Toungoo Situation Update: Than Daung Township, Received in November 2011
This report includes a situation update submitted to KHRG in November 2011 by a villager describing events occurring in Toungoo District prior to October 2011. It frames present village conditions within the context and consequences of the 2005 – 2008 Northern Offensive by Tatmadaw forces and details the following human rights abuses: forced relocation of villages; movement restrictions; forced labour by adult and child villagers; arbitrary taxation and demands; beating and torture of villagers, especially of village leaders; and attacks on and killing of villagers. This situation update also documents a number of villagers' concerns related to village leadership systems, livelihood challenges, the provision of education for children and food shortages. Moreover, this report describes ways by which villagers have sought to mitigate aspects of the abuses and concerns noted above, namely villagers bribing soldiers in order to allow them to transport more supplies than permitted to their village and establishing a rotating village governance system.
Situation Update | Htaw Ta Htoo Township, Toungoo District (November 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 one other situation update and 33 photographs.
Ongoing oppression by the Burmese Army
H--- village is located in Htaw Ta Htoo Township, Toungoo District (on the Burmese government's map, it is located in Than Daung Township, Karen State). During the SPDC Army [Tatmadaw] operations in Karen State, eastern Burma, a base was established at H--- village in February 2006. The [villagers in] the nearby villages of M---, N---, T--- and D--- were then forced to relocate to H--- village. Since then and until now, H--- village has been a relocation site where the SPDC Army has ordered villagers to do forced labour, strictly controlled villagers, demanded things, executed villagers, beaten villagers, tortured villagers, threatened villagers and abused several kinds of human rights. The villagers who are living here are Karen people known as the Karen Maw Nay Pwa. Most of them are people who hold traditional beliefs. The women especially appreciate their [traditional] clothes and wear them in public. There were five villages [H--- village plus the four villages that were forced to relocate], with 173 households and a total population of 995 people in 2010.
The villagers have difficulties making a living in addition to Burmese Army soldiers who continually abuse their rights. No matter how hard it has been for villagers to face these difficulties, they have not left their homes and run far away. They have kept dealing with the difficulties they have had to face in the area until now.
Until the SPDC Army came and planned battle operations in 2006, the H--- village head (chairperson) was Saw P--- and the village secretary was Saw H---. When the SPDC Army began operations, they called the 35-year-old village secretary, Saw H---, to act as a guide in the battle zone and they executed him in eastern H--- village on February 9th 2006. After that, Chairperson Saw P--- was so scared that he fled to live in the forest and has still not returned to the village. The army unit that executed the person [Saw H---] was Tactical Operations Command (TOC) #663 of LID [Light Infantry Division] #66, under the command of Tin Aung. On February 9th 2006, this troop also killed a 41-year-old village head named Saw E--- whose father is named Saw G---. Since then, none of the H--- villagers have wanted to serve as village head, so villagers formed a kyay ywa na y'ka [village leaders' group] in 2007. The seven people [who formed the village leaders' group] had to share the responsibility of dealing with the SPDC Army.
The Burmese Army has oppressed this village leaders' group in several ways. Amongst all of the people in the village leaders group, Saw C--- and Saw R---were the people who suffered the most in H--- village. Soldiers from MOC [Military Operations Command] #5, which was based in H--- village, arrested Saw C's son, 28-year-old Saw N---, in a coconut plantation and killed him in 2009. While Saw C--- was faced with difficulties working on behalf of the village, Burmese Army soldiers harmed him and killed his son and his suffering caused his heart to become diseased, both physically and spiritually. As a consequence, he could not work for his village and the disease got worse and worse and he passed away in 2010. When Saw C--- was sick, the other members of the village leaders group saw Saw C---'s suffering, and so they did not feel confident to keep working. Therefore, in 2010, villagers had to find new ways [to organise their leaders] and they agreed together to elect village heads or [institute rotating] terms. People who win the vote, or whose turn has come to serve, have to serve as village head or village secretary. They have to do the work the village leaders group did. Because of this kind of system, 29-year-old Saw Bl--- became chairperson and Saw Hk--- became village secretary in 2010. In 2011, Saw De--- became chairperson and Saw Ht--- became village secretary for this year.
In 2009, MOC #5 Commander Kin Maung Hsay and his soldiers ordered the village leaders group [before Saw C---'s death and the groups' dissolution] to help them build a vehicle road between Gk'Moo Loh and Hsay Day [villages]. [They] ordered village leaders to do forced labour and beat them. They threatened and tortured villagers in several ways and put them in a hole which was seven cubits (10.5 ft. / 3.2 m) deep for one week without giving them rice or water. Those people were H--- villagers and they were: (1) 58-year-old Saw Te---; (2) 62-year-old Saw C--- (since deceased); (3) 52-year-old Saw Da---; (4) 54-year-old Saw Gh--- (chairperson), Saw W---, (5) 53-year-old Saw Me--- (chairperson), Saw Ta---; and (6) 50-year-old Saw Hs---. These people are the H--- relocation site's village leaders who have faced difficulties from the SPDC Army. Soldiers from this army unit [MOC #5] tied 60-year-old Saw Ne---, 30-year-old Saw Da--- , 37-year-old Saw He---, and 42-year-old Saw Re--- up and they tortured them, stabbing them with hta loo [a 90-centimeter-long pointed tip iron rod], and electrocuting them, and did not provide them with food or water.
On February 6th 2009, MOC #5 soldiers shot heavy weapons [into civilian areas] and hit H--- villager Saw Gl---'s house while his children were inside, injuring 18-year-old Naw Ht---, 14-year-old Naw Pe--- and two-year-old Naw Gh---. In 2010, MOC #7 soldiers based in H--- beat H--- village leaders, 29-year-old Saw Bl--- (chairperson) and 35-year-old Saw Hk--- (village secretary) whose father is named Saw P---. Not only did they beat them, but they also demanded food and they always ordered villagers to do forced labour. The village leaders were beaten and they got physically ill. Villagers requested them [Saw Bl--- and Saw Hk---] to serve as village leaders, so they served until the end of the year.
On August 8th 2011, MOC #9 LIB [Light Infantry Battalion] #375, based in H---, summoned 35-year-old H--- village head (chairperson) Saw De--- (his father is Saw Th---) and beat him so severely that he has not been able to work for his family or the village until now. Now, he suffers from injuries [caused by [Tatmadaw] Burmese Army soldiers] and, in addition, he does not dare to leave his house because he is afraid of the Burmese Army soldiers. This became a problem for his family because he suffered physically and spiritually. His father-in-law, Saw Ha---, was a former village head who fled and has not dared to go back to his village until now. Saw De--- has four children.
In the H--- area, nobody wants to serve as village leaders because of the beatings of villagers and village heads. Currently, villagers have agreed that new people will have to perform village leader work every six months; therefore, they hand over this responsibility every six months. Nobody wants to serve as village leaders in this area. If they cannot find people that want to serve as village leaders, they will elect them by taking a vote or [they will serve according to rotating] terms. If village leaders are not good at communicating or have not got enough food, this can be a problem for the village or their families.
Of the H--- villagers, four people, men, women and children, have to serve as set tha every day and two people have to serve as set tha every night at the H--- Burmese Army base. Moreover, they order villagers to clear [vegetation] around their camp [perimeter]. They have to cut bamboo for them twice a month. They do not use the bamboo only for the building, but also for cooking in the kitchen every day. The Burmese Army soldiers order villagers to do forced labour when they are sent rations. The Burmese Army soldiers also order people who are not of adult age to do forced labour. They have continued to order people to do forced labour in 2011. Some villagers' plantations were burned by an [uncontrolled] fire, villagers could not tend to their crops in a timely manner and they did not have time to do their own work [because of forced labour demands], so they do not have enough food now.
The villagers' main livelihood occupations are plantations and those plantations are of betelnut, betel leaf, durian, dog fruit, cardamom and mangosteen. With the money that they earn from selling their harvests, they buy rice. As for people who do not have plantations, they work daily wage jobs, weaving baskets and mats, carrying things or any kind of job they can get. They buy rice and sell produce in Tha Pyay Nyunt and it takes one day to get there. They have to get a travel permission document from the Burmese Army soldiers' base by paying whatever amount is demanded. They can go if they are allowed to go. As the Burmese Army soldiers instructed them [villagers], they can only bring back rice [from Tha Pyay Nyunt]. Villagers have been disturbed because a Burmese Army column has been active in the area that has ordered people to do forced labour, and villagers have not been able to travel easily during the rainy season. These are difficulties that they have always faced. Burmese Army soldiers did not allow them to bring more than four bowls (8 kg. / 17.6 lb.) of rice [back from Tha Pyay Nyunt], so they had to reach an understanding with the Burmese Army soldiers posted along the road that they would give them money or fruit to be able to bring back more than four bowls of rice.
In H--- village, the school goes up to the fourth standard and they have difficulties finding schoolteachers every year. Nobody has graduated from middle school or high school in this area. We need more education for this village. Young children have dropped out from school to help their parents.
Villagers do not have enough food to eat, they are not educated people and people [outside observers] cannot reach [their village] to record and report their difficulties, so Burmese Army soldiers always do whatever what they want to do to them.
Since 2006, all of the Burmese government's troops based at H--- have ordered civilians to do forced labour for many kinds of things, beaten them, oppressed them in several ways, demanded things and threatened villagers. Villagers still have to face those problems now. Nothing has changed yet because we see the same things happening every day with our own eyes, and a few of these things are noted in this report. The Burmese Army has not stopped attacking [the Karen National Liberation Army, KNLA] and this will clearly mean that villagers will keep suffering oppression in the future. The SOC [Strategic Operations Command] #3 leader came back to the H--- base in October . For the Karen nationality to be able to live good and respected lives, they need people to support them so they can face the problems they have been facing. The international community, especially, should know their problems and it is our responsibility to report them.
 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 Situation Update: August-October 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.
 It is likely that the villager who wrote this report is referring here to the Northern Offensive 2005 – 2008, when Tatmadaw units began widespread attacks on villages in mountain areas of Toungoo, Nyaunglebin and Papun districts in northern Karen State, beyond the sphere of Tatmadaw control. Tatmadaw units were responsible for widespread perpetration of human rights abuses; see: "Attacks, killings and the food crisis in Toungoo District," KHRG, August 2008. For further information regarding the Northern Offensive, see: "KHRG Photo Gallery 2006: The Northern Offensive," KHRG, March 2007 and Less than Human: Convict Porters in the 2005 - 2006 Northern Karen State Offensive, KHRG, August 2006.
 A Tactical Operations Command (TOC) normally consists of three battalions and a headquarters under the control of a Military Operations Command (MOC) or Light Infantry Division (LID), each typically consisting of ten battalions.
 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.
 This incident is also described in "Toungoo Situation Update: July to October 2011," KHRG, November 2011, where it states that following an attack by the KNLA on Burmese Army soldiers, village head Saw De—was beaten to the point in which he was unable to eat and confined to bed rest; "They beat him and abused him until he could not eat and he became sick. He has had to stay lying down in his bed until now."
 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.
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