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KHRG #97-01 Part 1/4 (Karenni)
UPDATE ON KARENNI FORCED RELOCATIONS
An Independent Report by the Karen Human Rights Group
March 5, 1997 / KHRG #97-01
*** PART 1 OF 4: SEE SUBSEQUENT POSTINGS FOR OTHER PARTS OF THIS REPORT ***
[SOME DETAILS OMITTED OR REPLACED BY 'XXXX' FOR INTERNET DISTRIBUTION.]
Between April and July 1996, SLORC ordered at least 182 villages in
Karenni (Kayah) State, with an estimated total population of 25-30,000
people, to move to various relocation sites. The primary intention of
SLORC was to cut off all possibility of civilian support for the Karenni
National Progressive Party (KNPP); SLORC broke a ceasefire agreement
to attack the KNPP in June 1995. The villages affected cover at least half
the entire geographic area of Karenni. Some villages were marched at
gunpoint to relocation sites without warning, but most were issued written
orders to move within just 7 days or be 'considered as enemies', i.e. shot
on sight without question. [For details see "Forced Relocation in
Karenni", KHRG #96-24, 15/7/96.] Thousands of villagers went to the
relocation sites as ordered; others, particularly those far from SLORC
bases, fled into hiding in the forests surrounding their villages. Over
3,000 escaped to Karenni refugee camps in Thailand after a difficult and
dangerous walk of days or weeks in rainy season. Some fled to parts of
Karenni and southwestern Shan states controlled by the KNPLF (Karenni
Nationalities People's Liberation Front) and SNPLO (Shan Nationalities
People's Liberation Organisation), both of which currently have ceasefires
with SLORC. Since the relocations, SLORC has still not allowed people to
resettle in their home villages or provided them any assistance, and the
situation throughout Karenni continues to grow increasingly critical.
Witnesses state that even the mass forced relocations to get forced
labourers for the Loikaw-Aungban railway in 1992 were nothing
compared to this, and that never before in history has the situation been so
terrible in Karenni as it is now. Even people from villages and towns
which have not been ordered to move are facing severe restrictions - in
Shadaw, the villagers have been forced to build a fence around the entire
town. Every town is now surrounded by checkpoints, many modes of
transport have been cut and people are not allowed to go anywhere
without SLORC permission.
The relocated villagers could only manage to save as much as they could
carry on their backs, and most of their food, livestock and belongings had
to be left behind. In some cases even the sick, the elderly and the disabled
had to be left behind to fend for themselves in the abandoned villages
because they could not manage the walk through the mountains and their
relatives could not carry them. Crippled villagers and sick children were
later found by returning villagers or KNPP columns, hiding alone in
villages already burned and destroyed by SLORC. In Daw Ei Hla village
a 60-year-old blind woman was left alone in her house with a little food.
Her decomposed remains were later found where she had fallen in her
house and died slowly of starvation.
SLORC provided nothing whatsoever at the relocation sites, and villagers
were able to bring very little food with them, so in June at Shadaw and
Ywathit SLORC allowed many villagers one last chance to return to their
villages for 7 to 10 days and bring back some food. Many villagers used
this as a chance to escape into the forest. Then about one month after the
June deadline for relocation, SLORC troops launched an operation to tour
the villages burning and destroying all that remained of them. A similar
operation was mounted again in January 1997. Some villages were totally
burnt down - for example, of the 98 villages between the Pon and Salween
rivers which were ordered to move, sixty to seventy have reportedly been
completely burned. In other villages they destroyed the best houses and
the rice barns and killed all the villagers' livestock and cattle. Some
villages were not destroyed but landmines were laid. In Baw Ghu Der
township, some villagers, both women and men, were later killed by
stepping on these mines.
Thousands of villagers are still living in hiding in groups of 2 or 3
families in the forest. Most had already planted their rice crop when the
SLORC operation began (rice-growing season is between June and
November), but then they had to spend most of their time hiding from the
troops so their crops were largely destroyed by weeds and pests. They are
now running completely out of rice with no prospect of planting a crop
this year (normally they would now be clearing their fields in preparation
for planting). In most villages all their livestock has been destroyed by
SLORC, so they are reduced to surviving on jungle vegetables and roots.
Many, especially children, are dying of malaria, diarrhoea, dysentery,
respiratory illnesses, and are also contracting worms and skin diseases.
Thousands of villagers are now living at SLORC-designated relocation
sites including Shadaw, Ywathit, Daw Tama, Baw La Keh, Daw Tama Gyi,
Tee Po Kloh, Kay Lia, Mar Kraw She, Maw Chi, Pah Saung, and Nwa La
Bo. Bu Ko and Kwa Chi, initially reported by KHRG in July 1996 as a
relocation site, was burned by SLORC and the villagers there ordered to
move to Maw Chi relocation site. When the people arrived in the
relocation sites, nothing was prepared for them. They had to clear an
area designated by the SLORC in order to build a house. In Shadaw site,
after the villagers had cleared the site the troops decided that the area
would be good for growing beans for the Army, and ordered the people to
clear another place to settle. After a few months, most of the villagers had
not been able to build a house since bamboo and roofing leaves were hard
to get, especially during the rainy season, and were at a long distance or
had to be bought. A lot of the villagers were unable to build houses, and
even 6 months later they were still staying in precarious shelters.
On arrival at most of the relocation camps the villagers had to hand over
whatever rice they had to SLORC, and then had rice rationed out to them
at varying rates; for example, at Maw Chi they received 8 milktins per
person per week (only 1/2 the amount required to feed an average adult).
Even this distribution only lasted the first 1-2 months, after which there
was no rice left. At Nwa La Bo camp, the Township LORC officials
ordered each relocated family to grow 3 acres of beans, then harvest them
and gather them in the camp to be distributed among the villagers - but as
soon as all the beans were gathered, the Army loaded them on trucks and
took them away. At some of the camps the Catholic Church has tried to
help the villagers with rice, medicines, blankets etc., but in almost every
case the SLORC has tried to confiscate or block the aid. They demand
that all rice and supplies be handed over to them for distribution, then try
to take most of it for the Army. They have also tried to stop churches
being set up in the relocation camps and to separate priests from their
congregations, ordering them to move to Loikaw instead of the camps. [A
large proportion of Kayah people are Roman Catholic, and the Catholic
Church is quite prevalent throughout Karenni.]
After there was no more rice, villagers could buy a pass from the soldiers
costing between 2 and 5 Kyats allowing them to be away from morning
until sunset, or in some cases for 2 days, just enough time to return to
their village and bring some food. People found outside the relocation site
without a pass or with expired passes are beaten. Even people with passes
have been arrested, beaten and send back to the relocation sites.
In most of the relocation sites many people are dying of disease; in
Shadaw an estimated 300 have died, and in Maw Chi 100. The water
supply is totally inadequate and usually dirty. Every day as many as 3 or
4 die, mostly children, mainly because of malaria, dysentery and
respiratory diseases. The sites have no clinics. Even if there is a clinic
nearby, no medicines are available unless people can go and buy them. In
some sites Catholic priests have been doing their best to treat sick people.
The relocation sites have no schools.
In most sites the SLORC troops order the people to work for them. They
have to cut bamboo and wooden posts to build barracks and fences. In
Shadaw, Daw Tama Gyi and Tee Po Kloh sites, people are forced to do
road construction work. They have also been forced to build fences
around some of the relocation camps, to dig trenches and to do labour as
sentries. The sites are concentration camps and people need to get a pass
at the sentry post in order to go in and out. Landmines have been laid
around the camps. Military defences are especially prevalent at Shadaw,
Maw Chi and Ywathit sites, where SLORC is more afraid of the KNPP.
SLORC have built military posts inside the relocation sites and have
arrested people staying there, usually charging them with suspicion of
having had contact with opposition groups. In Tee Po Kloh site in August,
12 villagers were arrested by the army on suspicion of contact with the
KNPP, severely beaten and tortured. Five of the twelve died under torture.
The survivors were detained indefinitely without charge or trial at Army
camps. As of January, at one camp of #530 Battalion alone, 64 Karenni
villagers were still being held - including the 7 survivors from Tee Po Kloh
(see interview in this report). Their fate is not known, nor are the
numbers of villagers being held at other camps.
Many villagers who obtain passes and reach their villages go into hiding,
building small shelters in the forest instead of returning. They collect
food in their village or in the forest to survive. Most are almost out of
rice and will face critical circumstances very soon. Hundreds of people fled
Shadaw, a large relocation site holding several thousand people, to
KNPLF territory near the Shan border and have been sheltered in various
villages. Some have fled across the border of Shan State and have been
staying in SNPLO area but they are now reportedly returning to their
home areas. Some people fled the Shadaw relocation site to Loikaw
(capital of Karenni), but SLORC didn't allow them to stay in the town and
put them in Nwa La Bo concentration camp, along the car road north of
Loikaw. About 700 people are presently in that site, and are reportedly
receiving some rationed rice but there is no medicine and the clinic is
During June and July 1996 about 3,000 people arrived in Karenni refugee
camps in Thailand, mainly in 'Camp 2', and after the rainy season 1,300
more arrived in Camp 2, mainly from the relocation sites after a short
stay hiding near their village. Families are still trickling in, though the
trip is extremely difficult and dangerous. Some have died along the way.
Since February villagers from southern Karenni State have also been
fleeing southward into Karen State and arriving in the Karen refugee
camps of Thailand's Mae Sariang district, having fled SLORC operations
to destroy villages in southern Karenni State.
At 2 a.m. on 3 January 1997, a force of between 20 and 50 men crossed
into Thailand and attacked Camp 2, firing assault rifles, rocket-propelled
grenades, M79 grenades, 60 mm. mortars and 2-inch mortars. Three
refugees were killed, 2 men and one woman, and at least 9 refugees were
wounded. The dead and wounded ranged in age from 14 to 60. A
statement and uniform left behind after the attack indicated that it had
been carried out by the Karenni National Democratic Army (KNDA),
armed wing of the Karenni National Democratic Party (KNDP). This
'splinter' organisation was formed on 5 November 1996 and allied itself
with SLORC to fight against the KNPP. While it claims to be independent,
many people believe it was initiated by SLORC to divide the KNPP and as
a front for use in attacking Thailand, just as the Democratic Kayin
Buddhist Army (DKBA) has been used to attack Karen refugee camps
further south. Some refugees and KNPP officials believe that the attackers
were actually SLORC soldiers using the name of KNDA and KNDP, which
are based near Deemawso, far from the area of Camp 2. The refugees
continue to be extremely afraid for their security, as Camp 2 is only 20
minutes' walk from a SLORC camp across the border and the Thai Army
and authorities are clearly not willing to defend either the refugees or
The interviews in this report were conducted by KHRG in January 1997,
except for interviews #3 and #9, which were recorded in December 1996
by a human rights monitor who must remain anonymous and provided to
KHRG. The names of those interviewed have been changed, and all false
names are enclosed in quotes. Some details have been omitted or
replaced by 'xxxx' to protect those interviewed. Village names are
sometimes followed by a number in brackets - these correspond to the
numbered dots on the map at the end of the report.
SLORC State Law & Order Restoration Council, Burma's military junta
LORC Law & Order Restoration Council, local and regional SLORC
administration (military-controlled), e.g. Township LORC, Village LORC
KNPP Karenni National Progressive Party, Karenni resistance fighting SLORC
KNPLF Karenni Nationalities People's Liberation Front, Karenni resistance
group which signed a ceasefire with SLORC in 1994
SNPLO Shan Nationalities People's Liberation Organisation, Shan resistance
group which has a ceasefire deal with SLORC
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction ............................................................. 1
Interviews ............................................................... 6
#1: Shadaw relocation camp, hiding in forest, arrest by SLORC,
death of his 2 daughters who stayed behind in the village ......... 6
#2: Shadaw relocation camp, Shadaw town ............................... 7
#3: Nwa La Bo relocation camp ......................................... 10
#4: Man relocated to Tee Po Kloh, then arrested, tortured and detained
at Army camps for 3 months until escape; death of 5 villagers
under torture ..................................................... 12
#5: Shadaw relocation camp, death of his pregnant wife during flight .. 15
#6: Daw Tama Gyi relocation site, effects on Daw Tama Gyi villagers ... 15
#7: Tee Po Kloh relocation camp ....................................... 16
#8: Mar Kraw She relocation camp ...................................... 17
#9: Villager who fled to a ceasefire area to avoid relocation
to Shadaw ........................................................ 18
#10: Witness describing conditions in Maw Chi area
and Maw Chi relocation camp ...................................... 19
#11: Refugee in Karenni Camp 2 whose wife was killed in the attack
on the camp ...................................................... 20
The Attack on Camp 2 ..................................................... 20
Map ...................................................................... 22
List of Relocated Villages ............................................... 23
Relocation Sites: Shadaw (Interviews #1,2,5), Nwa La Bo (#3), Tee Po
Kloh (#4,7), Mar Kraw She (#8), Daw Tama Gyi (#6), Maw Chi (#10).
Relocation Camp conditions: Food (#1-8,10), sickness (#1,2,4-8,10),
deaths (#1,2,4,6,7,10), arrests/detention/torture (#1,2,4,6,7), torture to
death of villagers (#4), Army camp prison conditions (#4), confiscation of
bean crop villagers were forced to grow to feed themselves (#3), aid from
the Catholic Church (#2,3,8), SLORC blocking aid (#2,3), destruction of
churches and harassment of Catholic priests (#3).
Conditions in villages and forests: Destruction of villages and food
supplies (#1,2,4-6,10), old people left behind in villages (#3), life in
hiding in the forest (#1,3,10), beating/arrest of people caught in
villages (#1,3), deaths in villages and forest (#1,3,5,10),
people fleeing to ceasefire areas (#4,9).
Forced Labour: Building/maintaining Army camps and relocation camps
(#2-6,8,10), on roads (#6-8), farming for the Army (#2,3), other (#10).
Other: Effects on villages/towns not forced to move (#2,4,6,7,9), attack
on refugees at Camp 2 in Thailand (#11).
NAME: "Maw Reh" SEX: M AGE: about 50-55 Kayah Buddhist/Animist
FAMILY: Married, 10 children aged 12 to about 30; 3 of them already died
ADDRESS: Daw Tama village (#68), Shadaw Township INTERVIEWED: 20/1/97
["Maw Reh" arrived in a Karenni refugee camp in November 1996 after
staying in Shadaw relocation site, hiding in the forest near his village, and
being arrested by SLORC.]
I left my village sometime in October. I don't remember which day but it
took me 13 days to arrive here. The SLORC didn't order me to leave
[when he fled from hiding in the forest in October] but if they found
people in the village they would torture them. So I was afraid of that and I
After they gave the order letter [the relocation order, on 31/5/96], we had
to run. They gave us only 7 days to leave. We were just planting our
paddy and we had to leave it all behind. If we didn't leave by the deadline,
the SLORC would kill us. So we all ran to Shadaw [relocation camp] at
once. It was 3 hours' walk. A lot of people moved there. Some fell down
on the way. Some of our things were left behind. We all had to stay in one
place there. When we arrived there, some people fell sick and died. We
were too afraid of the SLORC not to stay there. They didn't give us any
rice to eat [after 2 months], so some people tried to go back to their
villages. And when we went back, we had to hide in the forest because we
were so afraid of the SLORC. Then we came back to that place [Shadaw
relocation camp] because we couldn't hide for very long. We couldn't do
anything. We didn't know what was the best thing to do.
Q: How long did you stay in the relocation camp and how did you survive?
A: I stayed there for 2 1/2 months. At first they gave us some rice. But
after 2 months, the SLORC didn't give us any more food. So we escaped
from there and went back to our own village. We were afraid to stay in our
village because nobody stays there now. The SLORC had come and
burned down the houses and the rice barns. All of the houses. Most of the
rice was destroyed but a little remained. We had made holes in the ground
to hide it. We also hid some of the rice in caves. We were afraid of the
SLORC soldiers and we hid. If the soldiers saw us, they would kill us. So
we had to hide in the forest. Not too far from our village, in the valley.
We couldn't hide on the mountain. It was a little distant from our village
but we took some rice along from our village. We used to go back to our
village to get some more rice. But if the SLORC had seen us, they would have
We stayed there for one month and then we came here. The whole family
together. Lots of people were hiding in the forests. The whole village.
There were 30 houses in our village. Only some stayed in Shadaw. We
decided to come here because we were too afraid of the SLORC. They
came often and checked around everywhere. We saw some soldiers in our
village, but whenever we saw them we ran back to hide in the valley.
Sometimes they went on past and sometimes they turned and went back.
We always felt afraid to go back to the village. When they saw us, they
tortured us. The SLORC soldiers nearly cut my throat.
Q: How did that happen?
A: While I was staying in Shadaw, I went back to my village to get some
food. I got a pass from them and went. But then they arrested me and
brought me back to Shadaw.
They arrested me in my village, at the lake when I went to fetch water.
They pointed their guns at me. They were going to kill me. I begged the
soldiers, "Please don't kill me. I still have many children alive and they
need me." I said this in Kayah language and they didn't understand.
Fortunately one person from Daw Tama saw me, helped me and explained for me.
I showed the pass to the soldiers but they didn't care about it. They didn't
hit me but they tied me up for the whole day and all night. They tied my
hands behind my back and I couldn't sleep. At that time, I couldn't run
They didn't only tie my hands, they also tied my feet. They made me sleep
with them in the forest for two nights. They kept me among the soldiers at
the army post. I was tied all the time. I couldn't sleep at night. I sat
beside the fire. They gave me some food but I couldn't eat. I felt in
I thought that I would probably die. Then they took me back with them to
Shadaw and they showed me to the people there [as an example].
Two of my daughters died. When we moved to Shadaw, my two daughters
didn't feel well and so they didn't follow. They died behind. When I went
back to the village, I saw that they had died. Nobody had a chance to dig a
grave or make a coffin for them. They were sick because they were always
hiding in the forest, they couldn't get any medicine to treat themselves and
they died from fever. Their names were Vu Meh and Pleh Meh. Vu Meh
was 25, she was already married and had a child. Pleh Meh was 20. She
was so beautiful and well-built. Her skin was white. I feel so much sorrow
about her. I wish she was back with me. They died about two days apart
from each other.
We were 13 nights on the way here. I came with the whole family. My 2
sons, my wife and I. There were four of us. I was too afraid of the
to leave my children behind [he means his 2 youngest children; his older
children are married and live separately, so he no longer counts them as
'children']. I crossed the Salween River by boat. I don't remember exactly
when I arrived here but we have received rice three times in the camp since
then [rice is distributed once per month in the refugee camp, so he has
been there for over 2 months].
Q: Why did the SLORC order your village to move?
A: I only know that I had to run, because they ordered us to move and they
only gave us a few days. If we didn't move during that time limit they
would kill us. Before, they used to come to our village sometimes but they
didn't beat anyone.
- [END OF PART 1 - SEE SUBSEQUENT POSTINGS FOR PARTS 2, 3, AND 4] -
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