PORTERS: MANERPLAW AND KAW MOO RAH AREAS
An Independent Report by the
Karen Human Rights Group
February 25, 1995 / KHRG #95-07
In December 1994, SLORC began a major offensive against Kaw Moo Rah, then in January 1995 it began a major offensive against Karen headquarters at Manerplaw. Both strongholds were overrun, Manerplaw on January 27 and Kaw Moo Rah on February 21. SLORC has claimed that they were not involved in these offensives other than to provide 'logistical support' to the breakaway Karen troops of the 'Democratic Kayin Buddhist Army' (DKBA) whom it claims overran Manerplaw and Kaw Moo Rah all by themselves. However, the porters interviewed in this report say otherwise: they were used by several different SLORC Battalions in the assault, but not one of them saw a single DKBA soldier.
Fighting is still ongoing as the SLORC attempts to overrun the entire Thai border
region. In all of these offensives, it has been rounding up porters of all ethnic and
religious backgrounds from villages and towns as far afield as southern Mon State,
hundreds of kilometres away. The 'Manerplaw area porters' in this report were used in the
southern prong of SLORC's offensive on the Manerplaw area, both before and after Manerplaw
was taken. They were interviewed in refugee camps in Thailand in the first part of
February. Their names have been changed and some other personal details omitted in order
to protect them. Please feel free to use the information in this report in any way which
can help end this horrendous form of slave labour in Burma.
Widespread arrests of porters, boy porters (story #3,4,5,6,9,11), convict porters (#6,10,11,12,15), beatings, torture and killing of porters, porters wounded/killed in battle (#8), enforced starvation and thirst, no presence of DKBA, forced labourers for DKBO ('Democratic Kayin Buddhist Organization') ending up as SLORC porters (#8).
Kaw Moo Rah Porter
NAME: "Ko Tint Way"
ADDRESS: Thaton Town, northern Mon State INTERVIEWED: 16/2/95
DISCRIPTION: Burman Buddhist
I was arrested around the end of December, when I was walking on the road in Thaton. It was an army patrol who was guarding the road. They gave me to Battalion 9 [part of #44 Light Infantry Division]. First the patrol that arrested me detained me overnight in the police station, then soldiers from Battalion 9 came and collected me from there in the morning. They took me to Wan Kha [Kaw Moo Rah]. Along the way we slept one night in Pa'an, one night in Kawkareik, one night in Thingan Nyi Naung and one night at 'Black Stone'. Then we reached Hill 66, close to Hill 1450 [Hill 1450 is directly in front of Kaw Moo Rah]. The commander there was the Operation Commander [of the Kaw Moo Rah offensive], Tin Thein. I know because Corporal Thein Zan mentioned his name.
There were 45 porters in my group. I had to carry rice, condensed milk and sugar. [Battalion 9 was responsible for guarding the rear and supplying the other Battalions.] We only got rice and salt to eat, one small plate of rice per meal, twice a day. It was not enough, so we drank alot of water and when we were carrying the soldiers' rations we stole handfuls of beans and ate them with water. We stole them when the soldiers weren't close by. When possible we tried to get empty milk tins and cook the beans in them. It's the real truth. If we even asked for fishpaste they hit us on the face and said "This is not your mother's house."
Usually the soldiers scolded us, and then if that didn't work they beat us. In my first days there I was beaten, 10 strokes with a tree branch. I couldn't climb the hill. I begged to be allowed to rest, but some porters in front of me could do the work so the soldiers said, "If they can do it, why can't you?", and they beat me. They explained, "We are in a hurry, because Karen soldiers can appear at any time and they'll shoot at us, not at you. So we must beat you." Private Khin Maung Thein beat me on my head, body and hands. When climbing the hill some of the elderly porters couldn't go easily, and then the soldiers hit them and beat them with the butts of their guns. If porters were very tired they would just lie down on the side of the path. Some of the soldiers would show mercy and let them escape, but some would beat them and some died because of this. One died right in front of me. He was from Paung [near Moulmein]. He pleaded that he couldn't climb anymore and asked to be excused. Then he said "Do as you like to me". The kindly soldiers told him to try to run away, but then others arrived and they beat him and kicked him down the hill and he was dead. Then the soldiers warned us that he died because he had tried to escape, and that when they caught him he'd tried to resist them. He was over 40 years old.
At first I was told that after all the goods were delivered I could go, and that this would be a maximum of 20 days. But I was a porter for 2 months. After Hill 66 I had to spend one and a half months carrying to Thet Ka Ya [about 15 km. further north]. We had to cut trees, carry water and every two or three days we had to carry rations to the soldiers at Thet Ka Ya. At Hill 66 we could get some beans, but then at Thet Ka Ya we could only get salt. Then I was sent to stay at Wan Kha. Alot of rice had arrived at Wan Kha so we were sent to help.
I had nothing, just a shirt and a pair of pants. In the cold nights there were many of us, so we all slept very close together [it was cold season, when nightly temperatures often drop below 10 C.]. We could only make a fire at dawn and dusk, but after sunset it wasn't allowed because it would give off light. One time a sick porter had to defecate in our compound [the fenced enclosure where porters are kept under guard], and then the soldiers beat all of us. If one person breaks the rules like that then everyone gets punished. But amongst the porters a few are also paid porters [hired by villages to go in place of their own people]. They know how to deal with the soldiers very well and can get whatever they want [probably by paying for it]. There was one like that in my group, a 45-50 year old man named Meh Zan from Thingan Nyi Naung.
I was at 'Wan Kha 1', and the fighting zone is 'Wan Kha 2'. We had to carry wounded soldiers to two trucks. They were carried back by other soldiers, then we had to carry them the rest of the way to the trucks. I saw the bodies of about 100 soldiers who were killed [this was in the major SLORC assault of February 8, when about 200 SLORC soldiers were killed, many of whom were left to rot on the battlefield]. We ourselves had to dig the holes and bury them at the base of a hill, near their positions. The elderly porters dragged the bodies over, and we younger porters dug the holes. There were at least 100 bodies, because I myself helped dig two holes. We put 7 or 8 bodies in each hole, because the ground was so hard that we couldn't dig one hole for each corpse. Our group of porters dug 6 or 7 holes like this, and there were three groups of porters doing the same thing. I was an eyewitness to all of this.
I didn't see any porters die in battle, but porters who couldn't do the work died, like I said before. It was from Wan Kha that I planned to escape. Altogether there were three of us, but I don't know what happened to the other two because we disagreed about which way to run so I lost touch with them. That day there were 65 porters and 10 soldiers, so we could run away. Before there had usually been 20 porters with 15 soldiers, so we couldn't. We started to run between the rice supply and Wan Kha. I spent two nights in the jungle, then another night after I crossed the river [the Moei river, which is the Thai border], and now I've been here for one night. [He was interviewed on February 16, so he escaped on February 12. At this point #44 Division was being withdrawn and replaced with #22 Division, so the withdrawing soldiers were probably less concerned about escaping porters.] As a porter I had to carry at least 15 viss [24 kg.] and a maximum of 25 viss [40 kg.] My shoulders are wounded because of the straps on the bamboo baskets - I had only one thin shirt on underneath them. Now I will try to go back home.
Manerplaw area porters
NAME: "Kyaw Win"
ADDRESS: Kyaikto township, northern Mon State INTERVIEWED: 3/2/95
DISCRIPTION: Burman Buddhist day labourer
On January 2, the village headman summoned me and took me to the police station in Kyaikto together with my cousin Lu Maw. We were detained there for 5 days. Then #207 Battalion, part of #22 Division, took us by truck beyond Pa'an and Hlaing Bwe to where Battalion 962 has a camp. When we got there, every porter had to carry six 81 mm. mortar shells from Battalion 962 to Manerplaw. We were fed two meals a day, but we only got a canteen-lid full of rice for 2 men. On the way to Manerplaw, there was fighting at Bo Laung hill. When we got near Manerplaw, we only got a short rest and then all the porters had to move on with soldiers patrolling a road. Later we found out it was the road to Meh Tha Wah. We had to stay for 3 days with the soldiers who were guarding that road. The soldiers wore uniforms with a badge on one shoulder showing a fan, and number 99 on the other shoulder [indicating #99 Division]. There were about 50 soldiers carrying short guns.
Whenever we couldn't carry we were beaten brutally. On January 26th, Lu Maw was beaten with a cane stick 2 inches thick because he couldn't carry his load of 81 mm. mortar shells. He got many bruises on his thighs so he couldn't walk, but he still had to carry ammunition. On January 28th when we reached a hill, he was really feeble and couldn't walk and carry anymore. As he begged to stop, they only beat him more. The soldiers said my cousin is not useful anymore, "so we'll kill him and then we can pay compensation for his life". Finally the soldiers had to support him on each side so he could reach the top of the hill. When we reached the top, they kicked him back down the hill. Then the soldiers dragged him up the hill again. They tied a piece of cloth over his mouth, and then Sergeant Toe Toe killed him by stabbing him in the ribs of his left side with the bayonet on his carbine rifle. Seven soldiers dragged his body away by his foot, and nobody knows where they buried him. Another Sergeant saw me secretly watching my cousin being beaten and stabbed by Sergeant Toe Toe, so he kicked me with his boot, beat me with a piece of bamboo, and then took the knife he was using to slice up banana stems for food, and used it to cut off my little finger.
My cousin's name was Lu Maw, his nickname was Zaw Zaw Htoo. He was 18 years old. He was a Burman Buddhist and worked as a day labourer. He wasn't a member of any group. He was killed by Sergeant Toe Toe from Division #22, Battalion #205.
NAME: "Hla Maung"
M AGE: 14
FAMILY: Father alive, mother dead, 1 younger brother and 1 younger sister
ADDRESS: Kawkareik Town, Karen State INTERVIEWED: 4/2/95
DISCRIPTION: Burmese Muslim
My father is a trishaw driver. I am not in school. I have to work to help my family. I do cooking and housework. I went to school up to third standard. They came on the 25th [of January] at about 3 a.m. I was sleeping in my house with my brother and they came to the house to check the guests [all houseguests must be registered with the local SLORC, though it appears that in this instance the soldiers were there only to take porters, as they had no guests]. I opened the window to get out while my father ran away through the back door. They caught me and put me in their small truck. There were 4 or 5 soldiers, together with the police. They pointed a gun at me. They took me to Pa'an and then on a T11 truck to Hlaing Bwe near the Taung Galay army camp. We slept one night there, then I was ordered to carry a load. I had to carry 3 mortar shells. It was heavy. I had to carry for 7 or 8 days, at night and also in the daytime. I couldn't sleep, and I couldn't rest. When we arrived to the place where we could put our loads down [they were making trips back and forth from army camp to frontline], we just got to rest for a short time and then we carried on. We only got to rest for one or two hours every two days when we arrived at their camp. We couldn't sleep, only sit down. I only got one meal in 4 days. It was only plain rice. Along the way there was water. I could drink my ration of water from a small cup. They brought the water, and sometimes they gave me some, sometimes they didn't. I saw some porters very exhausted. They didn't get any medicine.
I wasn't beaten, but I saw others. The soldiers kicked them with their boots, they hit them with rifle butts, and if they had a bamboo stick they used it. People couldn't carry or they walked too slowly, so the soldiers beat them. They beat both old and young men. Some porters in my group were even younger than me. They were about 10 or 12 years old. I saw 4, 5, 6, or 7 young boys like that. They carried the same load as me. I saw old men about 50, 60, 70, or 80 years old. I saw a dead man. He was old.
We were with #205 Battalion. All the soldiers were SLORC. There were 4, 5, sometimes 10 porters for every soldier. The other porters were carrying bullets and other things, I don't know exactly. I didn't see any fighting. After 8 days I went to fetch water, crossed the river and ran away with 9 other men. We slept one night on the way and the next day we arrived at the Thai border, I don't know where. We crossed the river by boat and walked to a village, then we came here by car. Now I will go back home together with the others.
NAME: "Tin Htun"
FAMILY: Mother and father alive, 1 elder sister and 5 younger sisters and brothers
ADDRESS: Kawkareik Town, Karen State INTERVIEWED: 4/2/95
DISCRIPTION: Burmese Muslim
We live outside the town. My father is a trishaw driver, and I look after my family's cow. I cut one basket of grass every day, and that is enough for our cow. I went to school - I have 5th standard level. None of us in my family had ever been a porter before. On the 25th [of January] the soldiers came to arrest us between 3 and 4 o'clock in the morning. My father heard them coming and he ran away. When my mother opened the door, I was sleeping. There were about 7 soldiers. They pointed their guns at me and took me to their truck. They didn't say anything. They just pushed me into the truck. There were many people in there. "Hla Maung" [see testimony above] was already in the truck.
They took us from Kyone Doh to Pa'an, then to Taung Galay and we had to change trucks. We arrived at a place where there were shops and we had to start carrying. I had to carry 3 mortar shells. We couldn't sleep, and we got one meal for 4 days. The soldiers kicked me once on the hip because I walked too slowly. I saw other people kicked with boots, and the soldiers hit them with rifle butts and sticks because they couldn't carry. The soldiers swore "Kalar!" at them. Many porters were beaten, young men and old men too.
We also had to cut bamboo for them. 20 porters had to cut 200 bamboos. I don't know what they used the bamboo for. Maybe they sold it. I went to carry water, and I escaped with 9 other people. The soldiers were guarding the people who were carrying the water. I was lagging behind them, and I ran away and crossed the river together with the others. I'm going to go back home. I'm not afraid because I'll go back together with the others. My mother must be worrying for me.
NAME: "Maung Chit Lwin" SEX:
M AGE: 16
FAMILY: Mother and father alive, 1 elder sister and 1 elder brother
ADDRESS: Kawkareik Town, Karen State INTERVIEWED: 4/2/95
DISCRIPTION: Pa'O Buddhist
I went to school up to 3rd Standard. Now I am a farmer, and I am also a bricklayer. When I was coming home from the farm, I was arrested by the Army. They grabbed me by the collar and pushed me into their truck. My brother was with me, and he was arrested at the same time, when we were near the police checkpoint. They took us by truck directly to Kyone Doh, then they drove all night and the next morning we arrived at the Army place. Then they made us carry bullets and things. I had to carry three 81 mm. mortar shells. While we carried they wouldn't give us any food or water. We could only get some when we arrived at their camp. I only got one meal in 4 days. I was a porter for 10 days, and in that time I had 3 meals. It was rice and beans.
Our group didn't carry at night, but I couldn't sleep because it was too crowded with people all in one place. We had to sleep on the ground, in a fenced area beside the army camp. There were soldiers around the fence, and it was so crowded we had to lean against each other. We couldn't escape because they guarded us around the fences.
I wasn't beaten, but I saw soldiers beating others. They beat with a stick, on the feet, back, head, everywhere. I saw people who died. I don't know how they died, I just stayed behind the fence but I saw when they carried the corpses past. I didn't see what they did with the bodies. I saw people get sick. The sick had to carry along with everybody else. Those who got very sick and weak could stop carrying for a few minutes. Then they had to go again.
We had to carry shells and bullets, no food, only ammunition. We also had to cut bamboo, I don't know what for. I was with #207 Battalion the whole time. There were about 20 porters for every soldier. One day I pretended to fetch water and I started to escape, but they saw me so I came back. Then at night I escaped again together with my brother. I was in the jungle for 2 days, and I've been here for one day [he escaped on February 1, 1995]. I'm afraid, but I want to go back home.
NAME: "Maung Than Oo"
FAMILY: Married, 1 child aged 1 month
ADDRESS: Kawkareik Town, Karen State INTERVIEWED: 4/2/95
DISCRIPTION: Pa'O Buddhist, trishaw driver
When I was going home from work on January 24th, they caught my younger brother and I. Their truck was already stopped in the street. When we passed near it, 4 or 5 soldiers jumped out and grabbed us. They said, "You have no way to run!", and they pointed their guns at us and pushed us into their truck. I didn't know we were to be porters. I only knew it when we arrived at the police station, because I saw they'd already arrested many people. Usually you can bribe them with money to avoid going as a porter, but now they need many porters so you can't. They needed so many porters they didn't even care how old or how young.
We had to go all day and night by truck, and we arrived at Pa'an. After that, Hlaing Bwe and then to their camp. We slept there for one night, and the next day I had to start carrying bullets, about 1,000 bullets. It was too heavy but I had to carry it. If I couldn't carry it they would beat me, so I had to try. Everybody had to carry heavy loads. I had to carry about 23 viss [37 kg.]. We had to keep on going until we reached the place they needed to go. If it took 2 days then we had to carry on without stopping for 2 days. We had to carry in the hot sun, no time to take a rest and only a little time to sleep. No food. No water. The soldiers had water but they wouldn't give us any to drink. If you really needed to drink, you had to buy water: one tinful [about 200 ml.] for 30 Kyat. We had no money, and we were thirsty and hungry. But we had to obey their will, because if we didn't we would be beaten. The first day we were very thirsty because we had to climb to the top of a mountain. The next day, we walked in the plain and we got some water from a stream. I only got 3 meals during 10 days. We had to cook when we stopped. Sometimes when we were eating they ordered us to carry on walking, and sometimes we had to throw away the rice because we couldn't finish cooking it. The soldiers had 2 meals, morning and evening, almost every day. They had food that was already cooked. They had many rations. When they were eating they gave us nothing.
I just had to carry whether I could or not. I was with my brother ["Maung Chit Lwin" - see above testimony] all the time because he is so young. He is very afraid of the soldiers. I tried to help him because I was afraid that if he couldn't carry his load the soldiers would beat him. He was in front of me. When he couldn't carry, I helped him. When we were climbing up the mountain, I slipped down and bumped into a soldier and he kicked me. He kicked me in my back hard with his boot and I fell down. It was painful, because my load was very heavy and it fell on top of me. I still have sores on my shoulders from my load.
Whenever we slept or ate, we never had enough. We never had enough time for sleep, and they wouldn't even allow us to speak out loud. 400 to 500 porters were kept inside the fences. Sometimes we had to stand when they called our names. For food, they gave me only rice. Sometimes they gave some beans. When they ordered us to work, it was very hard. At their camp the soldiers said "For the moment you have no journey to make", and they ordered us to cut bamboos, but I don't know what they used them for. I think it was to build fences for all the new porters who were coming, so that they couldn't run away. We had to cut 150 bamboos between 20 of us, then we had to carry them in front of the soldiers who were sitting there and they counted them. I think they were making a new temporary camp. They ordered us to clean the camp and carry rice and mortar shells. We had to clean the mess around the camp where they slept. They kept changing the soldiers many times. They forced us to work whether we could or not. They treated us as slaves. They treated us as their cattle, as their buffalos. They didn't treat us like fellow human beings. They only cared about their job, they didn't want to know about the people, about whether they could carry or not. They forced us to do everything whether we could or not. I saw men who couldn't work well - the soldiers beat them and they were bleeding. They kicked them, hit them with rifle butts, punched them and beat them with sticks. I didn't dare look at the people bleeding. The soldiers felt satisfied when someone was bleeding and fell unconscious - then they stopped beating him. We couldn't complain to the soldiers because of their guns. If I'd complained I would have been beaten. Whatever they do, we had to take it and give up.
After beating someone unconscious, the soldiers just left him. Every group of 40 or 50 porters had one 'leader', and if someone was beaten unconscious the soldiers ordered that 'leader' to look after him and carry him along to the camp. They said, "It is your duty to carry him yourself. This does not concern us!" They didn't care about the unconscious people, just abandoned them and went on their way. But we felt we couldn't just leave them, so we shared their loads: half their load each. Someone who didn't have a load carried the body. We couldn't abandon them, because we all live together in the town. But the soldiers didn't even turn around to see.
There were convicts in blue clothes: the soldiers called it "convict clothes". The men explained to us, "We were called from jail and ordered to work as porters for a long time. We want to go back, but they won't allow us. Now some have already been here for 4 or 5 months. We are eager to go back."
After 8 or 9 days, we pretended to fetch some water at night and we ran away. We don't know if they kept carrying further, because we didn't want to carry any further. We didn't want to die in their hands. We knew many people who had already escaped. Including us, about 400 or 500 porters have run away. There were over 5,000 porters, and also many convicts. The soldiers said that Divisions 77 and 99 were also going to arrive with their own porters. We were with #207 Battalion. When we were carrying the mortar shells, we realized we were going to Manerplaw. On the way, we met porters coming back from Manerplaw. They said "They got Manerplaw already, the rebels already withdrew." So then we were walking in the mountains 3 or 4 more days and arrived back at their main camp. All the soldiers were SLORC [i.e. he encountered no 'DKBA' at all].
If I go home now, I know I may face danger, but I have a one-month old child and I worry about him. My wife had a baby so recently, and I'm worried about her health, and about how they can get money and food if I don't go back. When I was arrested I called to some girls in the street, "Please go tell my family. I don't know where they're taking me." My family didn't know I'd been taken. If someone from here can show me the way I may get back home. If not, maybe I can't get there.
I also had to work for them 4 or 5 years ago. The soldiers already had a camp in Kawkareik, and they called us to work for them. They said, "If you don't come, we'll arrest you." We had to go in turns: for example, out of every 500 households, 200 households had to go each day. We had to go 18 or 19 times in that 3 to 4 months. We had to cut wooden posts to build their camp, dig the ground to erect the poles, and build their barracks for them. We had no choice, because they have the power in their hands. If we don't want to do it, they force us, so we just have to do what they say.
NAME: "Sein Than" SEX:
M AGE: 30
FAMILY: Married, 4 children aged 1 week to 13 years
ADDRESS: Kawkareik Town, Karen State INTERVIEWED: 5/2/95
DISCRIPTION: Burmese Muslim, trishaw driver
I am a trishaw driver, and I also repair trishaws. I was arrested about 14 days ago. I was sleeping at home at about 8 p.m., and they woke me up and ordered me to follow them. They said, "Wake up! Come and follow us for a short time." I said, "I have done nothing wrong. What will you do, sir?" Then they put me in jail. They said, "You will be a porter." Then they brought me to the battlefield. They brought me directly by truck to the Strategic Command between the mountains. I got out and started to carry rice. My load weighed about 20 viss [32 kg.] Some porters could not carry, and the soldiers beat them. There was a 'porter centre' with a fence. It was like a pig sty. There were more than 1,000 porters there. The soldiers said to us, "You will carry to another place called Taung Phaung ['barren mountain']. Then you will come back and you will be released." Nobody believed them.
I was arrested by the police, the militia and the town section leader, but I was carrying rice for 207 Battalion. They fed us only rice and a bit of fishpaste. Sometimes I had breakfast but no dinner. Sometimes I had dinner but no breakfast. I couldn't sleep at night. They put us together on the ground and it was very crowded, so I couldn't sleep. Once I went to go to the toilet, and one soldier told me, "You can go there." But then another soldier beat me up with a bamboo stick four fingers thick. He said, "You didn't see the toilets. This is not the proper place." I saw a porter beaten because he couldn't carry his load. Another one died on the hills, from exhaustion. He was about 18 or 19 years old. I saw him with my own eyes. The soldiers told us they would bury him, and then they said, "Go back to your place!"
There were over 2,000 porters and about 600 or 700 soldiers. I didn't see any DKBA soldiers. Some porters carried rice, some carried ammunition. We had to carry the whole day, from about 7 or 8 a.m. until we reached the other place. We slept there, then we arrived back the next day at 5 or 6 p.m. We had to carry back and forth. We had no rest time while we were carrying. We could see water, but we couldn't drink it. Sometimes one of the commanders distributed water to all the porters, one milk-tin [about 200 ml.] of water each. I didn't get enough water or food. Then while I was cutting bamboo I ran away with 9 others. We went downstream. I saw a man who was fishing, and he showed us the way. We climbed a mountain, and we saw soldiers again. They shot at us. We arrived at a small village near the Moei River, then we crossed into Thailand 3 days ago. We were porters behind Meh Tha Wah [about 25 km. south of Manerplaw on the Thai border, SLORC's supply base for the offensive from the south].
NAME: "Maung Min Thein"
FAMILY: Married, 3 children aged 1 month to 12 years
ADDRESS: Pa'an Town, Karen State INTERVIEWED: 5/2/95
DISCRIPTION: Burman Buddhist, water seller
I was not arrested. It was my turn for labour. They told me that I have to go do labour for the monk at Myaing Gyi Ngu [U Thuzana, the monk who is leader of the DKBO]. They said I had to go with 44 other men to clear the ground and build a fence around his monastery, and that if I went this time I wouldn't have to go the next time. But instead they sent me here. We left from Taung Galay barracks, they sent me to Strategic Command and from there I had to start carrying ammunition to Taung Phaung hill ['barren mountain']. I was very afraid, and I only thought about going back home. I was with a SLORC Signal Battalion, I think the number was 201. I asked them their names but they didn't reply. On the way to Taung Phaung, there was fighting on the hill. I had to bury SLORC soldiers and "Ringworms" [SLORC name for Karen soldiers], one hole for 2 men. I saw 5 or 6 dead people. The porters were behind the soldiers, carrying the shells. During the fighting we could hide. Three porters were killed. Some lost their legs, and some were injured in the eyes. They carried the wounded in hammocks down the mountain to the clinic. They got some medicine then they sent them away, but I don't know where because I had to return to my place to carry. I saw about 4 or 5 men who lost their legs. The fighting started in the early morning, and the Karen soldiers withdrew at 3 p.m. Then the commander shouted at his soldiers, "You should wear women's longyis [sarongs]! Why didn't you catch them?" The SLORC soldiers captured some guns, pistols and bullets from the rebels. They made the porters carry all of it further to another place, to Bo Laung Gone and Kye Pyaut Gone.
I had to carry mortar shells, two long ones. It weighed 20 viss [32 kg.]. I got 2 meals each day but it wasn't enough, and I missed 2 days of food. At night I had to sleep on the ground. At 7 a.m. we started to carry down the mountain, then back up. Then they gave us some food and I could rest, and then I had to carry water up the mountain for cooking in the evening. At night I got some rice with just a fingertip of salt. I had to carry every day for about a month, back and forth. I was beaten twice on my back with a bamboo stick along with 3 other porters because we tried to follow some soldiers who were being sent back. The others called us back to them and beat us. If I stayed with them a long time, I would die. I didn't get enough food, and I couldn't carry anymore.
One day we had to bring the rice rations. There were 40 porters in our group but there were no soldiers escorting us for a time. We ran, and then we mixed together with a group of traders, but we met SLORC soldiers and they beat me and sent me back to the Strategic Command. When I got there, I didn't see any soldiers so I ran away through the bamboo trees, along a stream, and then I arrived here after one day. I arrived here 2 days ago [on February 3]. I had never been a porter before this. I am going back to Pa'an. I think it is dangerous, but I have to go back because maybe my children don't have any food. My wife has no job. I am the only breadwinner in our family.
NAME: "Hla Myaing" SEX: M
FAMILY: Parents both alive, 1 sister and 2 brothers
ADDRESS: Kawkareik Town, Karen State INTERVIEWED: 5/2/95
DISCRIPTION: ˝Shan ˝Indian Muslim, student
I am a student in 8th standard [just before high school]. About 10 days ago [around January 26] the soldiers came to my house at 4 a.m., checked our family registration and took me. They were 3 soldiers and 2 militia. They arrested one person from each family in the whole quarter [part of town]. I was alone with my mother because my brothers were in Myawaddy. I don't know where the soldiers took me, because I've never been there before. They took me by truck to an army camp. They were gathering porters there, and they put us to sit there together with the other groups of porters. Then they made us carry loads to the operation [battle] area. I had to carry 7 pyi [about 15 kg.] of rice. Because we are children, they didn't order us to carry very heavy loads. They beat me with a stick as big around as a bamboo. They kicked me in my stomach and it was very painful, and they hit me in the back with the stick, and I kept going. We got one meal a day. If they fed us in the morning, then they didn't feed us in the evening. If they fed us in the evening, then we got nothing in the morning. They gave us raw rice and we had to cook it in a milk tin. We had to sleep on the path. I brought a very thin blanket with me when they arrested me. I couldn't sleep because my stomach hurt alot from the beating. They didn't give us any medicine. We had to buy it. When they arrested me I had over 20 Kyat in my pocket, so I used it to buy two tablets for my stomach and took them. Sometimes it is okay now, but sometimes it still hurts.
There were many young boys of my age, and some of them were students. I saw 7 students from my school there. Most of them were about my age, but some were only 13 or 14 years old. There were also old men, about 40 or 50 years old. Some boys of my age couldn't carry so they were beaten. I saw several people beaten, and 2 killed. I think they died from starvation and dehydration. They were 42 or 43 years old. The soldiers just threw their bodies down into the valley.
Two of us escaped while we were cutting bamboo. We slept one night in the forest, then we found a path and footprints. We followed them to the [Moei] river. I saw other porters there, and we crossed the river with a fisherman. He took us to a monastery, and then some Thai police brought us here. There were 24 of us who arrived here yesterday [February 4].
NAME: "Win Maung"
FAMILY: Married, 4 children aged 2 to 11
ADDRESS: Kawkareik Township, Karen State INTERVIEWED: 5/2/95
DISCRIPTION: Karen Buddhist, vegetable seller
On the 25th of last month [January], a village LORC committee member called me in the morning to help in the village. I said, "I am not free." He said, "It's only for a short while", so I went with him and then I was arrested to be a porter. I didn't realize until they sent me to Taung Galay village to the military column. Then they took me by truck to Hill 962 at night. The next morning, I started to carry rice. I had to carry about 10 or 12 viss [16-19 kg.] for 2 days. We got one milktin of uncooked rice in the morning for 2 men, and in the evening we had to cook it ourselves. We had to drink water from the stream when we could. While we were carrying, we asked for water but all we got was punches. I couldn't sleep at night because we had no blanket. I had to sleep on the ground in the dust. I didn't bring anything with me, because I didn't know I was going to be a porter. I saw many porters. I arrived with a group of 24 porters, and then I saw many others. The soldiers divided the porters into 4 or 5 groups with fences. Not only porters, also convicts. They were in a separate group. They got the same treatment as all of us.
They ordered me to go and cut bamboo, and then I ran away. I had to sleep one night in the jungle, then 2 nights in Meh Tha Wah. Then I was brought here by car. Now I want to go back home.
NAME: "Zaw Zaw Htun" SEX:
M AGE: 35
FAMILY: Married, 4 children aged 5 to 12, but one child already died
ADDRESS: Kawkareik Township, Karen State INTERVIEWED: 5/2/95
DISCRIPTION: Burmese Muslim
I was a "spare man" on a passenger car [a conductor/mechanic], but now I am a fisherman in the local ponds. I don't get enough food from that, so my wife also sells things in the market. I was arrested by the village militia and some policemen. There were 5 of them. It was about 12 days ago on a Friday, at 3 a.m., when I was sleeping. I was sent by a police car. Then I had to carry rice, about 16 viss [25 kg.]. I was with Division 22. They changed. When one battalion finished, then another came and they changed duties. First I was with Battalion 209, then 203. Both are in Division 22. I had to carry the rice for 1˝ days until we arrived [at the frontline], then I had to cut bamboo for 1 day and then I escaped. When we first started walking, we got no food for 3 meals. I was thirsty, and water was very rare. Then I received only a small plate of rice. At night we could only sit down and lean against each other to sleep. It was a very narrow space. I saw over 1,000 porters, not counting the convicts. I saw 13 year old boys and men 40, 50, 60 years old. I also saw over 50 women being sent back on a truck. We were at Kye Byone Hill, near Manerplaw. I arrived after the fighting had already ended.
I wasn't beaten, but I saw other porters beaten. At night, we had to go but some young porters couldn't carry their loads, so the soldiers beat them. I didn't dare look. They divided the porters into weak and strong, and those who couldn't carry were beaten. I saw some porters being punched almost to death. After they beat them, some porters were wounded and others were slightly hurt. Then they divided them again: the weak porters and the strong porters. My brother-in-law N--- was also a porter, and I had to help him carry his load. The soldiers wouldn't allow us to take a rest. Some young porters who couldn't carry dropped their loads and ran away, so the others were beaten. I saw somebody in front of me being beaten. I didn't dare look and I passed them. My brother-in-law is younger than me, he's just an 8th standard student. Last year he didn't do his exams and quit school, and now he had to go as a porter with me. He had to carry 5 mortar shells. When he couldn't carry them, we shared the shells. Otherwise he would have died because of the weight. A soldier was about to hit him when I took some of the shells and helped him. He is 17 years old, my wife's younger brother. He escaped with me. Now he is here.
I saw one person being buried but I don't know if it was a soldier or a porter. I also saw some people lying on the ground, but I don't know if they were dead or not. After I was cutting bamboo, they gave some rice to the porters and after eating it I ran. I went through the valley and I saw some soldiers with porters. They saw us and tried to shoot at us, but we all managed to escape: 33 of us. A group of about 10 people ran first, then 8 more, then 18 others behind. I was in the middle group. After passing 3 mountains, we all joined together. It took us 4 days to get here. [They must have been lost, as it is not a great distance.]
NAME: "Nyunt Swe" SEX:
M AGE: 35
FAMILY: Married, 2 children aged 7 and 11
ADDRESS: Hlaing Bwe Town, Karen State INTERVIEWED: 5/2/95
DISCRIPTION: Burman Buddhist, bricklayer / trishaw driver
I was arrested when I was driving the trishaw. I was on my way to give it back to its owner at about 6:30 or 7 p.m. and I wanted to go home to my wife. But militia soldiers, policemen and Hlaing Bwe army units were cooperating to take people to go as porters, and they arrested me. I pushed the trishaw into a ditch in front of my friend's house and I shouted to my friends: "Here is my trishaw. Please save it." That was the 25th of January.
I was taken from Hlaing Bwe by truck directly to the jungle at Hill 962. The trip lasted all night, and we arrived there in the morning. As soon as we arrived, we started to carry. I had to carry rice. We had to carry for 5 or 6 miles, up a very high and barren mountain [back and forth, again and again]. We got only rice to eat, and it was not enough. At first the soldiers cooked the rice and gave each of us a handful. Later they gave us one milktin [about 200 ml.] full to cook for ourselves for 2 meals. Sometimes we didn't get to eat for 1˝days, from one morning till the next evening. I was a porter for over one week. I couldn't sleep at night. I was sick and I felt cold. I was suffering from malaria. They gave me no medicine. I had backache and my whole body was hurting because of the beatings. They beat me with a stick and also with a rifle butt on my back. The bamboo stick was big, like this [he indicated about 2-3 inches diameter]. I was beaten twice by the soldiers. Once they hit me 5 times, and the second time they hit me 2 times. I could hardly walk, so the soldiers said "Why can't you carry like us?", and they beat me. I was sick, my back was injured from the beating and the mountain was very steep. I was bleeding. I still have one wound, but the others have already healed. When I crossed the river, the Thai police in Meh Tha Wah gave me some medicine. I saw many porters that the soldiers were beating. The soldiers kicked some of them down the mountainside. I didn't dare look at the people who were kicked down the slope. The soldiers didn't allow us to look, they said they would beat us. But I peeked. After beating them, the soldiers kicked them down. I also saw 3 dead bodies. Some of them died from lack of food and some were beaten to death. The oldest of them was 60 and the youngest about 28 or 30. In my group, there were boy porters as young as 15 or 16.
Many Battalions were all combined together. I don't remember which ones. I didn't dare look at them, because if you looked at them they said, "Why do you look at us?", and they beat us. There were many porters, I think about 1,000 excluding convicts. There were at least 300 or 400 convicts as well. The soldiers divided us in two different groups, and kept the convicts over on the other side from us. We had to work harder than the convicts. They arrived before us and had already done alot of work, so they were given some rest. After carrying all the rice, we had to cut bamboo. The soldiers said it was to build a new camp, at the base of the hill near Hill 962 Strategic Command. While I was cutting bamboo, I discussed escaping with some other porters, and then we escaped. We slept one night in the jungle, 2 nights in Meh Tha Wah and now one night here [he was interviewed on February 5].
NAME: "Zaw Mya" SEX:
M AGE: 42
FAMILY: Married, 5 children aged 6 months to 16 years
ADDRESS: Mudon Town, south of Moulmein, Mon State INTERVIEWED: 5/2/95
DISCRIPTION: ˝Mon ˝Burman Buddhist, sarong weaver
I was arrested 13 days ago, on my way back home from my sister's house. It was about 4 or 5 p.m. A fireman and a policeman told me to go to the Town Council office to discuss something, and as soon as I arrived there they arrested me. At night I was sent by train to Moulmein. After that, they sent me by boat. People called them the "Moulmein boats". There were about 500-600 people on the boat from many different places. The boat took us to Pa'an [Moulmein is near the mouth of the Salween River, and Pa'an is further upriver in Karen State]. Then they took us from Pa'an to Hill 962 [by truck]. At first I had to cut bamboo, then I had to carry rice from Hill 962 to the barren mountain, back and forth. I saw about 20 other people there also from Moulmein. The soldiers divided us all into various groups. I didn't have to carry weapons because of my age, but I saw other porters carrying weapons and ammunition. I didn't see anyone being beaten, because it was mostly older men with me. The oldest was 60. We had to work in the mornings, or if they needed something to be done then they called us. We didn't have to work all the time because of our age, but the younger men had to work all the time. I had to carry bamboo to make a fence or rice, about 10 viss [16 kg.]. The food was mostly rice and salt. They gave me one milktin of rice for one day. Most of the nights I couldn't sleep, because of the space. There wasn't enough space to lie down.
I was with a battalion under #11 Division. I carried for 5 days, then I wanted to run away. I discussed it with some other porters. At about 6 p.m. while we were taking a rest, 5 of us started running into the jungle. Some soldiers shot at us with their guns, and we split into 2 groups. I was alone, and the other 4 went together. I don't know whether they made it here or not. I arrived here alone. I had to sleep one night in the jungle. Early the next morning I started walking, and I arrived at the [Moei] river near Meh Tha Wah at about 11 a.m. I arrived here and met the Karens. I don't know how to go back. I'll go along with the other porters until we reach a town, then we'll separate. I had 700 Kyats with me from home. They took it from me when I was arrested, but maybe when I go home they'll give it back. If I'm arrested again on my way home, that's my bad luck.
NAME: "U Than Htay"
FAMILY: Married, 1 child aged 14 years
ADDRESS: Kawkareik Town, Karen State INTERVIEWED: 4/2/95
DISCRIPTION: Burmese Muslim, trishaw driver
I was arrested on January 25th. The police, the section headman and soldiers came to my house. They said they wanted to check how many people were staying in our house. Then at around 3:30, they stopped their TE11 truck beside the road and ordered me, "Please come to the police station. If you have any problems, come and we'll discuss them at the police station. Get in the truck." At the time, I could see my house but I couldn't contact my family. I asked them, "Why are you arresting me?", but they said "We don't know. We just have an order to arrest you." I didn't have any guests in my house, only my family. I hadn't done anything, but at the time they were doing the same to all the houses. I didn't know. There were many soldiers surrounding our area between 3 and 4 o'clock. When they saw people, they arrested them. They wanted to catch all the men in the whole area. They also arrested some women, but when I arrived they had released them.
I was arrested by 230 and 231 Battalions and the police. They took me to the headquarters of 22 Division at Myaingalay. There I had to stay on the truck, and after a short time they drove off. We went to a place where they already had a camp for porters. They called it Klo Ka Dee. There were about 5,000 or 6,000 people there. The camp was fenced and surrounded by soldiers. I slept one night there, then I had to carry mortar shells. Six of them, 81 mm. shells. I had to carry for 8 days. I didn't know where we were going, because I had to carry at night. I had to carry the shells from the early night until the early morning, then when we arrived there we put them down and we had to carry other things back to their camp. We had to go back a different way. Even in the daytime, we had no free time, and I haven't slept. We had no time to sleep because we had to carry back and forth to the hill all the time. Even if we had some rest time, I couldn't sleep because the soldiers kept calling us to check on us. They called out our names every 10 or 15 minutes. We only got a rest at cooking time, for about 2 hours. We got no rest, but the soldiers could rest by turns. Whenever they went to a new place, the battalion commander let the first group of soldiers rest and called another group of soldiers, and we had to go with them.
We got one meal after 4 days, only a little rice. When I got a chance to do water-carrying duty I could drink water, but this opportunity is very rare. When I couldn't get this duty I had to buy water from the soldiers, 30 Kyat for one milk-tin [about 200 ml.]. When I had no more money, I couldn't drink water. If a porter tries to drink water when he crosses a stream, the soldiers beat him. If you don't get permission from them, they'll kill you.
I saw porters being beaten because they couldn't carry. The soldiers beat them with sticks and rifle butts on the body, wherever they can hit, on the head or back. I was beaten. I couldn't see the path very well at night, so I missed the path and went into the bamboo and then I couldn't catch up with the other porters, so I was beaten on the back of my head with a rifle butt. The strap of my basket was protecting my head, but still it was very painful. Then they showed me the right way to go to catch up with the others.
I saw people burying dead bodies beside the path, but I couldn't tell whether they were soldiers or porters. I was afraid to ask them [as he saw no fighting along the way, it is almost certain that the dead were porters]. I saw one porter getting seriously ill, and he was too weak to take medicine. I thought, "He will die for sure". The soldiers did nothing for him. The porters reported about him to the officer, but he didn't do anything. He just kept walking around. They left him behind along the way when we rested, near their camp.
We were with Battalions 203, 204, 205, 206, 207, 208, 209 ... about 9 or 10 battalions. Sometimes there were 7 porters for one soldier, sometimes 10 porters per soldier. I didn't see any fighting. When the soldiers were playing cards, I escaped with 2 other men from Kawkareik. 10 of us escaped altogether, and then we met 2 more on the way. We went upstream to the hills, then I looked from the top of the mountain and saw the direction of the sun, so I thought I would find the way to Thailand. It took us 2 nights, then we arrived at a place [on the Moei river] with huts and a boat station. I spent one night there, then I went to Baw Noh monastery [in Thailand]. We got food and cooked there, then we came here yesterday. The soldiers didn't say where we were carrying, but I think it was around Manerplaw. All the soldiers were SLORC. We had to carry for many different battalions. I had never been a porter before. At home I had to pay 100 Kyats every month as 'porter fees' [protection money to avoid being taken as a porter]. Every week, I also had to pay 3 separate 'fees' of 75, 100, and 150 Kyats. Now I'm going back home, because I have 3 children. I'll have to ask and check with people which way is safe.
NAME: "U San Kyaw"
FAMILY: Married, 3 children aged 19 to 30 years
ADDRESS: Kawkareik Town, Karen State INTERVIEWED: 4/2/95
DISCRIPTION: Pa'O Buddhist farmer
My eldest son has been a monk for 10 years. My youngest daughter is a 10th standard student. She already finished her exams and is awaiting the results. I own my own land. I was arrested in January, I'm not sure the date. In the early morning when I was threshing the paddy with my cow, soldiers from #97 Battalion came and arrested me. They didn't say why. They pointed their guns at me and told me to get into the truck. They arrested 6 men, but now we are separated. They sent us directly to Kyone Doh, then to Jai, by truck. Then directly to Hlaing Bwe. We changed trucks, and that truck took us into the jungle. I don't know the name of the place, I only know it was a soldiers' camp. We had one day rest, then the next morning we started carrying. I had to carry six 81 mm. mortar shells. It was very heavy. My shoulders are still very sore [he still has scars on his shoulders]. They kicked me in the waist with their boots twice, and it is still a bit painful now.
We had to carry by day and by night. I didn't know where we were carrying to. We just climbed up and down one mountain, again and again. There were many porters, they came from Kawkareik. There was not enough space to sleep. We were like cows in the corral. Some of the porters had to sleep standing up. It was very crowded, and the soldiers were surrounding us. There were 2 gaps in the fence, and there were 2 sentries at each gap. If a porter needs to go to the toilet, he has to ask permission from a soldier. In 4 days, they only gave us one meal. There was not enough to sleep, to eat and to live. Every day 2 or 3 people died. I was lucky to arrive here. Porters who had already walked many days died of sickness or exhaustion. I saw 2 dead porters. We had to bury them. One was from Kyone Doh Nga Dah, and the other was from Ye Pyu [in southern Mon State]. One was the same age as me, and the other was about 40. If a sick porter asked for medicine, the soldiers swore at him. They said the medicine was for the soldiers, not the porters. To get a cup of water cost 20 or 30 Kyats. I bought a cup of water one time. I only had 100 Kyats. I'd sold some paddy but I hadn't given the money to my family because I was keeping it to drink some toddy [palm wine], but then I had no chance to drink toddy because they arrested me.
The youngest porter was about 13 years old and the oldest was 71. There were over 2,000 porters, about 1,500 civilians and the rest were prisoners. There were over 200 soldiers. There was one soldier for every 10 or 15 porters, mixed together. I went in front of them. The porters who were behind were beaten worse than me. I was with #207 Battalion. It is from Thaton and Bilin, part of 22 Division. I carried for 4 days, then I escaped when we were cutting bamboo and the soldiers were playing cards. I talked to the other porters, and 6 of us ran away, then we split up and there were 2 of us. I felt so hopeless. I didn't care where I went, I just ran. If the soldiers saw me they would have killed me. I climbed over mountains, big and small, again and again. On the way I hoped to see some village so I could ask for food, but I didn't see any. We had to sleep one night between the mountains, very hungry. Then we saw a stream. We drank some water, then climbed up a mountain and back down again. The next morning we followed a stream, then we saw a river [the Moei]. We crossed the river and slept on the sandbank. I couldn't see any village. I'm 58 years old, but I'd never been there before. The next morning I found a place that had many banana trees and asked for food, and they guided me to a village where I had a meal and went to the monastery. Then they sent me here by car. Now I'm going back. There is no man in my family. My only son is a monk, and my daughter who already passed her exams will go to college. I'm worried for them. I can't even eat very well. Nobody knew I'd been taken as a porter. I've never been a porter before. We had to pay them 80 or 100 or 150 Kyats each time, four times a month. The highest amount was 500 Kyats. But this time they didn't ask. They didn't want money, they only wanted porters.