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from Green November 32 -- EXODUS:

Subject: from Green November 32 --  EXODUS:  An Update on the Current  Situation in Karenni  Part II

Part II of EXODUS:  An Update on the Current Situation in Karenni
18 August 1996

Green November 32


KNPP authorities have stated that they are concerned for the future of the
camps should the populations continue to grow.  Thai authorities are rumored
to be considering consolidating all the refugee camps, which could
exacerbate existing concerns for health, sanitation, and housing  
conditions. At present, the Camp 2 refugees are perilously close to hill-top
SLORC bases. SLORC commanders, who can see the previous Camp 2 site at Char
Le from their base, have contacted the Mae Hong Son authorities, reporting
that refugees were crossing the border and should be turned back. (In fact,
in this case, the soldiers could only see the empty houses, as refugees are
not crossing via this route.)

Consequently, Thai authorities have ordered KNPP officials to burn the
houses at the old camp to prevent their rehabitation. There are presently no
Thai security troops posted between the refugees and the SLORC outposts on
the border. 


Needless to say, the newly arrived refugees face a very uncertain future.
When asked how they feel about their present situation, all the people we
interviewed declared their support for the KNPP, and most of the men
expressed their desire to become KNPP soldiers to fight against SLORC
troops. They are proud of their traditional cultures and
are particularly resentful of what they see as the SLORC's attempt to
Burmanize Karenni. In addition, they are bitter about the lack of economic
opportunity in their region. The communities between the Pon and the Salween
average fifteen to twenty households, and most of the people are farmers who
cultivate swidden dry rice and vegetables for their own consumption.
Although they are competent agriculturalists, able to provide for their
families, under the present conditions in Karenni, many lead what could be
termed a subsistence existence. Some of the refugees come from areas where
cash economies are still uncommon. In some northern parts of the state,
villagers still use the King George rupees issued during the British colony
period rather than currently minted Burmese kyats. 

The rural areas of Karenni are grossly undersupplied in terms of
infrastructure. There are very few paved roads. Most communities have no
piped water supply, and almost all have no electricity, in spite of the fact
that one of Burma's major power stations is located at Lawpita, about 12
kilometres southeast of Loikaw. The absence of any state primary health care
system forces all needing serious medical treatment to go to Loikaw hospital
for treatment. Most villages have only a primary school, and as the most
villagers cannot afford to send their children to schools in other villages,
the level of education is very low. Members of nearly all households have
been conscripted as laborers on public work projects and forced to pay
military porterage and other fees to locally-stationed SLORC troops,
reducing their living standards even further. All these factors have served
to exacerbate resentment against the Burman-dominated state government and
increase support for the KNPP opposition. Most of those now remaining inside
near the border are teenagers who have joined with KNPP soldiers to fight
the SLORC troops. 


It should also be noted that religious persecution is becoming more
prevalent in Karenni. The great majority of people in Central Burma are
Buddhist. Many of the Karenni villagers are Christian, either Roman Catholic
or Baptist, and the Pon Salween area was widely proselytized in the past by
Roman Catholic missionaries. Most villages in the Salween area boast a large
cross near the entrance. Officials of the Catholic church in particular have
tried to intervene on a number of occasions when SLORC troops have abused
villagers human rights, in cases of detention or levying of porter and other
fees. Previously priests also provided primary health care and education to
the villagers. As mentioned before, during other relocations, they have
attempted to arrange aid to the relocation sites and publicize the
relocation situation to the international community. 

During the relocation around Demawso in 1992, the Christian cemetery was
demolished. Village crosses were torn down at a number of villages,
including Maw Pine. At Prusoe/Kom Pon Yeh, troops occupied the church
compound and turned it into a military base. As a result of harassment, most
village churches in the Pon-Salween area were abandoned even before the
present relocation, and the clergy returned to Loikaw, Demawso, and Chauk
Mine. In 1994 two Roman Catholic priests were arrested for unknown reasons
and only released after the bishop met with Khin Nyunt to act as a guarantor
for them. Under the present conditions, at least five Roman Catholic and
Baptist clergymen have been detained and held by military intelligence. 

At the same time, everyone in Loikaw must now pay 50 -100 kyat for pagoda
cleaning and restoration, whether they are Buddhist or not. Forced labor has
been employed on the rehabilitation of the Thaung Thon Lone Pagoda. Between
the Pon River and Loikaw, the mostly Christian and animist communities have
been ordered to construct a Buddhist pagoda in every village, even if they
have not a single Buddhist resident. These orders are viewed by the Karenni
as an explicit move to impose Burman Buddhist culture in non-Burman
Christian communities. 


In an attempt to stem this support, the SLORC appears to be instituting a
system of martial law, under which they can control and monitor every
individual living in Karenni. In addition to the wide-scale relocation of
rural populations, increased pressure is being brought to bear in urban
areas. Residents of all cities and major towns have been forced to post a
picture of their family accompanied by the names of all household members in
front of all their houses, and to register the names of any guests entering
their homes with the local authorities. In Loikaw, they must also provide
rotating nightly security on the corners of roadways and report all
movements and "suspicious individuals" to the appropriate authorities.
Following the conclusion of the NLD meeting at Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's house
in Rangoon, on 31 May, residents in every quarter of Loikaw were ordered to
participate in a "vilification of democracy" rally at the municipal airport
or face detention. There are chapters of the USDA (Union Solidarity
Development Association), SLORC's homegrown political party, in every
quarter of the city. Members are responsible for monitoring the commission
of "community service labor," collecting fees, and reporting on the
movements of the residents. From July, every household in each of Loikaw's
twenty wards has had to send one family member with tools for labor on the
new tarmac at the airport. Also in Loikaw, every ward has been ordered to
purchase three houses to kept as lodging for porters. Seven battalions have
been placed around Loikaw township, with IB 54 providing security throughout
the city and environs. 

No foreign tourists are allowed in Karenni now, and travel on most roadways
has been restricted. Transport of rice has been prohibited on all the major
highways. In July, those families boarding their children at schools in
Loikaw and other townships were ordered that they could no longer send rice
to students, only money. All movement of rice is viewed as an effort to
supply food to Karenni forces. This creates considerable difficulty for most
families, who have ample rice but little disposable cash income. Reportedly
the only product still being freely traded at the Demawso market is liquor. 


While it is unclear at present what the SLORC authorities have in mind for
the post-relocation areas, they are greatly desirous of increasing
cross-border trade with Thailand. Despite the turbulent situation inside
Karenni, it was announced 13 June 1996 that two border check-points, which
had been officially closed when the SLORC-KNPP cease-fire broke, were to be
reopened, one near Mae Sariang and the other north of Mae Hong Son. Many of
the roads leading to the border have been dramatically upgraded over the
past year, probably to facilitate the movement of logging trucks bearing
teak into Thailand. Logging played a major role in the breakdown of the
SLORC-KNPP cease-fire. It was reported by a recently-defected SLORC captain
that before Brigadier General Maung Kyi's transfer from the Regional Command
Office in April, he profited from virtually every logging contract in
Karenni. At present, Pathonthani Company of Singapore, Thaiphana Company of
Thailand, and the Myanmar Timber Enterprise all hold large concession areas
of teak and other hardwoods in Karenni near the major townships and the
border. Though some areas near the Salween river have already been
clear-cut, the forests of the in the northern and border regions remain
relatively (and lucratively) lush. Whether logs were to move through Karenni
south for export from Rangoon, or over the Thai border, the elimination of
competing KNPP interests and of problems created by continuing hostilities
inside could greatly speed extraction from the remaining forests.

Ethnic Tourist Villages 

The Mae Hong Son capital and its environs also enjoy a lively dry-season
tourist trade, and it is equally possible that SLORC officials would like to
skim a portion of the profits themselves during Visit Myanmar Year. In a
newspaper article appearing in the Bangkok Post June 1996, the Regional
Thai-Burma Joint Border Committee announced plans to discuss development of
the Salween basin as a "tourist attraction." Some have speculated that the
SLORC may try to establish ethnic tourist villages populated by Padaung
relocatees. The Padaung, or Kayan, as they call themselves, are one of the
Karenni ethnic sub-groups who live not only in Karenni, but also in parts of
Shan State and Central Burma. They are known as the "long-neck people",
because some of the women wear metal bands to elongate their necks. Three of
these villages, referred to by some as "human zoos," currently exist in Mae
Hong Son province. The villages have become some of Mae Hong Son's primary
attractions, and tourists flock to them to photograph the Kayan women in
their traditional dress and buy souvenirs. The SLORC have already copied the
Thai model and brought four Kayan women to Nyaungshwe in Shan State to stay
at one of the large hotels. Reportedly more such ethnic villages are planned
for new tourist sites in southern Shan State. 

The Salween River Dam 

In addition, the SLORC have been negotiating with the Thai government for
several years to build one or several megadams on the Salween river, to
supply both water and hydro-electricity to Thailand. Most of the revenue
from these projects would go to the SLORC. Though no sites for the proposed
dams have yet been selected, studies by various Thai agencies and reports by
the Norwegian consultant Norconsult to the Asian Development Bank over the
last six years have suggested several possible sites. One is near Weigyi,
just south of the Karenni border in Karen State. During his term, Maung Kyi
mentioned that a second site was under consideration, near Pasaung in
Karenni. With a projected generation capacity of 4,540 megawatts, the dam
would create a floodplain that would inundate hundreds or thousands of
square kilometres along the riverbanks of the Salween and Pon rivers,
stretching from Karenni far up into Shan State. If at Weigyi, the historic
state capital in Bawlake would be flooded, and the state would be
effectively split in two. 

Construction would require the relocation of all settlements close to the
riverbanks. The record for multi-lateral compensation in this part of the
world remains abysmally inadequate. However, if the project were funded in
part by an agency like the Asian Development Bank, at least some
compensation would have to be paid to all shone affected by relocation.

Both the Karenni and the Karen have voiced vehement opposition to a mega-dam
project on the Salween ever since its first proposal, considering it another
form of ethnocide in the ongoing hostilities of Burma's civil war. Hence any
dam would be built only under the most stringent security conditions, to
avoid possible sabotage. Any threats of sabotage are likely to be taken very
seriously now. On 4 June 1996, KNPP troops managed to partially disable
Lawpita Power Station #1 by blowing up the water main supplying the
station's three reserve hydro-turbines. (Most of the electricity generated
at Lawpita feeds the central Mandalay-Rangoon power grid. It is said that
the power supply in Loikaw is so weak, those wishing to read at night must
often resort to candles or kerosene lamps.) Areas around Lawpita are already
heavily mined and security is strictly controlled. While it could take years
to resolve the issues surrounding the construction of a dam on the Salween,
if the Weigyi site is being actively considered, the present relocations in
Karenni effectively remove many of the potential road-blocks for dam planners. 

Forced Labor

In addition, most large infrastructure projects in Burma are built with
forced labor, and a ready centralized population like the one in Shadaw
could be easily utilized to provide free labor. Several hydro-projects in
Burma have already been built using forced labor, including the Mong Kwan
(Nam Wok) Electric Power Plant in Shan State, the Kyaukkyi Township dam in
Karen State, and smaller hydro-electric plants in Arakan and Kachin States.
Karenni already has a long history of forced labor projects, the best-known
being the national railroad. Over the last several months, forced labor was
used on the reconstruction of the Thaung Thon Lone Pagoda, ten kilometres
east of Loikaw. Villagers nearby at Chikeh were given responsibility for
feeding the workers and transporting 20  -  200 litres of water per day to
the site by bullock cart. Concentration of possibly more than 20,000 people
at the Shadaw relocation site would ensure a steady supply of workers for
any large project the state might wish to undertake.


Whatever concrete plans exist for economic exploitation of Karenni the
Karenni themselves believe that the most urgent of SLORC's agendas is the
eradication of Karenni culture and the Karenni resistance movement. Since
Burma's independence, Karenni villagers have been battling Rangoon
government troops who have not only subjugated them politically, but also
tortured and killed them, conscripted them as porters and laborers, raped
women and girls, and looted their houses and livestock. 

There is already ample evidence of the physical reconstruction of culture in
Karenni. The SLORC, in many areas of Burma including Rangoon, have sought to
erase history by renaming streets and destroying historic buildings,
especially those with significance to ethnic groups. One of the SLORC's
best-known ethnic "deconstructions" was the demolition of the royal Kyentone
Palace in Shan State in November 1991. In Karenni, the palace of the
traditional chieftain or sawbwa at the former capital of Bawlake was
destroyed ten years ago. The Loikaw sawbwa's residence remains, but was
previously used by the BSPP regime as a nursery, and is now being
administered by monks. At present in Loikaw, many traditional houses have
been dismantled or rebuilt under "beautification orders" for Visit Myanmar
Year. Residents unable to improve their residences have been forced to sell
their homes cheaply to outside speculators, often Chinese businessmen
purchasing immigration cards, and to relocate to outlying areas of the city.
As the people are relocated and their surroundings changed, the physical
traces of their histories are also expunged. 

With more and more SLORC troops stationed throughout the state, the
population demographics are also changing. After their villages have been
destroyed, many Karenni anticipate that new communities will be established
in their places, with Burman names and Burman residents. SLORC
representatives in Rangoon told Karenni delegates to Union Day Celebrations
on 12 February 1996 that they were "stubborn and selfish, low-born and
ignorant," and that it was the government's responsibility "to illuminate
the Karenni." 

Perhaps most importantly, for those who are relocated, with the loss of
their homelands comes the loss of the daily practices from which Karenni
customs and consciousness are crafted and sustained. The relocation of many
of the highland dwellers in Karenni to lowland sites means a radical change
in their environments and lifestyles. As cultivators and forest dwellers,
the Karenni in all their rich diversity live their culture on their lands
and through their livelihoods. The Karenni isolated at Shadaw and other
concentration camps can no longer farm their paddy fields, fish their
rivers, or harvest from their forests. For indigenous people all over the
world, the legacy of displacement has been the loss of identity. While the
range of people who consider themselves part of the Karenni nation
encompasses every variation, from university-educated urbanites to agrarian
practitioners of herbal medicine, all are united in their identification
with Karenni, their homeland and its history. In large part, this explains
the diversity of allegiance to the KNPP. The relocation and reoccupation of
the villages throughout Karenni is sure to uproot and destroy not only the
lives of individual people, but also their communal heritage. 


Though it is difficult to fathom in the age of modern communications, the
forced migration occurring in Karenni and the resulting exodus of asylum
seekers to Thailand are continuing largely unwitnessed and unrecognized. The
magnitude of this relocation is almost unthinkable -- and yet this tragic
situation is being duplicated, under slightly different conditions and with
slightly different results, in Karen and Shan regions of Burma. With access
to information, communication, and travel throughout areas under SLORC
control so severely restricted, very few people in Burma or outside can even
be aware of what is now taking place in Karenni. Yet the ramifications of
relocations in Karenni and in all ethnic areas are far-reaching. There is
every reason to believe that events in Karenni are intimately tied to the
SLORC's attempts to consolidate its power throughout Central Burma. For the
sake of those whose lives have been torn apart, and for the sake of the
political future in Burma and Karenni, this relocation process cannot
continue unnoticed. All who have provided information here hope that it may
be useful for those working to change this situation and redress the wrongs
committed by the SLORC against the people of Karenni and all the ethnic
peoples of Burma. 

by Green November 
32 PO Box 58 
Mae Hong Son 58000

(Please contact Green November for copies of their excellent maps and
photos. as well as interviews, newsclippings, and copies of Slorc relocation
orders/ travel documents with English translations.)