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KHRG Update #97-01: Tenasserim

                      KAREN HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP

                         INFORMATION UPDATE

      An Independent Report by the Karen Human Rights Group

            February 9, 1997     /     KHRG #97-U1

Information Update is periodically produced by KHRG in order to provide 

timely reporting of specific developments, particularly when urgent action 

may be required.  It is produced primarily for Internet distribution.  

Topics covered will generally be reported in more detail in upcoming 

KHRG reports.


     Tenasserim Division:  Forced Relocation and Forced Labour

SLORC's campaign of forced relocations and forced-labour road building in 

the Palauk-Palaw, Mergui and Tenasserim regions, which began in 

September 1996, is now being accelerated.  [Note: Mergui is known in 

Burmese as Meik and in Karen as Blih; Tenasserim is known is Burmese 

as Taninthari.  Both are towns in southern Tenasserim Division.  Mergui 

is on the Andaman Sea coast about 200 km. south of Tavoy, and 

Tenasserim is on the southern Tenasserim River, 50 km. south of Mergui 

and 20 km. inland. Palauk and Palaw are smaller towns on the Tavoy-

Mergui road, 100 and 140 km. south of Tavoy respectively].  

Almost every village between the Tavoy-Mergui-Kawthaung car road in the 

west and the Tenasserim River in the east, from Palauk in the north to 

Tenasserim town in the south has been ordered to move one or more times 

between September 1996 and January 1997.  The area measures about 120 

km. north-south and 30 km. east-west.  At least 35-40 villages, ranging in 

size from 20-150 households, have been affected.  The area is almost 

entirely populated by Karen, with some Burman villages along the coastal 

road and the coastal reaches of main rivers.  Almost all the villages ordered

to move are Karen, but the people of several Burman villages have been 

issued orders that all families must move into the centre of their village.  

Generally village headmen are summoned to the nearest military camp and 

ordered to move within a few days, though some have been given less than 

24 hours.  Villagers are ordered to destroy their own houses by removing 

the floor, walls, and roof, and if they do not then troops will burn their 

entire village.  Several villages have already been completely or partially 

burned, including Pyi Cha, May Way, Wah Tho, Ku Teh, Wa Thu Lo, Ka 

Weh, Wah Lo, Noh Aw, and Ta Po Kee.  The troops have even burned 

down SLORC schools in these villages which formerly had SLORC-

provided teachers (though the villagers had to pay for them as well as the 

school and all related costs).

The villagers have been ordered to move to the roadsides along the Tavoy-

Mergui-Kawthaung car road, the Boke-Ka Pyaw-Kyay Nan Daing car road, 

or to Burman villages on the lower Tenasserim River, depending on the 

area.  No land, materials or assistance are provided.  In every case the 

villagers are then used every day as forced labour on car roads.  As soon as 

one road is finished, they are assigned to another road, and if there is any 

break in the road labour they are called to do forced labour building and 

maintaining the Army camps in the area.  

Several thousand villagers (including the Karens who have been forced to 

move there and the Burmans and Mons who already live in villages along 

the road) are being used every day as forced labour to resurface the Tavoy-

Mergui car road as well as its continuation south of Mergui.  This road is 

ruined every rainy season and takes several months of forced labour to build 

and improve each year.  SLORC is also constructing new car roads, 

including a branch of the north-south road running through Boke, Ka 

Pyaw, Aleh Chaung, Mazaw and Kyay Nan Daing (at least 40 km.) and a 

road from Tagu to Ta Po Hta and Ta Po Kee (estimated 30-40 km.).  

Forced labour construction on these roads began in November/December 

1996.  Villagers are being forced to move to these roadsides and work every 

day along with villagers who already live there, many of whose houses have 

been destroyed without compensation to make way for the roads.  People 

from over 50 km. away from these roads are also being forced to walk 2 

days to get there in order to work on rotating 10-day shifts hauling dirt, 

building embankments, breaking rocks and digging ditches.  Children as 

young as 12, people over 60, and women still breastfeeding their infants are 

being forced to do this work.  In many villages and relocation sites, one 

person per household must be provided at all times without exception.  No 

money, food, shelter, medical care or medicines are provided.  Soldiers are 

often present but only to guard, never to work, and they often beat the 

villagers for resting.  No convicts are being used.

Many villagers have moved as ordered, but the majority have fled into the 

fields and forests near their villages, where they build shelters in hiding 

and try to go back and forth to the village to maintain their fields, harvest

their betelnut and tend their livestock.  Whenever SLORC troops enter the 

area of their village they must hide, because anyone seen in these areas is 

shot on sight.  Since December 1996, at least 20 villagers have been shot on 

sight or tortured to death simply for being found around their villages.  

Those who have moved to the relocation sites as ordered can sometimes buy a 

pass from local SLORC authorities to return to their village, usually only

1 or 2 days, but even these passes are no guarantee against being shot on 

sight.  Villagers in the relocation sites have also been arrested; for 

example, the Baptist pastor of Zah Di Win village was arrested on 12 January 

because people in his village hadn't moved to the relocation site, even

he and his family had.  At last report he was being held at a camp of

Infantry Battalion 17 with his hands tied behind his back day and night, and 

had not yet been released.

Since early January, SLORC troops have increased their patrols into the 

relocation areas to hunt out and execute villagers in hiding, re-issue orders

to move, and burn villages which have not cooperated.  Battalions involved 

include Infantry Battalions #280, 101, 17, 103, 19 and 433.  The overall 

operation seems to aim at clearing out the entire civilian population between

the coastal plains and the Tenasserim River 50 km. to the east, and using 

these people to push new military roads into these areas so SLORC can set 

up Army posts throughout the region (which the villagers will also be forced 

to build).  This would make it more difficult for Karen soldiers to operate 

in the area, and would provide SLORC with positions which could be used as 

a springboard for attacks on the southern Tenasserim River valley in the 

future.  According to the villagers doing the labour, the SLORC is in a great

hurry to finish the new roads.  Those still hiding in the area say that if 

the roads come, they will have to flee.  Over 1,000 have already fled the 

villages and relocation sites to reach areas along the Tenasserim River to 

the east which are under Karen National Union control.  They have scattered 

among existing villages there and are mainly depending on charity from 

villagers who live along the river.  Very few have made it to Thailand, but 

this is very difficult and there is no refugee camp for them in this part of 

Thailand, so they are only likely to end up on construction sites, or doing 

bonded labour or sweatshop labour.

Details, maps, interviews and photos regarding the situation in these areas 

will be available in an upcoming KHRG report and photo set.

                             - [END] -

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