung Gyi city.
How far is Than Daung Gyi from your village?
Around five hours, but if we are carrying heavy materials it takes six or seven hours.
Have you ever been interrupted while travelling to Than Daung Gyi city?
I've never been interrupted because there is no gate [Tatmadaw checkpoint] on the way to Than Daung Gyi city from our village, but sometimes we meet them [Tatmadaw soldiers] coincidently.
Did they harm you when they saw you?
No, they didn't.
How much do you have to pay for one big tin (16 kg. / 35.2 lb.) of rice?
It depends on the kind of rice. Some are 16,000 (US $19.56) for one big tin of rice, and some are 20,000 kyat (US $24.45).
How about the rice that people come to sell in your village?
If people come and sell by themselves it will cost about 30,000 kyat (US $39.96).
How about the meat?
Most people sell one viss for 5,000 kyat (US $6.49).
How about fish paste and salt?
Fish paste and salt are also very expensive. One viss of fish paste costs 1,200 kyat (US $1.47) and salt costs 500 kyat (US $0.61) per viss.
How about the onion?
One viss of onion costs 1,500 kyat (US $1.83).
Were products more expensive last year compared to this year?
No, this year products are more expensive. For example, last year, we paid 1,000 kyat (US $1.22) for one viss of fish paste, but this year it costs 1,200 kyat (US $1.47) for one viss. So, this year products are more expensive.
In your opinion, do you think there have been any changes comparing the past to nowadays?
In the past, we couldn't even travel out of our village and the SPDC Army always came to our village. However, nowadays we can travel out of our village to buy our food and the SPDC army also doesn't come here often anymore.
How do the villagers respond when the SPDC Army asks [them to do] forced labour?
The village head will negotiate with them to reduce the number of villagers they requested for forced labour. For example, if they asked for ten villagers, the village head will negotiate for five or six villagers.
Do you think there will be any problems in the coming year?
We can't guess what will happen in the next year. Only God knows about this.
Is there a school in your village?
Yes, we have [a school].
What is the highest grade in your villages' school?
Our school is a primary school, so grade four is the highest grade.
How many teachers are there?
Currently, there is only one teacher. Actually, there is also a teacher who was sent by the Burmese government to come and teach at our school, but she never came.
How much is a teacher's monthly salary?
I think the teacher's monthly salary is 60,000 kyat (US $73.35).
Is this teacher also a government employee?
Yes, she is.
How many students are there?
There are [censored for security] students.
How much does a student have to pay for their enrolment fees?
I think around 2,000 kyat (US $2.44) for one student.
Does that amount of money include the stationery fee as well?
No, only the enrolment fee. We have to buy stationery by ourselves.
Who do you have to give the 2,000 kyat (US $2.44) to?
We have to give it to the teacher.
Do the villagers also prepare anything for that teacher?
We don't prepare anything special. We help her by sharing our food, and sometimes we also repair her house, and carry the food for her as well.
Does the government support the students by providing stationery?
No, they don't support them in anything.
Why doesn't the government provide the students with school stationery?
We also don't know about this exactly. We don't know whether they don't have it or they don't want to give it to us.
How much do you have to pay for a notebook?
I think a notebook costs 100 kyat (US $0.12).
How about a pen?
There are many different kinds of pens; the lowest price is 50 kyat (US $0.10).
Does the government allow the teacher to teach the Karen language in the school?
I don't think they allow it.
Why do you think they don't allow it?
In my opinion, I think they really want the Karen language to disappear, and they don't want the Karen language to spread throughout the country. Fortunately, the teacher is Karen and Christian, so she teaches the students the Karen language in Sunday school.
What do the villagers do after their students finish primary school in your village?
Some villagers with many children can't support all of their children's education fees. Therefore, there are many students who finish their education after they complete primary school.
What are the problems?
The problem is that they have many children, and as a result they don't have enough food or enough money to support their children's education as well. If they want their children to continue their education at another place, they will also have to pay for accommodation, food, and education fees. Because they don't have money, they stop their children from continuing their further studies.
Are there any students who aren't able to attend school because of the fees?
Is there a hospital in your village?
No, there isn't one.
Where do you go when you are sick?
When the sickness is serious, we go to Than Daung Gyi city hospital. If the sickness is not serious, we just take medicine in our village.
How much do you have to pay for one week of hospital fees when you are sick and stay in the hospital?
If you stay in the hospital, it will cost a lot. If your sickness is serious and hard to cure, it will be more expensive. When my wife was sick and she stayed at the hospital for three days, we had to pay 100,000 kyat (US $122.25). That was only the cost of the medicine and did not even include the foods costs.
Is there anyone who understands diseases and medicine in the village?
Yes, there are. They were trained for six months about the different types of disease and medicine. I also understand this a little bit, so I also help the villagers, but when I can't cure them I send them to the hospital.
What is the most common disease in your village?
There are many different kinds of disease, but the most common one in our village is malaria.
Does the government allow [the villagers] to transport medicine?
No, they don't. When you go and buy medicine from a different location, you have to hide it on your way back. If they see you carrying medicine, they will take all of it.
What do you think about the SPDC Army?
They want to torture us because we are Karen. They want us to disappear or they want us to be under their control. If we are under their control, maybe they will come and support our villagers.
What do you think of the KNLA [Karen National Liberation Army]?
They help us a lot because we are the same ethnicity. They prevent dangers from coming to us by fighting back against the SPDC Army. If we didn't have the KNLA, the SPDC Army would torture us more than this.
Is there anything that you want to report?
There is nothing special that I want to report. ... [Censored for security] ... I also want to say that we always want to stay in our village and we don't want to move anywhere else, so help us to be able to stay in our village.
 KHRG trains villagers in eastern Burma to document individual human rights abuses using a standardised reporting format; conduct interviews with other villagers; and write general updates on the situation in areas with which they are familiar. When conducting interviews, villagers are trained to 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.
 In order to increase the transparency of KHRG methodology and more directly communicate the experiences and perspectives of villagers in eastern Burma, KHRG aims to make all field information received available on the KHRG website once it has been processed and translated, subject only to security considerations. As companion to this, a redesigned website will be released in 2012. In the meantime, KHRG's most recently-published field information from Toungoo District can be found in the Report, "Toungoo Interview Transcript: Saw M---, December 2011," KHRG, March 2012.
 In Karen, the Burmese phrases Na Ah Pa (SPDC) and Na Wa Ta (SLORC) 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; see: "Mission Accomplished as SPDC 'dissolved'," Myanmar Times, April 4-10th 2011. The term Na Ah Pa was used by the villager who wrote this conducted this interview and interviewee and "SPDC" is therefore retained in the translation of this interview.
 Although this unit of volume is used primarily with regards milled rice, it has been included to provide an approximate idea of the quantities that the villager is referring to.
 A standard measurement of the length of bamboo poles commonly referred to in Karen as the length from one's finger tips to one's elbow, about 18 inches / 45.7 cm.
 A viss is a unit of weight equivalent to 1.6 kg. / 3.52 lb.
 Set tha is a Burmese term for forced labour duty as a messenger stationed at army camps or bases and serving as a go-between to deliver orders from army officers to village heads, but also involving other menial tasks when no messages are in need of delivery.
 All conversion estimates for the kyat in this interview 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 April 3rd 2012, this unofficial rate of exchange was US $1 = 818 kyat. This figure is used for all calculations above.
 In Burmese, "betelnut" and "betel leaf" are referred to as "konywet" and "konthih," as if they are from the same plant. The Burmese names are also commonly used by Karen language speakers. "Betel nut" is the seed from an Areca Palm tree, areca catechu; "Betel leaf" is the leaf of the Piper betel vine, belonging to the piperaceae family. See "Attacks on cardamom plantations, detention and forced labour in Toungoo District," KHRG, May 2010.
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