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"Once in my village" A Karen refug

Subject: "Once in my village"  A Karen refugee tells his story

Once in my village.....

A Karen refugee from a camp on the Thai-Burma border tells his story. 

I've been a refugee since I was eight years old. It was 17 years ago that I
left my village in Thaton district, Karen State, but I can still remember
what happened. Two days before leaving, two Burmese soldiers came into my
house and entered the room where my parents and I were sleeping. They called
my father outside and talked aggressively to him in Burmese (which I did not
understand). One of the soldiers hit my father in the chest with his fist,
and my brother, sister and I started to cry. Then the soldiers left. At the
time my father was a schoolteacher in the village school. 

The next morning I did not see my father. I asked my mother where he had
gone, but got no answer. The next day my youngest aunt came to my school
class and told me to go back home right away. The school year was not yet over. 

When I arrived home a bullock cart was waiting in front of my house, and we
left straight away. I remember that my mother took nothing with her, only a
small Karen bag. We had to pretend we were going out to a festival to get
past the Burmese army checkpoint at the village entrance (Burmese troops had
built their base in the village six months earlier and fenced in the village
to control the movement of the villagers.) We arrived at another village
where I saw my father welcoming us. Later I learn' that my father had
arranged for the bullock cart pick us up. Then we continued to the border
stay in the area controlled by the Karen resistance which we call Kawthoolei. 

Kawthoolei was my first place of refuge. My family settled down and we grew
rice and peanuts. But only three and half years later, Burmese troops closed
in, and the Karen resistance lost most their liberated area. My family and I
had to cross into Thailand. We could no longer stay inside Burma because the
area where we had been living was recognised by Burmese troops as a rebel
area, where they suspected everyone of supporting the resistance, and killed
or tortured anyone they saw. 

Since then, we have been staying as refugees o Thai soil for over 13 years.
We were able to stay I~ peace until 1995, when Karen refugee camps in side
Thailand came under attack by the SLORC and the SLORC-backed Democratic
Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA). My camp was in Kamawlayko
(70 kms north of Mae Sot, in Tak Province) and it was also burned down two
years ago. We were relocated to a bigger camp, Mae La, 50 kilometers north
of Mae Sot, but we were never free from the threat of attack. At the end of
January this year, the camps of Huaykaloke and Huabone, and part of our camp
were burned down by SLORC and DKBA. Now every night we sleep in fear among
the dust and the ashes.  We have buried everything that is important for us,
such as family photos and birth records 

At the beginning of February this  year, I heard that our fellow Karens from
Mergui-Tavoy in the south had also been forced to flee their homes and
become refugees in Thailand. This was very sad news for me. 

My mother often says, "I want to go back to my village. I have no desire to
be a Thai citizen. I have my own country. I would go back but I'm afraid of
persecution by the SLORC and forced labour." 

When she was five years old, one of my younger sisters who was born in a
camp on Thai soil, said, "I remember how we used to go fishing in Htee Pa Do
Hta" (my village in Karen State). In fact she had never been to the village.
She had simply heard my parents talk about it so often that it had carved
itself into her heart and become her own memory. Now she is studying in
middle school in the camp and has an ambition to go back to our village when
it is safe and to be a school teacher there like my father was. 

I have a favourite poem, which some of my friends in the camp composed about
our native village. 

Once in my village... 
We rode in bullock carts and went to festivals. 
Food and rice were plentiful. 
It was a time of harmony in our village. 
When people planted or harvested rice, they sang songs 
At night, under the moonlight...
Some young men visited young women. 
We children played catch and ran 
While older people were weaving 

We went out fishing in the communal village ponds. 
In the afternoon, we rode our families' buffaloes back home 
Singing our village folk song

Now our village has become a battle field 
Children and women are dying. 
Oh friends... keep in your mind always wherever you are 

One day we will rebuild the village 
And organise a village festival. 
Burmese Relief Centre April 1997 Newsletter
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