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KHRG Report - "Commentary"
Burmese Relief Center--Japan
DATE:February 22, 1995
SUBJ:KHRG Report -- "Commentary"
Karen Human Rights Group
February 5,1994 / KHRG #95-C1
When I saw his face, I started to cry and I had to look
away. Lt. Aung Toe Lay said, "Mother, you look at your
son and feel bad?" I said, "Son, how could a mother feel
good about this?"
--Mother whose son had been tortured, Nyaunglebin
Manerplaw has fallen. The world was caught napping,
mainly because it happened faster than anyone could
imagine. The main factors were the monk U Thuzana and
the Democratic Karen Buddhist Organization (DKBO).
Apparently the SLORC had been supplying U Thuzana with
money and food for some time to setup "refuges" where
Buddhist villagers could flee from SLORC abuses, and
SLORC suddenly wouldn't bother them anymore. As a
result, the villagers decided U Thuzana had magical powers.
Then he began ordering them, other monks and Karen
soldiers to rise up against the Karen National Union(KNU).
Hundreds of Karen soldiers went to his cause, disgruntled
with years of sitting on hilltops to defend Manerplaw with
pitifully inadequate supplies by order of KNU who seemed
not to care about their needs. They walked away from key
positions and SLORC walked right in. Min Yaw Kee ridge,
so desperately defended in 1992, was given to SLORC
without a shot being fired. The Thuzana faction set
themselves up at the Moei/Salween river junction, where
they negotiated a deal with the KNU, then tore it up, then
were attacked and driven out by the Karen National
Liberation Army (KNLA). At the same time U Thuzana
and others formed the DKBO near Ka Ma Maung, to the
west. SLORC Southeastern Commander Maj-Gen. Maung
Hla met with them, promised them control of Karen State,
if they could capture Manerplaw and arms and supplies for
4,000 men. He left behind the first installment of the 4,000
men: SLORC soldiers in DKBO uniform. SLORC then
began its offensive on Manerplaw from the north and south,
with DKBO soldiers' assigned to SLORC units as guides.
The rest is history. Knowing all the KNLA positions and
pathways intimately, the DKBO made the SLORC
unstoppable. The KNLA fortunately decided not to make a
stand in Manerplaw, only to fight delaying actions, torch the
place and then withdraw. Final KNLA casualties were
about 10 dead and 50 wounded.
The KNU has many flaws, and for years its leadership has
been frustratingly out of touch with the needs of villagers and
frontline soldiers, so it is not hard to understand how this
DKBO revolt was possible. SLORC simply took advantage
of visible weak points of the KNU. On the surface it may
appear to have been based on religion, but in reality it was
much more based on general suffering and frustration with no
end in sight. Many Christians are also disgruntled, while the
majority of Buddhists did not support the revolt. It is not hard
to understand why people might flock to a new organization
and clutch at the straw of peace with SLORC--but what is
difficult to understand is why they would work together with
SLORC units in an offensive against other Karens. After all,
many DKBO soldiers have had their parents murdered, their
sisters raped, their brothers tortured or their homes burned by
SLORC troops. However, the lack of education and naivet
$B#P(Bf destitute Karen villagers can at times be appalling, as our
interviews often show us--so it may be that their desperation
and naivet$B#(Bhave driven some of them to believe some of
SLORC's promises. Those promises are already beginning to
be broken: the SLORC rules in Manerplaw, not the DKBO.
Meanwhile, several thousand refugees have fled the
Manerplaw region and some of the refugee camps close to
Manerplaw. Many of them have hauled whatever they have
left up the dusty road to Meh Taw La, several kilometers
inside Thailand, where it appears that some kind of refugee
camp is to be set up (although the Thais have been slow to
confirm this). To the Thai Army's credit, its soldiers under the
local regional command have not seriously harassed the
refugees nor tried to force any of them back as yet. Thai
troops were also flown in to man the border at the Moel River
against SLORC intrusions (though the Karen believe they
would run rather than fight if the SLORC came across).
However, the Thai Government is now becoming involved,
and Thai Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai is on his way to visit
Meh Taw La, so things may be about to get worse.
Not only was Manerplaw headquarters to the KNU, KNLA,
NDF, DAB, and many Burmese prodemocracy groups, but
it was Karen Human Rights Group headquarters as well.
We apologize for the disruption in our reports caused by
both the current situation and other factors, but our work
will hopefully continue as before. For the time being, our
mail/fax address remains the same. We have always been
based in Burma (not Thailand), and we hope and plan to
continue being based in Burma. Manerplaw is but one
place; there are many others which the SLORC still does
"... we run for our lives whenever we see them. All the
women have to sleep in one house together for safety on
those terrible nights. "
--Woman who fled her village, Nyaunglebin District
Right now SLORC is mounting its heaviest ever offensive
against Kawmoorah, the Karen stronghold north of
Myawaddy which they have been trying to take for years.
They appear to be trying to take advantage of current
confusion about the KNU to grab all the military gains they
can before rainy season in June, after which they may once
again pretend to extend the offer of "peace talks" to the KNU.
Note that the KNU has given in to all the SLORC's conditions
for talks--it is the SLORC which is avoiding talks right now.
Part of the reason for the Kawmoorah offensive may also be
the "Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge" currently being built
between Mae Sot and Myawaddy just to the south, a joint
venture between SLORC and the Thai Government. The
Myawaddy-Kawkareik road, though not much more than a
dirt track in many places, is a key SLORC transport route
between Moulmein and the Thai border. The new cross-border bridge is to be pa
rt of the "Asia Highway." On the Thai
side of the border, it has already caused the destruction of a
market (with little or no compensation) and threats to forcibly
move Huay Kalok Karen refugee camp, home to over 5,000
refugees. On the Burma side of the border, the bridge seems
to be an underlying cause of a SLORC clampdown in the area,
including forced relocation, torture and increased harassment
of villagers, due to SLORC's paranoia that the bridge will be
sabotaged [see "Myawaddy-Kawkareik Area Reports",#95-03]. The bridge is also
being used as an excuse for SLORC
troops to extort several hundred thousand Kyat out of every
village in the area. supposedly for bridge construction--despite
the fact that the Thai Government has already agreed to pay
the entire cost of the bridge itself, an estimated US$3.2
"Around 16, mostly, but even 14-year-olds. I'm telling the
truth. They were scolding us, their
elders, and some had voices that hadn't even broken yet.
Little boy soldiers, swearing at us."
--Escaped Porter, Kawmoorah battle
Is SLORC forcing porters to carry Pepsi to the frontline? A
recently escaped porter from SLORC's offensive against
Kawmoorah says he and others were forced to carry "Sprite
in green bottles and other soft drinks" to SLORC soldiers in
frontline bunkers [see "Escaped Porters: Kawmoorah Battle",
#95-06], This is not as surprising as it sounds, given that
porters all over the country are constantly forced to haul
luxuries such as tinned milk and tinned beef to frontline
SLORC soldiers while receiving only a handful of rice a day
themselves. We have not yet been able to confirm with the
interviewer whether the man really said it was Sprite, which is
only available as an import in Burma, or just a soft drink in a
green bottle--such as 7-Up, a Pepsi product which is bottled
in Burma. PepsiCo has a joint venture with SLORC worth
several million dollars a year to the junta, and is the target of
an international boycott as a result. Regardless of whether or
not the man mentioned 7-Up, it now appears that Pepsi's
Burma-bottled products may well be among soft drinks being
forced onto the backs of conscripted civilian porters. The
same man describes how they were forced right into shelling
areas with their loads, and how he and others were beaten and
one man died for being too slow or weak to carry any further.
When PepsiCo went into Burma, it talked about "building
international bridges"--but few would have imagined they
meant the Mae Sot-Myawaddy bridge south of Kawmoorah.
While the "New Generation"--after all, more and more
SLORC soldiers are only 14 years old--may be getting their
Pepsi to refresh them while they shell the hell out of the Karen
people, there are many people who will never be refreshed--the civilians who a
re broken in two being forced to haul the
stuff over the mountains.
"When the soldiers asked the officer how they should kill me,
he said Don't waste your bullets.
Just beat him to death and cut his throat with a knife'."
--Villager arrested in Thaton District
This and other abuses by SLORC continue as usual, as our
January 1995 reports show. Not only is SLORC still
terrorizing Karen villagers, but there has been an alarming
increase in SLORC shootings, arrests, killing and torture of
Karen refugees who sometimes cross the border by day to
grow some food for their families because they are not
allowed to in Thailand [see "SLORC Shootings and Arrests of
Refugees", #95-02]. Despite this, Thai authorities and the UN
High Commissioner for Refugees still seem keen to begin
repatriation of Karen refugees soon. UNHCR has given no
indication that it will do anything to protect Karen refugees in
the event of a forced repatriation (refoulement). Instead,
UNHCR Bangkok chief Ruprecht von Arnim recently
commended the Thai authorities for their "changing attitude"
towards refugees from Burma, while a UNHCR press release
volunteered to "assist in any voluntary repatriation operation".
Von Arnim held up the UNHCRassisted repatriation of
Rohingya Muslim refugees from Bangladesh as an example--however, reports by M
$B#E#D(Bins Sans Fronti$B3S(Bes (22/9/94),
Refugees International (6/6/94) and others have stated that
most of the Rohingyas are being forced back against their will,
that many of those who tell UNHCR they don't want to go
have subsequently been deprived of food, beaten by camp
officials, and summarily sent back, that many returnees are
being taken for slave labor by SLORC and their land is not
being given back to them, and that UNHCR is seldom to be
seen in the camps in Bangladesh or in Burma, where they
reportedly stay exclusively in the towns and only travel
escorted by SLORC Military Intelligence. Is this the
UNHCR's idea of a "model" repatriation?
The Thai authorities and UNHCR seem to feel that Karen
refugees are only in Thailand because of battles between
SLORC and Karen forces, when in fact it is Burma Army
repression in their villages which drove most of these people
to Thailand. This repression, including slave labor, looting,
extortion, destruction of homes and crops, torture, rape, and
killings, is only getting worse. In the presence of all the
current political upheavals this is something which must not be
forgotten, and it will continue to be our focus.
"Only one caretaker can stay at each farm. If more than one
is found, they will be regarded as insurgents and action will be
--SLORC written order, Ye area, Mon State