Toungoo Situation Update: Tantabin and Than Daung Townships, August to October 2011
This report includes a situation update submitted to KHRG in November 2011 by a villager describing events occurring in Toungoo District between August and October 2011. It contains information concerning military activity in the district, specifically demands for forced labour by Tatmadaw Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) #375. Villagers from D--- and A--- were reportedly forced to clear vegetation surrounding their camp and some A--- villagers were also used to sweep for landmines. Villagers in the A--- area faced demands for bamboo poles and some villagers from P--- were ordered to undertake messenger and portering duties for the Tatmadaw. The situation update provides information on two incidents that occurred on September 21st 2011, in which several villagers from Y--- were shot, and four other Y--- villagers were arrested by Tatmadaw Infantry Battalion (IB) #73 and detained until the Y--- village head paid 300,000 kyat (US $366.75) to secure their release. It also provides details of the arrest of five villagers from D--- village by LIB #375 in August 2011, who remained in detention as of November 2011. It documents the killing of two villagers from E--- village by Military Operations Command (MOC) #9, and the shooting of 54-year-old A--- villager, Saw O---, by LIB #375 for violating movement restrictions. Information was also given concerning a mortar attack on W--- village by LIB #603 and IB #92, which was previously reported in the KHRG News Bulletin "Tatmadaw soldiers shell village, attack church and civilian property in Toungoo District, November 2011", in which shells hit the village church and destroyed five villagers’ houses. Tatmadaw soldiers also shot the statue of Mother Mary in W--- village and damaged pictures on the church walls; stole villagers' belongings, including money and staple foods; and destroyed villagers’ household supplies, livestock, and food.
Interview | Situation Update | Htaw Ta Htoo and Daw Hpa Hkoh Townships, Toungoo District (August to October 2011)
The following situation update was written by a villager in Toungoo District who has been trained by KHRG to monitor human rights conditions. It is presented below translated exactly as originally written, save for minor edits for clarity and security. This report was received along with other information from Toungoo District, including three incident reports, eight interviews and 204 photographs.
The forced labour happened step by step
In Htaw Ta Htoo [Tantabin] Township on August 16th 2011, SPDC [Tatmadaw] LIB [Light Infantry Battalion] #375, based in D--- army camp, ordered the following D---villagers [to go to their camp]: (1) 32-year-old Saw Ny---, (father’s name Saw S---), (2) 50-year-old Saw H---, (father’s name Saw Ma---), (3) 35-year-old Saw So---, (father’s name Saw U---), (4) 43-year-old Saw P---, (father’s name Saw J---), and (5) 42-year-old Saw K---, (fathers’ name Saw Ra---). These five villagers had to go to the SPDC Army camp and they have not yet been released. No one knows what the SPDC ordered the villagers to go to see them about; these villagers only live and work in the village. Moreover, on August 16th 2011, SPDC LIB #375, based in D--- village, forced 10 male and 20 female villagers to go and clear the bushes around the army camp.
On August 27th 2011, [soldiers from] SPDC MOC [Military Operations Command] #9, based in Ko Day army camp on Maw Kee vehicle road, Toungoo District, killed two villagers from E--- village, Htaw Ta Htoo [Tantabin] Township. They were 32-year-old Saw L---, (father’s name Saw C---), and 23-year-old Saw Z---, (father’s name Saw La---). These two villagers were killed by the SPDC Army when they went to work in their plantation fields.
On August 27th 2011, SPDC LIB #375, based in A--- army camp, forced the villagers in the area to cut 12 cubits (216 in. / 548.4 cm.) of wa doh [a kind of bamboo] poles for repairing the army camp. A--- village supplied 150 wa doh poles, Bp--- village supplied 70 wa doh poles, De--- village supplied 42 wa doh poles, and the villages of La---, Ha--- and Hp--- had to bring them 150 wa doh poles. They also ordered the households in the A--- area [to bring bamboo poles], too. On that day, they [Tatmadaw LIB # 375] would not let the villagers go to work in their fields.
[Earlier], on August 19th 2011, SPDC LIB #375 column [under the command of] MOC #9, based in the A--- area, restricted [villagers’] movement in A--- [village]. They told all the village leaders and the village elders that if the KNLA [Karen National Liberation Army] shoots them [LIB #375 soldiers], they would force all the A--- villagers to go to Ba Ya Na Thee village [which is under the control of the Tatmadaw]. On August 27th 2011, SPDC LIB #375 called all the A--- villagers to attend a meeting. One person [from each household] had to stay at home. They ordered all of the other villagers to follow them outside of the village to the betelnut plantations [for forced labour] and left some at the front of the school. They ordered some villagers to [clear] the vegetation beside the village and to clear the landmines, and also forced them to clear the bushes around their army camp. When the villagers went with them, the villagers had to walk in the rain and they didn’t give them any food. This battalion [LIB #375] demanded that the villagers give them six days worth of rice. On September 1st 2011, the same soldiers saw an A--- villager, 54-year-old Saw O---, when he was walking in the betelnut fields, and shot him. This villager is ah tha ta bwai a’blu [mentally disabled] and his left arm and left leg were injured. The same SPDC Army battalion [LIB #375] restricted [villagers’ movement] and caused problems for them, and at present they live every day under the SPDC Army’s [movement] restrictions and control. The villagers live in fear and it is not easy for them to go and work. They face a lot of very difficult problems.
SPDC LIB #375 [under the command of] MOC #9, based in A--- army camp, was very active and forced the villagers [to labour] from August 28th to 31st 2011. The villagers had to clear the bushes around their army camp. There were 45 male and 56 female villagers from A--- village, and 12 male and 9 female villagers from Ha--- and Hp--- villages. On September 1st 2011, the same SPDC Army battalion [LIB #375] forced 4 men and 11 women from Pr--- village, and 1 man and 6 women from De--- village, to clear the bushes around their army camp. On September 19th 2011, the same battalion [LIB #375] soldiers demanded that La--- villagers [supply them with] 15 bunches of bananas. They also demanded 14 bunches of bananas from De--- village. On September 20th 2011, SPDC LIB #375 demanded ten cubits [180 in. / 457 cm.] of bamboo from the villagers who live in the A---area. Each household had to bring five bamboo poles. There are [censored for security] households.
On September 6th 2011, LIB #375 [under the command of] MOC #9, based in A--- army camp forced six men from A--- village to carry their supplies and rations to Tha Pyay Nyunt [camp], and then [forced them] to bring things back to A--- army camp. On September 7th 2011, the same SPDC Army soldiers demanded that Hp--- villagers come to their army camp for set tha and portering, but the villagers did not go and so the SPDC Army [soldiers] punished them by ordering them to cut 100 bamboo poles for the A--- army camp. They also demanded three thee gk’dtee [items used to distil alcohol] from Hp--- villagers.
SPDC LIB #375 based in A--- army camp came [again] on September 12th 2011, and told the villagers that if any of them wanted to go to their betelnut plantation fields, then each household would have to get a tuak kan sah [permission letter]. They had to pay 100 kyat [US $0.12] for one permission letter. At that time, SPDC IB #73 was based in Sa Ya Gyi army camp. They ordered the heads of four villages [who were gathered] in the centre of Gk--- [village] to tell their villagers that if they got special information [about armed groups], they were to come and inform them [IB #73] every day. After the rains and flooding [that year], the SPDC Army restricted [the movement of villagers to] the centre of Gk---and A--- [villages], and forced the villagers to do different kinds of work. The villagers are facing many difficulties, as they don’t have time to do their own work.
On the morning of September 21st 2011, soldiers from SPDC IB #73 shot [at] Y--- villagers who were carrying food in the N--- area of eastern Y--- village. They also arrested four other Y--- villagers: (1) 25-year-old Saw Np--- (father’s name Saw Ma---), (2) 26-year-old Saw Bo--- (father’s name Saw Lw---), (3) 30-year-old Saw Ta--- (father’s name Saw Eh---), and (4) 34-year-old Saw Say Ay--- (father’s name Saw Dt---). These four villagers were taken to the Gk--- army camp and tortured in many ways. On September 23rd 2011, they [SPDC soldiers] ordered the Y--- chairperson to come and pay 300,000 kyat (US $366.75) to yway [get back] the villagers from the SPDC Army.
In October 2011, I received information about SPDC IB #48, based in Gk--- [village]. They told the villagers in the Gk--- region that if they wanted to travel they had to get a permission letter, and also said that the villagers were not allowed to sleep in the farm huts or hill huts. They also made up rules [stating that] the villagers were not allowed to use torches [flashlights]. They warned the villagers that if they saw any of them using torches they would take action and give punishments. In this area, there are a lot of poisonous snakes and it is dangerous for the villagers if they do not use torches. For some [farm] work, if the owner does not sleep at the farm, people might steal the animals or destroy things. SPDC Army restrictions on the villagers like this [one] cause many different kinds of problems. On October 10th 2011, SPDC LIB #375 from A--- army camp demanded that the villagers in the A--- area bring one bamboo pole from each house to the army camp. There are [censored for security] households in the A--- area. The forced labour in my district and my area has not stopped yet [as of the end November 2011].
On October 12th 2011, the movement column troops of SPDC LIB #603 and IB #92 fired mortar rounds to the east of Day Loh [village] towards W--- village in Daw Hpa Hkoh [Than Daung] Township. There are [censored for security] households there. Because the SPDC [Army] fired mortar rounds at the village, the villagers were scared and went to hide in the jungle all day long. They did not have food to eat or water to drink. The mortar rounds hit the W--- village church and five of the villagers’ houses were destroyed. At the same time, the SPDC Army came to the village. They went to the church and shot the statue of Mother Mary, which was broken into three pieces. They also shot and destroyed all the pictures hanging on the wall. They killed three of the pastors’ goats and destroyed one television, one loudspeaker, one projector, and some other things. The following villagers’ houses’ roofs and floors were destroyed by the mortar fire: (1) Saw Ba---, (2) Saw He---, (3) Saw Bl---, (4) Saw Bp---, and (5) Naw T---. When villagers returned to the village they found that the SPDC Army [soldiers] had [stolen their belongings, including money and staple foods], and destroyed all of the villagers’ household supplies, including pots, plates, and paddy – the staple food.
Table 1: Villagers’ property stolen or damaged
As a result of this [stolen or damaged property], the villagers are facing food problems, and stress, depression and illnesses are occurring. Because the SPDC Army abuses us this way, at this time people in the region – in our village and our friends’ villages – are living in fear and with worry, so they do not dare to go and do their own work. This year, the pigs and rats ate and destroyed the paddy in the hill farms in the region. The civilians are facing a rice and paddy shortage, which causes [additional] problems for the villagers.
 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 writing situation updates, villagers are encouraged to summarise recent events, raise issues that they consider to be important, and present their opinions or perspective on abuse and other local dynamics in their area.
 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: Saw E---, September 2011," KHRG, April 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 report and “SPDC” is therefore retained in the translation of this report.
 A standard measurement of the length of bamboo poles commonly referred to in Karen as the length from one’s fingertips to one’s elbow, about 18 in. / 45.7 cm.
 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.
 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.
 As of April 13th 2012, all conversion estimates for the kyat in this report are based on a rate of 818 kyat to US $1. This reflects new measures taken by Burma's central bank on April 2nd 2012 to initiate a managed float of the kyat, thus replacing the previous fixed rate of 6.5 kyat to US $1.
 It should be noted that the villager who wrote this reportdid not provide any further details concerning this incident that they have described as torture. However, that they chose to use the Karen phrase, ‘ma shah ma p'yweh’ meaning torture, as opposed to ma p'yweh, meaning ‘abuse’, or ma na ma hphaw, meaning ‘torment’ to describe the event suggests the severity of the incident justifies this classification.
 This Situation Update is one of the source documents from which data was drawn in KHRG’s recent News Bulletin, "Tatmadaw soldiers shell village, attack church and civilian property in Toungoo District." (November 2011).
 A viss is a unit of weight equivalent to 1.6 kg. / 3.52 lb.
 Cardamom seeds come from a plant belonging to the ginger family, and are recognized by their small seed pod, papery outer shell and small black seeds. Cardamom is typically grown on the jungle floor in South Asian countries
 According to one of the villagers who submitted information for this report, in Toungoo District one viss of cardamom is valued at approximately 12,000 kyat (US $14.67).
 This amount reflects only the exact values of caches of money and cardamom stolen as reported to KHRG by the villagers who provided information for this report; the value of other damaged or stolen items, including zinc roofing panels, wooden floors, walls and ceilings, clothing, jewellery, and religious or cultural items are not included in this total.
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