An Independent Report by the
Karen Human Rights Group
March 31, 1996 (KHRG #96-14)
[Note: Some details have been omitted or replaced by xxxx for Internet distribution.]
This report is intended to provide some insight into the current workings
of the DKBA (Democratic Kayin Buddhist Army) through interviews with people who are or
have been part of the DKBA, people who have been prisoners of the DKBA, and other general
information sources such as the 1996 DKBA Calendar. The report consists of 2 parts: a
summary of information about the DKBA, followed by related interviews. For more background
on the formation and operations of the DKBA, the reader should see other KHRG reports such
as "SLORC's Northern Karen Offensive"
(KHRG #95-10, 29/3/95), "New Attacks on
Karen Refugee Camps" (KHRG #95-16, 5/5/95), "SLORC / DKBA Activities in Kawkareik Township"
(KHRG #95-23, 10/7/95), "SLORC / DKBA
Activities: Northern Karen Districts" (KHRG #95-24, 18/7/95), "SLORC / DKBA Activities: Pa'an District"
(KHRG #96-05, 14/1/96), "Forced Relocations in Papun
District" (KHRG #96-11, 4/3/96), etc.
In the Interviews section of this report, all names of interviewees have been changed and some details have been omitted to protect those involved. False names are enclosed in quotes.
DKBA = Democratic Kayin Buddhist Army
DKBO = Democratic Kayin Buddhist Organization, political wing of the DKBA
SLORC = State Law & Order Restoration Council
KNU = Karen National Union
KNLA = Karen National Liberation Army, military wing of the KNU
KNDO = Karen National Defence Organization, village militia wing of the KNU
Ko Per Baw = 'Yellow Headbands', name used by most villagers to refer to DKBA
Ta Bee Met = 'Closed Eyes', name used by DKBA to refer to KNU and KNLA.
DKBA structure (p.2-3,10,12,15,16,17), U Thuzana
(p.2,3,5,7,8-9,12,16-17), Myaing Gyi Ngu (p.4-5,12-15,17,20), Tha Menya (p.5,8,12,14,21),
groups related to DKBA (p.6,19-22), the DKBA calendar (p.7).
Cross-border attacks (p.7,8,11,17), recruiting (p.4,15,16,17), health (p.4,13,14), education (p.4,6,13,15), Thala Nya script (p.6), eating meat (p.6,10,13,16,19), drugs (p.3,17,20-21), magic medicine (p.19,21-22), logging (p.9).
Forced labour (p.4,13,18), killings (p.2,10,14,18,20), arrest / torture (p.2,11,12,14,16,18), rape (p.20), looting (p.2,10), landmines (p.11).
DKBA and villagers (p.2-6,10-11,16-18,20), DKBA / SLORC relations (p.2,3,4,8-13,15-18,20), DKBA / Thai relations (p.3,7,8,9), DKBA and Christians (p.4,13,16,18).
The DKBA was formed in December 1994, led by monk U Thuzana and with the
help and support of SLORC. It has a political wing, the DKBO, but this has little
substance and even U Thuzana is referred to as 'Chairman of DKBA' in the 1996 DKBA
calendar. DKBA presented itself as an alternative to the Karen National Union, and it
initially attracted a significant number of rank-and-file Karen soldiers who were fed up
with being ill-fed and ill-supplied at the frontlines while KNU leaders in Manerplaw lived
relatively well, and who were fed up with the lack of opportunity for Buddhists in the
Christian-led hierarchy of the KNU. Many villagers initially supported the DKBA, listening
to its promises of finally breaking the cycle of civil war and SLORC retribution against
their villages. SLORC promised the DKBA that if they helped destroy the KNU, Karen State
would be theirs.
Of course, none of the promises have been kept. The DKBA now operates in most areas as a SLORC militia; its troops can go nowhere without SLORC permission, and usually just a few of them are taken along on operations with moving SLORC columns. A SLORC column of 50 or 100 soldiers will take about 5 DKBA soldiers along with them. When they arrive in villages, SLORC orders the DKBA soldiers to steal livestock and other things for them and point out any villagers who have formerly had contact with KNU. SLORC then gets the loot and often executes the DKBA's prisoners, while the villagers blame it on the DKBA. The DKBA soldiers have little choice but to comply, because SLORC provides all their food, ammunition, uniforms, and cash salaries. None of these are provided in sufficient quantity, so most DKBA units have fallen into a pattern of looting villages, extorting money and taking forced labour from villages for their own sake as well as SLORC's. In most areas, even Buddhist villagers now fear them and look on them as part of SLORC. Most of the former KNLA soldiers have now left DKBA, and it is now made up almost entirely of former villagers. Most of these have joined either because they believe the DKBA's stories that KNU regularly massacres monks and destroys temples, or because they see joining as a way to protect their families or as an opportunity for material gain. A large number have also been conscripted.
The current strength of the DKBA is hard to estimate, but it is most likely somewhere around 1,000-2,000 soldiers, most of whom are in Pa'an, Papun and Thaton Districts. However, some of these soldiers have no weapons or only a few bullets, and they are very thinly spread over large areas. As yet, DKBA has no notable presence in Taungoo District in the north or in Tenasserim Division in the south. They are currently trying to make inroads into the KNU's 6th Brigade area south of Kawkareik, but as yet their presence there is limited to only a few places. The DKBA Army consists of 4 Brigades: #333, 555, 777, and 999. They are very short of people with military experience, so it is common to hear of DKBA Colonels and Generals who used to be Corporals or Sergeants in the KNU's village militia. The commander in chief of the Army, Major General Kyaw Than, used to be a Warrant Officer in the KNDO village militia. The DKBA also has an absurdly high ratio of officers to soldiers. An average group of 10 or 20 DKBA soldiers will include several officers and probably be commanded by at least a Captain (in other armies, a group that size would be commanded by a Sergeant, or perhaps a 2nd Lieutenant). Some DKBA Captains and Operations Commanders only have 2 or 3 soldiers under them.
The command structure within the DKBA is very weak, so local DKBA groups tend to act largely on their own initiative and/or simply follow the orders of the local SLORC battalion. The character of each DKBA unit depends largely on the character of its leaders: some groups, such as that led by Kyaw Tha Da and Kyaw Nuh Po in Bee T'Ka village north of Kawkareik, have become notorious for their viciousness in looting and torturing villagers, while other groups are led by men with a sincere desire to improve the lot of the Karen people, and these groups sometimes try to protect villagers from SLORC abuses and minimize the negative effect of orders from DKBA headquarters in Myaing Gyi Ngu. There is evidence that many DKBA soldiers and officers who joined out of hope for the Karen people have become increasingly disgruntled with the current state of affairs. Some of them are now openly criticizing U Thuzana, the monk who founded DKBA, as being too conciliatory toward SLORC - one year ago, they would not have dared criticize him. Many soldiers continue to desert from DKBA, though this is difficult and dangerous because the DKBA knows who is who in most villages and it is very hard to hide. Most of the deserters have no desire to support KNU, they are simply fed up with DKBA.
Although the DKBA usually operates only as part of a SLORC column, they stay in their own camps separate from SLORC. When they come under attack by KNLA units, they routinely call by radio for SLORC artillery support. SLORC usually refuses, saying "This is between Karen and Karen, it is not our affair", and this makes DKBA furious. One clearcut example occurred on February 27 in the village of Ker Ghaw, north of Kawkareik. At 1-2 a.m. a KNLA unit attacked DKBA based near the village, killing 8 DKBA and capturing their weapons. DKBA called in SLORC artillery support, but SLORC didn't respond - until after the KNLA had left, when they shelled Ker Ghaw village from 3-4 a.m. from Kawmoora and Thingan Nyi Naung. An unconfirmed number of villagers were wounded. As a result of incidents like these, there are occasional gunfights between SLORC and DKBA soldiers, and many DKBA have a naive idea that once they are finished fighting KNU they will attack SLORC and gain independence.
When SLORC captured the KNU stronghold of Kawmoora in February 1995, they claimed the entire assault (which used heavy artillery, siege mortars, human wave attacks and finally chemical gas shells) was conducted by DKBA; after occupying Kawmoora, they kept some DKBA soldiers around and planted many DKBA flags alongside their SLORC flag. Recently, all the DKBA troops were pulled out of Kawmoora by SLORC. The reason for this is not clear, though it was probably because SLORC needed them elsewhere. There were also rumours that SLORC had pulled DKBA units back from the entire Thai border in response to Thai pressure over the DKBA's cross-border attacks on refugee camps and Thai targets; however, these rumours appear to be untrue, as the DKBA is still present along most parts of the border.
DKBA soldiers all talk about "drinking the monk's medicine"
when they go to Myaing Gyi Ngu. Every soldier has to drink a vow to be loyal and fight the
DKBA's enemies to the death, and on some other occasions they also "drink the
medicine". There are various forms of "medicine" - sometimes it is simply
water blessed by the monk to seal the vow. Sometimes it contains a bullet or knife-tip,
with the idea that should the vow be broken that weapon will return to kill you. Often,
though, the soldiers are made to drink a bitter liquid which they say makes them feel
"stupid" or aggressive for the next couple of days. While most soldiers only
have to drink this once or twice, many DKBA officers apparently drink it all the time.
Soldiers also report that some officers often use myin say ("horse medicine"), a
common very strong amphetamine which comes in tablet form and is usually broken up and
smoked (unmixed with tobacco or anything else). The result is loss of sleep and aggressive
behaviour lasting about a day. This drug is common in Thailand, where it is also called
"horse medicine" (yah ma) and its possession is punishable by a prison term. It
costs about US$3-5 per tablet, depending on quality. This drug is most likely being
supplied by SLORC; "horse medicine" is not commonly used by Karens in Burma, and
it is too expensive for most DKBA members, who would just use alcohol if left to their own
devices. SLORC has a history of drugging its own soldiers with various forms of
amphetamines just before using them in human wave assaults.
Khaw Taw (Myaing Gyi Ngu)
DKBA's headquarters is at Khaw Taw, which is known in Burmese as Myaing
Gyi Ngu. This is on the Salween River near Ka Ma Maung, several hours upriver from Pa'an,
the capital of Karen State. U Thuzana began calling people to stop helping the KNU and
come to Khaw Taw in 1994, telling them that Khaw Taw was a vegetarian Buddhist refuge on
the model of Tha Menya (see below). In Tha Menya, villagers do not have to go as porters
or pay taxes for either SLORC or KNU. At first some villagers went to Khaw Taw willingly,
but the DKBA wanted a larger civilian support base so it started forcing villagers to go
and continues to do so. This includes the DKBA's systematic campaign (with SLORC support)
of terrorizing refugee camps in Thailand, destroying refugee camps and attacking Thai
targets, all with the objective of forcing the refugees back to Burma and particularly to
Khaw Taw. The DKBA is also trying to force many villages in Papun District to move to Khaw
Taw with the help of SLORC. Along with Buddhists, quite a few Christian families have been
forced to move to Khaw Taw. Some of them convert to Buddhism due to fear of persecution,
but those who remain Christian are reportedly not persecuted nor are they pressured to
People who have lived in Khaw Taw have found out that it is not like Tha Menya - that the food and medical care (all provided by SLORC) are inadequate, that people are dying, and that they are not allowed to farm nor are they allowed to leave. Families of DKBA soldiers receive various foods, but other families receive only rice and salt. They are not allowed to farm other than having a small garden around their house. They cannot even raise small livestock, because meat is not allowed (though people who can get meat eat it in secret). SLORC even tried to cut off the rice and salt rations, but U Thuzana stopped them. Most new arrivals cannot even build a proper house, because they have to buy the building materials - due to high demand, one piece of bamboo costs 30 to 50 Kyat, more than most people can pay. Some of the living conditions in Khaw Taw have improved slightly due to the building of schools and a clinic and the digging of wells. However, the clean water supply in Khaw Taw is inadequate for the thousands of people there, sanitation is bad and the clinic does not have enough medicine. These factors combined with the bad diet are leading to a high death rate, and infant mortality is reportedly very high. Many of the medics at the clinic have been conscripted by SLORC from towns like Pa'an for 6-month forced rotations. The schools (several small bamboo primary schools and one large 2-storey middle school) run on SLORC curriculum with SLORC-supplied teachers. All teaching is in Burmese; Karen language, literacy and culture are not even taught, and students are not even allowed to speak Karen in school. Though SLORC soldiers do not make their camps inside Khaw Taw, they have established camps and checkpoints all around it. They have a heavy and regular presence in Khaw Taw itself, and there is significant tension between the SLORC and DKBA soldiers.
Villagers in Khaw Taw have also been used as forced labour, both to build pagodas and other buildings and as porters for DKBA units on rotation out of Khaw Taw. Many families have been forced to give a family member as a soldier. The demands for forced labour have reportedly diminished somewhat since 1995; however, it is clear that the vast majority of families in Khaw Taw are there against their will, and would rather leave. No one can leave without a pass from DKBA, and usually only one family member can leave at a time. People are afraid of being stopped along the way if they try to leave. Many of the refugees who have returned from Thailand reportedly would like to flee to Thailand again, but they are also afraid that they will not be accepted back into the refugee camps (camp leaders tell refugees that if they go back to Burma they cannot return to the camp, because DKBA often sends people back to the camps as informers or agitators).
On 31 March 1996, messages were sent from a KNLA unit in Papun District that they had just received 130 families, a total of 600 people, who had just fled Khaw Taw. The unit reported that 90 of these families, 496 people, are desperately in need of food, and asked what action they should take. The reasons for the flight of these people are not yet available, but it is very unlikely that a group this size could escape without permission of DKBA and SLORC. It may be that SLORC has now completely cut off supplies to non-DKBA families, and some people have been allowed to leave. If this continues, it could be a serious blow to the DKBA. As for the refugees, they are in a desperate situation: probably forced to move to Khaw Taw in the first place, they are now trapped in hiding in the forest in a part of Papun District which SLORC and DKBA have declared a free-fire zone and where all existing villages have been ordered to move to SLORC Army labour camps. They are close to the Thai border, but the refugee camps in Thailand will not accept them because they have lived in Khaw Taw, and people from Khaw Taw are often sent by DKBA to agitate in the camps and prepare for cross-border attacks. So for the time being they are trapped in hiding, hoping the SLORC does not find them and desperately in need of help.
One of the most disturbing reports now coming from several sources is that
DKBA soldiers are carrying weapons at Tha Menya. The abbot of Tha Menya, U Win Na Ya (most
commonly referred to as Tha Menya Sayadaw) is a highly Venerable monk who is one of the
most revered monks throughout all of Burma, and his photo can be seen all over the
country. He is now 70 or 80 years old and is Pa'O, though he lives mostly among Karen
people. His monastery near Pa'an attracts many pilgrims and has also become a refuge where
villagers can live under his protection and care, receiving food and free from forced
labour or taxation by SLORC, KNU or anyone else. In return they must only follow strict
Buddhist discipline and keep a strictly vegetarian diet. Thousands of families now stay
under his protection, and some people say that Tha Menya has as many people as Pa'an. Tha
Menya Sayadaw is completely apolitical; soldiers and politicians of either side are
welcome at his monastery to discuss or practice religion, but they must come completely
unarmed. SLORC leaders have visited, and Aung San Suu Kyi's first trip outside Rangoon
after her release was to Tha Menya. In the past SLORC has tried to woo the Sayadaw by
asking him to come to Rangoon to accept secular honours together with large offerings of
money, food, and goods; the Sayadaw turned them down. It may be that SLORC first envisaged
Tha Menya Sayadaw as possible leader of an anti-KNU organization, but when their efforts
failed they sought out U Thuzana and set him up with his own 'refuge' at Myaing Gyi Ngu.
Now it appears that SLORC and the DKBA are trying to make it appear as though the Sayadaw
supports DKBA. Several sources report that SLORC has pressured the DKBA to carry weapons
in the Tha Menya compound and that DKBA has accepted, seeing this as a wonderful
propaganda opportunity. Even SLORC soldiers do not dare carry weapons in the compound. We
do not yet have any information on whether the Sayadaw is aware of this or whether he has
responded. While there are reports that Tha Menya Sayadaw has had correspondence with U
Thuzana, no details are available and most people believe that the Sayadaw is opposed to
the DKBA's doctrine and methods. Regardless of his opinion of the DKBA, it would go
against the Sayadaw's usual principles to give his support to such a political
organization, and he would certainly not allow them to carry weapons near his monastery.
This situation has the potential to be a serious blow to the morale of Buddhists
throughout Burma if they can be convinced that Tha Menya Sayadaw has lost control over his
own refuge or that he supports DKBA - and such a blow would be a significant victory for
Groups Related to DKBA
Throughout 1995 several small groups formed with various religious or
political ideologies, such as Ko Per Kit ('Dark Brown Headbands', or the 'Striped Ones' -
see "SLORC/DKBA Activities in Kawkareik Township", KHRG #95-23, 10/7/95), Ko Per
Thu ('Black Headbands', or the 'Vegetarian Soldiers' - see interviews in this report), and
Ko Per Wah ('White Headbands'). In one way or another, they have all now been assimilated
by DKBA, and it is uncommon to hear much of them anymore.
The DKBA itself was originally formed as a strictly vegetarian group, but it has largely dropped that now. In Myaing Gyi Ngu the rule against eating meat is still enforced, which only makes it harder on villagers there to augment their inadequate diet. Some DKBA officers still remain strict vegetarians or only eat meat in secret. However, most DKBA soldiers now eat meat quite openly. Many of them quote the rule, "2 legs good, 4 legs bad", meaning they will eat chicken and fish, but not pork or beef. Villagers in some areas joke about this, noting that people have 2 legs so that's why the DKBA doesn't mind killing them.
Thala Nya Script
Karen language has 2 major dialects, Sgaw and Pwo. Before the colonial
period, Karen was written with a script commonly known as li saw weh
("chicken-scratch") with somewhat Chinese-looking characters. In later times,
Buddhist monks developed a script based on the Burmese script and called Thala Nya, while
Christian missionaries worked with Karen to develop another script, also based on Burmese,
which was used to write the first Bibles in Sgaw Karen. Because of the colonial influence
and the fact that Christians had better access to education, the Christian-developed
script has become the standard for writing Sgaw Karen among most Karens, including
Buddhists. Pwo Karens, almost all of whom are Buddhist, have a separate script which is
also developed from Burmese.
The DKBA now wants Sgaw Karen to be written only in Thala Nya script, condemning the standard script as a Christian creation. There are even reports that some local DKBA groups, for example in Toe Ko Koh village of Pa'an District, have declared that the Christian script will no longer be allowed. Should the DKBA simply promote the use of Thala Nya script, this could be a positive thing for Karen culture; however, if people are persecuted for using the Christian script this may have grave consequences for the literacy of Karen people. There is a chance that some over-zealous DKBA commanders may begin accusing people of being "KNU supporters" and punish them simply on the grounds that they write in the "Christian" script. If this happens, people will be too afraid to write or read the "Christian" script for fear of being caught. Most literate Karen people do not know Thala Nya script, so they would effectively become illiterate (on a rough estimate, literacy in Thala Nya script is probably less than 10% of Sgaw Karen people in areas affected by DKBA, whereas literacy in "Christian" script is probably 50%). The DKBA has no program to educate people in Thala Nya script. The schools being set up by DKBA, even in their headquarters at Myaing Gyi Ngu, are SLORC schools with teachers sent by SLORC teaching SLORC curriculum; in other words, all teaching is in Burmese. Karen language, culture, and history are not taught, and students are not even allowed to speak in Karen. Buddhist children may be able to learn Thala Nya script as novices at monasteries, but Christian, Animist, and Muslim children have no such opportunity, so if the DKBA enforces use of Thala Nya script these populations will become illiterate in their own language.
The 1996 DKBA Calendar
Much of the 1996 DKBA calendar is titled and written in Thala Nya
script, with the remainder being in Burmese. It features a large portrait of U Thuzana on
the cover and many photos of him throughout, many of which come from a trip he made to
Karenni State when he joined in a pagoda-
building ceremony. In fact, less than half the photos were taken in Karen State, and of those that were, none of them show a DKBA soldier and villagers are also notably missing from most of them. The only other DKBA leader shown is General Secretary Tha Htoo Kyaw. Photos of the middle school, clinic (this photo is dated 1993), and some pagodas in Myaing Gyi Ngu appear alongside photos of an army truck and some army-green jeeps on a ferry in the Salween River (captioned "Motor vehicles donated to Myaing Gyi Ngu by the State arriving") and a photo of U Thuzana leading a delegation of high-ranking SLORC military officers through Myaing Gyi Ngu (ironically captioned, "The now peaceful Karen State at Myaing Gyi Ngu: one of the Sayadaw's religious ceremonies"). None of the traditional Karen holidays are marked, such as Revolution Day (31 January), Martyr's Day (11 August, not to be confused with Burmese Martyr's Day in July), or Karen National Day (11 February). However, all major SLORC holidays are clearly marked, such as Tatmadaw Day (27 March), Burman Independence Day (4 January), and Union Day (12 February). The DKBA have added one holiday of their own, 'DKBA Day' on 21 December - anniversary of the official formation of the DKBA in December 1994. Ironically, Christmas Day is marked.
Outside Myaing Gyi Ngu the calendars are apparently not heavily distributed. Many families hang the calendars as a form of protection. In Huay Bone (Don Pa Kiang) refugee camp in Thailand, a camp with a regular presence of DKBA informers, even some Christian families hang DKBA calendars in the hope that it may protect them from being robbed or shot during DKBA raids. In preparation for any situation, some houses display a DKBA calendar on one wall, a KNU calendar on another, a calendar picture of the King of Thailand, and a Burmese movie star calendar as well.
This report does not document DKBA/SLORC cross-border raids into
Thailand in detail; some of these may be documented in an upcoming KHRG report, and for
background the reader should see "SLORC's Northern Karen Offensive" (KHRG
#95-10, 29/3/95) and "New Attacks on Karen Refugee Camps" (KHRG #95-16, 5/5/95).
The attacks diminished through 1995 rainy season, then resumed in September/October 1995.
They became particularly intense in December and January, including a grenade attack on a
Thai tourist van which killed and dismembered Thai tourists, a looting attack on a Thai
Karen monastery in which a monk was shot dead, a raid on a Karen refugee school with the
apparent aim of capturing a foreign teacher for ransom, and the assassination of retired
KNLA General Taru, 70 years old, who was staying with his family in a refugee camp. Some
refugees have also been kidnapped, tortured or killed on the Thai side of the river by
DKBA and Burmese soldiers. Thai forces along the border have increased their presence but
they are completely ineffective at stopping the DKBA, and for the most part are just
making life harder for the refugees by restricting their activities and demanding things.
The DKBA's logic of increasing attacks on Thai targets is that this will cause the Thais
to drive all the refugees back to Burma more readily than attacks on the refugees
themselves. However, the Thai response has been largely to pressure SLORC to stop the
attacks. Since January, the attacks have slackened. The Thais claim that they have
convinced SLORC to pull the DKBA back from the border, but this has not happened except in
Kawmoora. Some attacks continue to happen, the DKBA has informers in the camps, and they
continue to threaten to destroy camps if refugees do not return to Burma. For their part,
they hate the Thais with a passion; as one DKBA officer says (see below), he wants to
shoot Thai soldiers if he even sees them come down to the river on the Thai side of the
Most of the attacks this year are initiatives by local DKBA units with the aim of looting. However, some of the attacks such as those on Thai targets and the assassination of Gen. Taru, as well as the threats to destroy camps, are most likely ordered by higher levels of the DKBA and/or by SLORC. Everyone in northern Karen refugee camps, particularly Sho Kloh, Beh Kloh (Mae La), and Huay Bone (Don Pa Kiang) is living in constant fear every night, and there is no sign that the cross-border attacks are going to cease. Some DKBA units near the border would also like to kidnap a foreign aid worker from a refugee camp; some units hope for a large ransom, some believe that killing a foreigner would stop the flow of aid to the camps and force the refugees to return, and some actually hope to take a foreign medic or teacher to Myaing Gyi Ngu to teach (without realizing that SLORC would never allow this).
[The following was said in conversation by a DKBA soldier in March
1996; some details are omitted.]
Ta Bee Met [KNU] are thieves and robbers. They are useless men and good for nothing. If they call themselves men, they should come and attack us in our own country. We always welcome them to come and attack our camp. If they can get our camp, there are girls here for them. But if they don't dare come and attack us, then I want to tell them to come and stay together with us. If SLORC fights us we will fight them together. But we will be your leaders, because we are the only group holding power on the Burma side [of the border]. KNU soldiers are afraid to come to Khaw Taw and Tha Menya too. Now, SLORC has given us full power in our hands and they've given us a special chance to carry weapons freely in Tha Menya compound, even though they themselves are afraid to do that. We are the only group who are blessed by the Lord. We have to thank the Lord and worship him for giving us such power.
We also need to get a foreigner for our education for our people. But it's not easy to do, because the Thai Army and the Ta Bee Met protect them. I hate Thai Army. If I ever see them across the river [on the Thai side] I'll shoot them. Whenever our men try to arrest or kill KNU people in the camps the Thai Army try to attack us, but we're not afraid of them. They're very proud of their country, their good weapons, uniforms and salary, but we can easily kill them even with their good weapons and trucks. If they keep protecting the refugee camps, one day they will see their towns and villages become ashes. We can give them any trouble we like.
In Ker Ghaw village there was fighting 3 weeks ago and I was really angry with SLORC. Our friends there asked SLORC to support them with artillery, but they didn't do it so 8 of our soldiers were killed and 7 weapons were taken by Ta Bee Met soldiers. Then after the Ta Bee Met soldiers left the village SLORC started firing artillery and they only hit the villagers. SLORC are scum. [Note: since the attack DKBA has executed several Buddhist villagers and demanded money from villages as retribution; see "Abuses in Tee Sah Ra Area", KHRG #96-15, 1/4/96.] One day when we have a lot of soldiers, we'll fight against both SLORC and KNU. But every time we complain about SLORC, the monk [Thuzana] always says, "Be patient and one day if SLORC fights us I alone will go against them - you won't have to fight, you'll just have to clap your hands and beat the drum." I myself am trying to figure out the ambition of the monk, whether he's going to lead us into trouble or not. We already know some ways that the monk is like the Burmese. When SLORC told us, "You people have no qualifications or education, how are you going to lead and govern your people and country?", we were angry and we wanted to go back and stay with KNU. But the monk said that's not a good idea, he said, "SLORC is only joking with you, because they want you to get more education in the future". When the monk talks to us like that, we also become gentle and our faces and minds become soft and smile. I think the monk is using some magic - but don't tell anybody I said that.
I always tell my soldiers, "SLORC may attack us, always be ready to fight SLORC". Ta Bee Met are not Burmese, but Burmese are Burmese. Because of SLORC we are in this camp. I never thought there would be an army camp here. A couple of weeks ago in xxxx, KNU and SLORC allowed a Thai trader to cut down trees for timber, window frames and furniture. They both get tax from him, about 2 million Baht per month [actually, there is no way it would be this much just for one concession]. So DKBA soldiers went to the Thai trader and asked for tax, but the Thai trader said, "I already pay SLORC and KNU, so I have no money to give you". Then the DKBA soldiers went to SLORC and SLORC said, "Why did you go and ask for tax?" So DKBA said, "You and KNU earn money, so DKBA should too", but SLORC said, "Don't do that." We were very angry with SLORC. Then SLORC sent a message to KNU saying, "If you see anyone going to bother the trader, we'd like you to attack and kill all of them". The KNU soldiers were very happy to hear that, and the next day when the DKBA soldiers were on their way to the sawmill the KNU soldiers were waiting for them halfway and shot at them. The DKBA soldiers called SLORC to support them with artillery, but SLORC were laughing and clapping their hands. We were really angry and wanted to fight SLORC when that happened. Since then I keep thinking about going back to KNU, or giving all our guns to the monk and going home.
I remember when I was a child, my mother told me a story about a gentleman and a lady who stayed together for about 45 years before getting married. Then just before they were going to marry, a Devil pretended to be a lovely young girl and came every day to the gentleman's house and said "I love you", more than twice every day. So this man forgot his lady and fell in love with the Devil. One day, the Devil took the man to visit a famous valley, and when they were on the mountaintop she told him, "My darling, look into the valley and you'll see a nice view". When he looked, she suddenly pushed him over the edge and he fell and died. Then she went to the lady and said, "I don't love your boyfriend anymore, he is waiting for you on top of the mountain". The lady was very happy and followed the Devil there, and then the Devil did the same thing to her as to the man. So I think SLORC is the Devil who will separate our Karen people and push us all into the valley. For now, we are watching the situation. We have done some wrong things to the villagers. We have also killed some KNU leaders, though there is nothing wrong with that because it was to teach them a lesson. But if we go back to them now they will torture us and kill us. When we first created our organization we only wanted to let the KNU leaders know that they were doing wrong things. But when we held a meeting, some people said we should go and work with SLORC. One man spoke only in Burmese, and the DKBA leaders followed what he said. He prepared a place for us in Khaw Taw. I only saw him one time, and I don't know where he is now [KHRG has no information about who this was, but it was clearly not U Thuzana]. Anyway, we must always be ready - the eyes of our enemy never close, and they are always plotting things to come between us [Karen people].
NAME: "Naw P'Neh Paw"
AGE: 45 Karen
FAMILY: Widow, 4 children
ADDRESS: xxxx village, Pa'an District INTERVIEWED: Mar/96
["Naw P'Neh Paw" fled her village to become a refugee in early March 1996.]
I came because there was so much trouble in my village. It is because of Bo XXXX and his soldiers. He is a Ko Per Baw [DKBA] leader. He is a Captain, but he has only 3 soldiers. All the Ko Per Baw call themselves "Captain", "officer", "Sergeant Major", and so on. His three soldiers, they are also officers! Whenever they arrive in a village, they order alcohol, chicken and pigs. We are afraid of them and must do everything they say. If we don't, they tie us up and make us sleep together with the cattle, or sometimes in a pigsty. They always travel around our area. Sometimes even when we kill a pig and sell it among ourselves, they come and say, "Why didn't you tell me you were killing a pig? Don't you know that I'm a leader?" We said, "Please forgive us this time, my Captain. If we do it again later we'll tell you, my Captain. My Captain, this was our mistake." Even though we said that, they still took all the pork that was left.
Q: But they say they are vegetarian. Do they eat pork?
A: Sure they do. [Angrily:] If they couldn't get pork curry, I'm sure they'd even eat pigshit! Only some of their leaders don't eat meat. As for the Ko Per Baw who come to my village, the officers and Captain all eat meat, but they eat it quietly and secretly. If people see them, they say, "Don't tell any other leaders what you saw. If you do, we'll kill you, chop you up and eat you like the pig. This is your first and last warning." The Ko Per Baw said that! They took all my chickens and pigs. They also stole 10 bulls of mine and sold them to SLORC for only 1,500 Kyat each. They were all adult bulls! [Each one should be worth 10,000 Kyat or more.] They gave me nothing. When I asked them, "Nephew, have you seen my bulls?", they said "No, maybe SLORC stole your bulls. We heard from other villagers that 10 bulls were taken to town by SLORC, so they must be yours, Auntie." I know that they stole my bulls but I couldn't say anything. In my village, my cousin's 3 bulls were also stolen by the Ko Per Baw soldiers. When he went to the Ko Per Baw and asked for them, the Ko Per Baw said "Did you say you wanted your bulls, or a bullet?" [in Karen, 'klaw pa' or 'kloh klih'] My cousin said "Only my bulls." Then the Ko Per Baw killed him. They shot him, but first they hit his face with their hands and stabbed him in both legs, then they killed him. Two days later they called a meeting in the village and said, "This is an example for you villagers. Don't accuse us of being robbers or thieves. We aren't Ta Bee Met ['Closed eyes', DKBA name for KNU]. We protect the village." What I'd like to ask him is this: "You say you protect the village and do only good things. Then why do you kill people and steal?" But I just keep everything in my mind.
SLORC also comes to the village. They always come together with Ko Per Baw soldiers. If there are 50 SLORC soldiers, there will only be 5 Ko Per Baw soldiers with them. The SLORC call themselves #44 [Light Infantry Division]. They are not friendly with the villagers. They order the Ko Per Baw to get our animals for them. Sometimes if the Ko Per Baw soldiers don't do what they order, they say, "Don't you love us? You are one of the KNU. If you love us you must do what we say." So the Ko Per Baw have to do everything they want. The SLORC arrest people, so all the men run away from them. If they catch any villagers they take them as porters for a long time. The villager's family and the headman must go pay them money, or they will keep the villagers until they die. Many people around my village say that SLORC really arrests people just to get the money. The SLORC use their brains with the Ko Per Baw - they tell them softly, "My friend, please carry this food for a few days. If we catch any porters, you won't have to carry it any longer." The SLORC gives them some food and the Ko Per Baw are a little bit happy - they don't realize they are just acting as the dogs of SLORC. Sometimes the Ko Per Baw get angry and they don't want to go with SLORC anymore. Then they say to SLORC, "You are also Ta Bee Met", and they leave to go and do whatever they like.
My nephew Saw xxxx was tortured by SLORC. He is 23 years old and single. He is Buddhist and was a middle school teacher. He was arrested on 23 October. I don't know why, they just came at night and arrested him. They tied him, and a SLORC soldier hit him in the head with his rifle butt. His head was bleeding. The Ko Per Baw also beat him, because they thought that all the teachers in the school were Christian. We went with the headman and asked SLORC to release him. We told them the students were about to have exams, and the other teachers needed him to prepare. SLORC released him at about 11 o'clock the next morning, and SLORC and Ko Per Baw said "Please forgive us teacher, we didn't know who you were." I hate them, both of them.
My husband was killed when he stepped on a Ko Per Baw landmine in October. It happened in his farmfield. When he died they [Ko Per Baw] came to my house and said, "It must have been a Ta Bee Met landmine, we never lay mines in the fields". You know, even though we know they did it we are afraid to tell them, and we have to suffer it always. When they are drunk they come to my house and ask for my daughter. One of them said, "I want to marry your daughter. If you don't give her to me then you must be keeping her for Ta Bee Met soldiers, and I can make any kind of trouble for you." I told him, "My daughter is only 17 years old, there are only the two of us together, so please don't marry my daughter". He said, "No, you must give her to me." Then I thought and I told him, "I'll give you my daughter, but not right now, it's too late at night. So go and sleep, my son-in-law." Then he was very happy and went back. The next morning very early at about 4 o'clock, my daughter and I left the village. At that time the Ko Per Baw were still asleep and drunk. We arrived here two days ago. Along the way they stopped us and searched our bags and our bodies. [Other details of their trip must be omitted for safety.]
NAME: "Saw Ler Dah"
AGE: 32 Karen
FAMILY: Married with 2 children INTERVIEWED: Jan/96
["Saw Ler Dah" and his friend "Saw Lah" used to be Karen soldiers but have been refugees since early 1995. They were kidnapped from Thailand by DKBA in November and held for 2 months.]
I and my friend "Saw Lah" were captured together by Ko Per Baw and Burmese soldiers on the Thai side of the border at xxxx. It was xx November 1995 at about 12:30 a.m. There were 3 Ko Per Baw and two Burmese soldiers. They had one M16, one AK47, and a Chinese-made machine gun. They pointed their guns at us and asked about weapons. We answered that we didn't know anything about this. Then they made us get in a boat and took us across the river to xxxx [on the Burma side of the border]. They just floated the boat on the current and didn't use the engine so as not to make any noise.
When we got across, the Burmese soldiers asked the Ko Per Baw if they could search us, and the Ko Per Baw said yes. When they searched us they tied our hands behind our backs and covered our faces with cloth, even though they said that they were going to execute us anyway and we could hear the sound of a hole being dug for our corpses to be thrown into. However, Saw xxxx vouched for us [one of the Ko Per Baw soldiers who knew them], so they just threw us in the lockup, where we had to stay and sleep for about two days. I think if it hadn't been for Saw xxxx being there, we really would have been killed.
On xx November they sent us to xxxx in two boats, together with a group of more than 30 including about 20 Ko Per Baw. From there we went on to xxxx and slept there one night along with some Ko Per Baw. The next morning the Ko Per Baw located a car and we went in the car with some of them to the Thingan Nyi Naung headquarters of #88 Division [SLORC Light Infantry Division]. There they searched us and put us in jail again. They handcuffed the two of us together and kept us in the Military Intelligence interrogation room until about 3 p.m. The Burmese soldiers asked the Ko Per Baw to hand us over to them, but the Ko Per Baw would not give us. We stayed in detention there.
On xx November we were sent on a military truck to Tha Menya [see background in the first part of this report] along with 3 Ko Per Baw. Altogether about 20 trucks went. When we arrived there the Burmese soldiers' trucks went on to other places, and only our truck stayed. At Tha Menya, my friend and I and the Ko Per Baw slept on the pagoda [platform]. At Tha Menya I think there were more than 10,000 houses, with 3 to 5 people per house. There were many, many monks and nuns, and the Ko Per Baw seemed to be freely carrying their weapons, even in the monastery compound. ["Saw Lah" added that he heard it was SLORC who told the DKBA to carry their weapons around Tha Menya.] While we were there the Ko Per Baw said that we ought to understand one another so as to work together.
On xx December we went on in the military truck together with the 3 Ko Per Baw until we reached Pa'an, where we were taken to a large riverboat, which left in the morning for the 4-5 hour trip [up the Salween River] to Ka Ma Maung. There we got on a small boat and went on until we arrived at Myaing Gyi Ngu. The Ko Per Baw took us to the Ko Per Baw office and said, "These two people are not involved in the revolution any more". Then the Ko Per Baw leader there said we were allowed to do as we pleased within the Myaing Gyi Ngu area. We didn't do anything - we were allowed to walk around, sleep and eat, for about 2 months. At the time we went to Myaing Gyi Ngu the abbot [U Thuzana] was not there, and people said he went to construct a pagoda in Moulmein. This monk does not stay in the region - he is always travelling. The Ko Per Baw general secretary at Myaing Gyi Ngu is Tha Htoo Kyaw, who used to be a KNU administration officer in KNU 7th Brigade. The military leader is Major General Kyaw Than [formerly Warrant Officer Kyaw Than of the KNDO militia] and second in command is Major General Lah Ba. Bo Tha Htwe and Bo Byah are also senior officers, and Ban Keh [who used to write for some KNU publications and ran a teashop in Manerplaw, and is now a senior DKBA Information official] was also there.
Ko Per Baw soldiers and their families stay right in Myaing Gyi Ngu, but the Burmese soldiers do not. The Burmese soldiers stay in all the villages around the perimeter, and they come into Myaing Gyi Ngu to see the Ko Per Baw leaders. They stay in Ohn Taw, Bweh Hta, Bweh Tay, Gan Nyi Naung, T'Maw Ya Mat Eh, Tee La Neh, and T'Kaw Po villages. Each village has a checkpoint with 20 or 30 SLORC troops, sometimes together with police and/or People's Militia [SLORC militia]. The SLORC troops staying in all the villages throughout the area are from [Light Infantry] Divisions 11, 22, 77, and 88, and they stay especially in all the places around Tha Menya and Myaing Gyi Ngu. The 22 Division leaders are the most involved in administering the region [22 Division was notorious for the 1988 Rangoon massacres]. SLORC officials sometimes come from other regions, usually to preside over school openings and things like that. People said that the Myaing Gyi Ngu abbot had received visits from both Aung San Suu Kyi [not true] and Khin Nyunt [true; Khin Nyunt is SLORC Secretary-1 and head of Military Intelligence] at different times. Overall I think that the relationship between Ko Per Baw and SLORC is not so good. The Ko Per Baw soldiers don't understand anything, they just do what they're told. As for the Ko Per Baw leaders, they can see that the situation is dangerous but they don't want to join hands with the KNU again. The SLORC does not trust the Ko Per Baw, and the Ko Per Baw does not trust the SLORC. Above all else, the Ko Per Baw leaders know that this is a dangerous situation.
There are about 8,000 houses in Myaing Gyi Ngu [others estimate far fewer than this], so the families of Ko Per Baw are a minority. They were doing a registration of the population while I was there. There are Christian families there, and they are not forced to become Buddhists. There was continuous work to provide electricity, pagodas, schools and a clinic. There are now two monasteries, a brick high school, bamboo primary schools, and a clinic was under construction but not complete. Electricity is only provided along the road [streetlights] and to the leaders' houses, some of which have televisions and things. There is not enough health care, and I think 40 or 50 people died in the time I was there, mostly because they failed to boil water, and a few from physical injuries. Some wells are being dug with materials from the authorities and some by the villagers themselves. The first arrivals there each received one plastic toilet basin per house. The SLORC has sent teachers to Myaing Gyi Ngu, so the students can only study in Burmese and English, not in Sgaw or Pwo Karen [i.e. SLORC school curriculum - Karen language, alphabet, and culture are not even taught, nor is Karen language allowed to be spoken].
The Ko Per Baw soldiers and villagers who stay in Myaing Gyi Ngu are given food by the SLORC. For Ko Per Baw, rice, salt, oil, onions and garlic, potatoes, noodles, and fake meat substances. For non-Ko Per Baw, only rice and salt. Meat is not allowed. The SLORC administration tried to say that people who stay in Myaing Gyi Ngu who are not soldiers would no longer get any food at all, but the Myaing Gyi Ngu monk refused this and insisted that people be given rice. A regular Ko Per Baw soldier who is single gets 500 Kyat per month from the SLORC. [A SLORC Army private gets 750.] As far as I know there were only 20 or 30 monks at the monastery when I was there. There used to be more than 100, but many of these have left. Many people become ordained at Myaing Gyi Ngu as a way to go to other places, and they get out as soon as they can.
The first arrivals in Myaing Gyi Ngu received 10 corrugated metal roofing sheets per family, but now anyone who arrives has to buy the materials to build a house. One big bamboo pole costs 30 Kyat. Most of the houses are of bamboo, except the leaders' houses which are all of wood. DKBA has set up one sawmill, and this is the only place to buy wooden planks. Nobody staying at Myaing Gyi Ngu is allowed to raise any livestock, clear any fields or hillsides for farming, or grow any rice. Only small gardens are allowed beside your house. So people have no way to support themselves or make any money, and they only get rice and salt. Because of this, some people say they want to leave, including some Ko Per Baw families, but they cannot leave because to leave you must get a pass from Ko Per Baw.
The villagers within Tha Menya and Myaing Gyi Ngu are not forced to work, but other villages in the area like Ka Ma Maung, Tee Th'taw Hta and others are required to go as forced labourers to build roads. People have to pay 300 or 400 Kyat if they can't go. The SLORC says to them that these roads aren't for the Burmese military, they're for the people.
I told them I wanted to go back and I tried to get their permission to leave by swearing that I would not be involved in the revolution any more. The Ko Per Baw soldiers told me to go and get my wife and children and come back to stay in Myaing Gyi Ngu, but I didn't want to do that. On our way back we stayed again in Tha Menya for two nights. I think the Tha Menya abbot was there, but I think there's very little contact between him and the Myaing Gyi Ngu monk. From there we went to xxxx and crossed the mountains for 3 days, and we arrived in XXXX on xx January.
NAME: "Saw Po Ghay"
M AGE: 40 Karen
FAMILY: Married with 3 children INTERVIEWED: Feb/96
["Saw Po Ghay" is a Karen refugee who crossed the border into Burma together with KNU officer M-- to talk to the DKBA. They were arrested and M-- was brutally murdered, after which "Saw Po Ghay" was held prisoner for 2 months until his escape in February 1996.]
If I have to tell everything that happened it will never end. Even if I just talk about all the beatings and blows they give people it will be a long story. They are very bitter against KNU people. They interrogated me and they hit me about ten times. I got a wound on my shoulder, but now it has healed. They asked me what I was doing before with the KNU. They were suspicious of me. They didn't question me for long, then they took me away to the monastery. But they questioned M-- for a long time. I saw them beating him. His face was terribly swollen. They asked him where he kept his weapon, and where he hid his belongings. They also asked him how many people he killed when he was in the KNU. They asked him about his past. They beat him the whole day, and only let him rest at night. They put him beside their office when they let him rest. His whole face was disfigured, and his teeth were broken by their blows. I thought they would provide medicine for him, but they never gave him any medicine. That very night they killed him, at 9 p.m. I didn't see it, but I heard that they killed him with a hatchet, they cut his throat, ripped open his belly and took out his liver. I don't know what they did with it, but they threw his dead body into the Moei River.
Then they didn't do anything to me, they kept me with them for a while and took me with them when they marched to the south. When we got there they told me to repair some machines and the motors on boats. I am a mechanic. I was in xxxx for 17 days. Then they sent me to Myaing Gyi Ngu. Myaing Gyi Ngu was crowded and busy. People there are given work to do by the SLORC. They carry bricks and sand and build pagodas. People who work for the SLORC are given rations like rice, cooking oil, condensed milk and sugar. Ordinary people are given only rice. The SLORC supplies all the rice to the monastery, and the monks give it out to the people. Some of the rice has paddy [unmilled] grains in it, some is insect-infested, and some is good. There are about 6,000 houses there. The place is not so healthy, there are diseases and many people die. People are often down with various sicknesses. There is not enough food to eat, and the food is not nutritious. People become sick and weak and gradually die off. The water supply is not enough, and the sanitation and toilets are bad, so there is much disease. Death is common and often. Infant mortality is especially bad. I think this disaster is happening because their diet is only rice, salt and chillies. The people there are supposed to be vegetarians. They don't eat meat, and many people cannot even afford to buy cooking oil - where can they get their nutrition? There are two cars that go back and forth and bring things from Pa'an. The SLORC does not allow any other vehicles to come in. Some of the villagers keep shops there, but only a few. Most of the people there are poor. Most of them have been displaced from their hill villages. There are many people there who have returned from the refugee camps in Thailand, and there are many problems for them there, but it will not be easy for them to go back to Thailand again.
They are building a school and a hospital with materials from SLORC. It is being built by outsiders. When I went to the new hospital there were about 20 patients there. SLORC sends doctors there. The doctors are Karen, Burmans, and Pa'O. They are medical graduates. They come to stay for several months. [Sources in Pa'an say that doctors and medics there are now being conscripted by SLORC and forced to go for a six-month rotation of duty in Myaing Gyi Ngu.] When I came back from there 2 weeks ago, there were 15 doctors. However, their supply of medicine is not enough. The medicines they use are from China, and that medicine is not good enough for the malaria we have here. I don't know about the future, but for now the SLORC is giving the medicine.
The school is a two-storey brick building, but because there are so many students they can only go to school for half the day each. They have a plan to build 2 or 3 more schools. The SLORC sends the teachers. I think Karen books are not included. They teach only in Burmese and English.
There are many soldiers there, but they don't have enough ammunition. There are some soldiers without weapons or ammunition. They don't force people there to join, because there are many people there who are willing to join. There are also SLORC soldiers there. They are deployed all around Myaing Gyi Ngu for security. The monastery is headquarters for the DKBA troops - many of them are there. They have plans to build a barracks, but for now their office is inside the monastery. When I was there the monk was not there, he had gone to Moulmein to place a 'hti' [the golden umbrella-shaped crowning ornament] on a pagoda. I saw minor differences between SLORC and DKBA, but no big quarrels. Sometimes there was nearly fighting but then it didn't happen. They don't stay together. Whenever the DKBA are needed the SLORC summons them, and then they march together. When they come back, each group goes back to their own place. The DKBA soldiers disappear back to their own houses, then when they are summoned again they appear again. I think there are about 2,000 of them, but they don't have weapons for all of those [this is probably far more than are in Myaing Gyi Ngu, but may be accurate for the DKBA as a whole]. But in my opinion the DKBA is not united. One group say one thing and another group say another thing, so I can't figure out what they are really up to. If the DKBA want to travel to Pa'an, Hlaing Bwe, or from one village to another, they have to get written permission from the SLORC authorities, otherwise they are liable to be arrested.
While I was in Myaing Gyi Ngu I didn't have to do anything, but they were watching me. I took leave for six days from Myaing Gyi Ngu and went to my village. Then I came to XXXX with some old women. If I had met DKBA along the way, they wouldn't have let me come. At the SLORC checkpoints along the way, I lied and said I was going to XXXX. I arrived here 2 weeks ago.
NAME: "Saw Htoo Wah"
AGE: 20 Karen
FAMILY: Single INTERVIEWED: Jan/96
["Saw Htoo Wah" was a DKBA soldier from July to December 1995.]
I was a KNLA soldier in #xx Battalion of 7th Brigade. In July 1995 I was staying at home [on leave]. I tried to come back to KNU area but all the ways back to my unit were blocked by SLORC and DKBA soldiers. Then DKBA sent a message telling me to go to their place. It said if I didn't go they would come with SLORC soldiers and arrest me. Three of my friends [also KNLA soldiers] were together with me at that time. SLORC didn't know that we were soldiers, but DKBA knew. They said we all had to go and join them or they would come and arrest us, so we had to go even though we certainly didn't want to join them. We had to go to Bee T'Ka village. Their commander was battalion commander Bo Mi Taw. It is Battalion #1 of #999 Brigade. None of us had any weapons. They gave us weapons - M16 and AK47. I got an AR [cut-down version of an M16]. The Burmese give the uniforms. They are like Karen uniforms but with DKBA badges that have the word "Kayin" written in Burmese. Three of us were Buddhist and one was Christian, but they treated us all the same. The Christian didn't become Buddhist, but since then they have made him a Lieutenant and he is a Company 2nd-in-command!
They didn't allow us to stay in Bee T'Ka village because they didn't trust us, so they sent us to Lai Ner village. It is 1 1/2 days' walk west of Bee T'Ka [in solidly SLORC-controlled territory]. Then they sent us to Naw Bo Gyi camp [a main DKBA camp near the Thai border] and we were based there.
While I was in DKBA I never had to do anything. Only the villagers have to work. Most of the DKBA are villagers who joined. Many villagers volunteer because they were told that the KNU killed many monks. They fall for that propaganda. Once they are in DKBA they speak about peace but they take the villagers' cattle and buffalos. They sell them off, and they also sell people's houses, but they don't give the money to their leaders. The only ones who don't eat meat are the officers, like Pa Nwee. But the subordinates eat everything. [The DKBA claims to be vegetarian.]
There are 19 soldiers to a unit. When all the soldiers from 999 Brigade came to Naw Bo Gyi and they had roll call, I think there were 800 or 900 people. They also have #555, 333, and 777 [#999 is the largest]. I can't guess how many soldiers altogether. There are many soldiers. Most of them are Pwo Karen, but not all of them are Karen. There are many Burmans who speak only Burmese. They are from central Burma. I don't know why they joined.
All the ammunition comes from SLORC, as well as the food supplies. SLORC goes by the advice given to them by the [DKBA] monks. If the monks recommend someone he will be promoted, and if the monks condemn someone SLORC will punish him. SLORC soldiers always march together with the DKBA. Sometimes they just go along, but they also combine in military operations. The monks who march with the troops are Burmans, I saw that with my own eyes. [There is speculation that many of the DKBA 'monks' are actually SLORC military officers.] There are many monks, but I don't know all the famous monks. I only know Myaing Gyi Ngu monk [U Thuzana, founder of DKBA] and the Taung Byone monks. When we were in Myaing Gyi Ngu we saw them in video films. They showed videos of the construction of pagodas, performance of rituals, and [military] roll call.
We were sent to Myaing Gyi Ngu ten days after we joined DKBA. We were ordered to go. We stayed there for three days. There were plenty of villagers there. There is a hospital. SLORC gives the medicines. There are SLORC soldiers in Myaing Gyi Ngu. I saw many of them when I went there. They were guarding the monk [U Thuzana]. I don't know how many of them were there exactly, but there are plenty of them. I saw them stationed in two or three places, but most of them were in the monastery. I heard that the monk refused to sign a deal with SLORC, but from what we heard him say, I think the monk [U Thuzana] is in league with the Burmese. He told us that we should not be afraid to come back to them, that if we come back in the name of religion we will be alright. The monastery is very big, with at least 100 monks - alot! They are former soldiers who have become monks. They speak Burmese, Sgaw Karen and Pwo Karen. That is the monastery where we had to drink the liquid. We had to drink bitter and brackish liquid in order to make a vow. They called it the liquid of the vow of allegiance. We didn't have to say anything. They just made us drink and gave us two candies each. After drinking, I felt that my mind was not so clear. I felt as if I was mentally not all there, I felt sort of stupid. We only had to drink it once, but the DKBA Commander Pa Nwee has to drink it very often. If he doesn't drink it he gets headaches.
When I was at Myaing Gyi Ngu we heard that the monk said the KNU had bombed and destroyed monasteries and killed lots of monks. Most of the people believed it, but I found out later it was false. They say so many bad things about the KNU, and also about Christians. There were about 2,000 households in Myaing Gyi Ngu when we were there. Their only work is to help build pagodas and monastery buildings. The monk doesn't give them food, it is the Burmese who give all the food they eat. They are not happy - they have to fear both the Burmese and the DKBA. The DKBA threaten them that they will kill anyone who tries to go back to the KNU [to the DKBA, this includes anyone who tries to flee to refugee camps; furthermore, everyone has to fear the possibility of being denounced as "KNU" at any time by anyone holding a grudge against them or wanting their possessions - the result of this is summary arrest and possible torture or execution]. The villagers are well guarded and cannot get away. All those who live in the nearby hills are ordered to go and live in Myaing Gyi Ngu. The DKBA said they were doing things for the good of the people, but many of the villagers didn't trust them and didn't move. So the DKBA forced them to leave their villages. The villagers had to go, and they can no longer stay in their own homes. Most of the people were from villages not far from there. In Myaing Gyi Ngu they have to provide recruits for the [DKBA] fighting force. Many of them believe what the monk says, so they join. The people there have no sympathy for the KNU, but most of them don't want to serve DKBA either. But they dare not speak what they think.
I only heard about the attacks into Thailand. Tha Wah went into Thailand by the Bo Pah Hta route. They shot and killed one Karen villager there, and two people escaped. One of Tha Wah's men was shot and wounded. Most of the DKBA troops are not eager to go into Thailand. There were many attacks like that, maybe SLORC went along sometimes, I don't know. They always sneaked over at night time, and used the name of DKBA. There were no real orders from anyone in DKBA. It is all just local groups doing their own things under their local commanders. They wander around the frontline areas and do as they like without any real orders from the senior commanders. [Since he left in December, SLORC has been clamping down, not letting DKBA move on their own and just taking a few of them along with each SLORC column.]
The villagers have a low opinion of them. They work together with the Burmese and so people are afraid of them. If people want to go to the Thai border they have to sneak there, otherwise if DKBA finds out they accuse them of being in contact with KNU and kill them. In Bee T'Ka village I saw two DKBA men named Nuh Po and Kyaw Tha Da who assaulted some people and then made reports against them to SLORC, and SLORC executed those poor people. [These two have become notorious in the area; see also "Refugees from Pa'an District" (KHRG #96-13, 18/3/96), "SLORC / DKBA Activities in Kawkareik Township" (KHRG #95-23, 10/7/95), and other reports from Pa'an District.] These two also evicted some people from Bee T'Ka who refused to join them. They brought back a crowd of villagers from Naw Ter Kee, tied them up and detained them. One villager borrowed a gun from a DKBA soldier to go hunting, but along the way Nuh Po and Kyaw Tha Da met him. They accused him of owning the gun, and even after the villagers had explained they still beat him. These two men do many such things.
DKBA also tells people to contribute labour. Whenever DKBA or SLORC orders them to go they have to go. People have to carry their rice, build the SLORC camps and dig trenches. All their camps in Noh Boh, Naw Mya Lweh, Baw and Bee T'Ka villages had to be built by the villagers [this list includes both SLORC and DKBA camps]. People had to go for 4 days at a time and take along all their own food. Most of the workers were women, digging out the roots of big trees. People have to do construction on road projects. They say that these are for the welfare of the people, but the people have no time to breathe working for them. DKBA says they are making peace and they ask the people not to help KNU - they talk about peace, but we cannot even stay in our own villages. How can we be happy?
They always talk about the dissent between the Buddhists and the Christians, but I never believed that. I'm a Buddhist myself, there are many people who never joined DKBA and they are Buddhists like me. Some people are forced to join. In our village there were people who were not willing but were forced to join. They demand 5 people from each village, and they have to join. Still, most of the people who join are volunteers, because they believe the propaganda. The people just want to be free of the SLORC, because their troops are so oppressive. The people are isolated, and have no contact with the KNU.
Sometimes there are conflicts between different DKBA groups, or with SLORC. Whenever the SLORC shot dead a DKBA soldier they said it was an accident. At Mae Lu village, a SLORC soldier shot dead a DKBA soldier. He was shot point-blank, and even then SLORC said it was an accidental shot.
Although I joined the DKBA, it was against my will and I have no heart for them. I always wanted to get out. Two weeks ago [on Dec. XX/95] we were coming back from a patrol to XXXX camp. There were 5 of us. It was 9:15 p.m. The other four were in front of me, and I was right behind my Corporal. I shot and killed him, and the other three ran away because they were new recruits. I came with 3 guns and a radio. My Corporal's name was XXXX, he was a Pwo Karen aged over 30. I didn't like the way he treated the villagers, he treated them very roughly. Now I will rejoin the KNLA. As for the DKBA, if they fight us I will fight them back, blow for blow.
NAME: "Saw Kweh Htoo"
AGE: 19 Karen
FAMILY: Single INTERVIEWED: Mar/96
["Saw Kweh Htoo" joined an armed group which formed amid the KNU/DKBA conflict. Known as Thay Tha Lo (Vegetarians) or Ko Per Thu (Black Headbands) it was a small alternative group based on the Burma/Thai border for Buddhists who wanted to fight SLORC without being part of KNU. KNU supplied its weapons and other supplies until the monk in charge changed sides to the DKBA in May/95.]
I joined the vegetarian group in April, before water festival. I joined in xxxx, just past xxxx village. Before that I was a cowboy, and when I went there I saw a woman and I fell in love with her. She said she loved me too. At that time the monk there [Naing Maw Lah - see below] was giving his men special medicine and said that it really worked for fighting. He said, "If your enemy tries to shoot you their weapons will be completely broken". So my girlfriend asked me, "Will you become a soldier?" I said no, but she asked me again, "Are you a man or a woman?" I'm a man. "Then you have to be a soldier", she said. "If you don't do it I won't love you anymore." So I became a soldier. Later on I asked my friend about this woman, and he said she loves everybody and tells them to become soldiers. When I heard that, my heart was broken. Now she is a nurse and works for Intelligence in Khaw Taw [Myaing Gyi Ngu].
My trainer was Saw Nu, he said he used to be a Sergeant Major with #101 [KNLA] Battalion at Kawmoora. He gave us training in xxxx village. There were about 300 soldiers. At that time there was no problem between our group and the KNU. The KNU leaders supported us with guns and provided plenty of rice every month. There was a monk named Naing Maw Lah. All the people respected him and did everything he ordered. I saw many people from different villages, refugee camps, and even Thai people come to his monastery to make donations. Sometimes people gave him a lot of money and vegetables.
One time we went to xxxx and attacked SLORC. Two of our soldiers were killed. Then I remember one day in the afternoon 3 cars of KNU leaders came to the monastery and took away all the guns they had given us. At first I didn't know why they did that, but later I found out it was because they heard that we had contact with DKBA. During my training the Sergeant Major told us we Buddhist people would soon have a country and that our capital city in Burma is Myaing Gyi Ngu. He said Naing Daw Oo [a DKBA monk in the area] already had an agreement with SLORC leaders, that we wouldn't have to fight with SLORC like KNU soldiers and that they would give us food and land to do farming. After they said that, one night at about midnight the monk and the Sergeant Major suddenly told us "Everyone must move, otherwise KNU and the Thais will come and kill all of us. Tomorrow we will go to Myaing Gyi Ngu and live peacefully. We won't be refugees any more." In the morning the villagers there set out for Myaing Gyi Ngu, and we soldiers went and stayed along the border together with the DKBA soldiers. We were the Vegetarian soldiers led by Naing Maw Lah, and the DKBA were led by Naing Daw Oo. I was ordered to stay in Pado T--'s company. I did everything as I was ordered. Pado T-- said to us, "I know you want to eat meat, and I too want to eat meat. So go and steal chickens from the xxxx villagers. But don't tell anyone I said that, and don't cook the meat when other soldiers or leaders visit us."
After a few days the KNLA attacked us. I stayed with my leader Pado T--. I was afraid, because I'd never shot a gun or fought before. One of my friends died beside me, Saw T-- from Ka Ma Maung village. Seven soldiers were killed, 3 were seriously wounded and Saw Pu Heh and his father were arrested. His father was released, but Saw Pu Heh himself was killed by [KNU] Intelligence Officer M--. That was because when he used to stay in xxxx, Saw Pu Heh used to steal all the time and M-- used to punish him. Sometimes he beat Saw Pu Heh badly because the owner of the stolen things asked him to. The last time when he stole a generator, M-- beat him badly and said "If you do that again I'll kill you." So when Saw Pu Heh joined DKBA he sent a letter to M-- saying, "Now it is my turn to kill you. If I catch you you'll soon go to heaven." So M-- was very angry, and when he captured Saw Pu Heh in the fighting he killed him.
I went and stayed one month in Myaing Gyi Ngu. When I was there, most families complained about the food and the location. They wanted to go back to the refugee camps. Some of the women got pregnant and we didn't know who the father was. They complained that it was the DKBA leaders, but the leaders said, "You women are good for nothing, you just disturb our work. You go around and sleep with men and then you complain that our leaders sleep with you. We don't accept that." Sometimes the leaders ask their soldiers to marry these women, sometimes they kill them. I know because my leader was like that. He slept with a woman and after a month she got pregnant. He came to me and said to me quietly, "If you marry this woman I'll give you money and look after you always." He has a wife already. I told him, "I'm not single, I've got two children already", even though I'm single. So he went to a friend of mine, and he accepted. Then Pado T-- was very happy, because his problem was solved.
Our leaders had to do everything that SLORC orders. Whenever we arrived in villages, SLORC ordered us to get animals for them, like chickens and pigs. Sometimes they would say to our leader, "My friend, I love this villager woman", and the leader had to get her for them. But sometimes the SLORC soldiers didn't even ask us, they just went to any Karen women they liked and raped her. Then when the villagers complained, the SLORC soldiers said "It wasn't our soldiers, it was the DKBA soldiers who did that". Sometimes when they went to rape women they put on the uniform of DKBA. Whenever villagers complained about things, SLORC always blamed it on DKBA. I never raped any women but some of our leaders did, the same as SLORC.
The enemy is Ta Bee Met [DKBA name for KNU, meaning "Closed Eyes"]. They call them that because most of the KNU leaders are Christian, and when they eat they close their eyes [to pray]. The DKBA hate them. In Myaing Gyi Ngu we had to drink water and medicine, and we had to kneel down and promise in front of the monks and leaders that we would be good soldiers and fight our enemy until we die. When you take this medicine, for the next two or three days your mind only tells you that "I'd like to fight". I could see that all the leaders are becoming a little bit crazy because of this medicine. Pado T-- took it once a month - now he is becoming crazy, he takes the medicine all the time and doesn't want to bother with the revolution anymore. All the other leaders told us, "All of you and your leader are all crazy". When I came back home, my parents, brothers and sisters told me, "Your mind is not like before, you are a little crazy". Sometimes I suddenly want to shout or laugh, but I don't know why. When I told my friends about it, they just laughed and told me I'm a crazy man.
The medicine is called myin say ["horse medicine" - this is a powerful amphetamine, which is generally bought by the tablet, lit and smoked using impromptu tinfoil pipes. It is common in Thailand, where possession is punishable by a prison term. Due to its high cost (US$3-5 per tablet in Thailand), it is very unlikely that DKBA buys it - it is most likely supplied to them by SLORC. The medicine which soldiers drink is probably a different amphetamine, as 'horse medicine' is generally considered too dangerous to swallow.] It stops you from sleeping and makes you want to do a lot of work. Whenever KNLA were staying near them they wouldn't allow us to sleep, so they'd give us the medicine. One time when I was on guard duty I was sleeping, and the leader came up to me, kicked me in the butt and hit my head with a gun butt.
I got angry with them and came home. I asked if I could go home for a few days and then go back again. I was going to go back, but my parents said, "If you go again you are not our son anymore". I love my parents and I obeyed them. They said, "If you go again, you will die soon from a landmine". Parents are like gods for their children, you must obey them. If you disobey your parents you will surely suffer what they say, and I'm still too young to die.
Q: Are DKBA soldiers allowed to carry their weapons at Tha Menya?
A: The monk there doesn't allow any soldiers with weapons in his place, but SLORC told us we could do it. SLORC said, "Tha Menya is in Karen State and you are the soldiers and the government in Karen State, so you should go freely everywhere." We were happy to get a chance like that, to be the only ones with power in Tha Menya. Even SLORC soldiers don't dare go into Tha Menya with their weapons. I don't know why SLORC let us do that. I only know that SLORC gives power to DKBA and asks us to go everywhere the KNU soldiers stay. If we can arrest any important KNU leaders, SLORC pays us a prize. So most of the DKBA soldiers want to do that, because they have no money. I didn't try to do that, because I don't know who are the important leaders in Kaw Thoo Lei.
NAME: "Saw Hla Baw"
AGE: 39 Karen
FAMILY: Married, 2 children INTERVIEWED: Mar/96
["Saw Hla Baw" joined the same group (the Black Headbands, or Vegetarian Soldiers) as "Saw Kweh Htoo" (see above).]
When I stayed with the vegetarian soldiers we ate beans and vegetables, sometimes only salt and rice. They scolded me every moment of the day, because they told me to cook and if the rice didn't come out well they got angry and beat me. I always cooked it well, but one leader liked his rice a bit soft and the other liked it a bit hard, so I could never satisfy these two leaders. They kicked me in the butt and hit my head with a spoon, and sometimes I was bleeding. I thought, "I'm not getting any money to cook for you, and you torture me like this so often." I was angry with them.
I joined because they told me, "If you join with us we'll give you special medicine so that your enemy can't shoot you - if they try to shoot you the bullet won't come out, or the gun will break." I believed it and joined with them for a while. After the training we went to xxxx to attack the SLORC soldiers. At that time we were Vegetarian soldiers and were on the side of KNU. Before we went to fight the monk gave us special water and said this water would really work in the fighting. In that fighting two soldiers died, Ba Myint and Myint Thein. They both used to be with 101 Battalion [KNLA at Kawmoora]. So I thought to myself, "The monk said if the enemy shot at us their guns would break, but here in front of me two of our friends are dead already. If I stay in this army, I'll be dead too." I decided it would be better to just pack up my clothes and go home.
Then the monk said, "I'll give you another medicine - it's better than the old one." Most of the people believed him, but I was still afraid to go again. Then one of the other soldiers asked the monk, "You said that your medicine would really work for the fighting, so why did those two die in the fighting?" He was a little bit angry with the monk. The monk answered, "That is because you shot first at the Burmese. Even after they see you, don't shoot at them. You have to wait until they shoot first. For example, if the enemy sees you and they still don't shoot at you, then keep going towards them and wait until they start shooting - then you'll see that my medicine is really working. But I'm really sorry that I didn't tell you this before you went last time. Try another time. Don't be afraid, don't give up, my soldiers!" But as for me, I was thinking that we are not gods or angels - even gods are afraid of bullets! So I decided that it wasn't a good idea. If I died, no one would look after my wife and children.
After that, some KNU leaders came to the monastery and took away all the guns they had given to the Vegetarian Soldiers. I thought there must be something wrong, and then later I learned that our leaders had been contacting DKBA leaders. A few days later I packed my clothes and went back home without anybody knowing. They won't try to get me back, because I know that I'm not an educated person. When educated people try to escape, they try to call them back because they can use those people in many ways. I'm very happy that they didn't call me back. I'd rather stay with my family and earn my living by farming.