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KHRG Commentary #98-C2, Part 1 of 2

                      KAREN HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP

              November 24, 1998     /     KHRG #98-C2


         [Some details omitted for Internet distribution]

"Things are getting more difficult every day.  Even the Burmese leaders 
capture each other and put each other in jail.  If they can capture and 
imprison even the people who have authority, then how are the villagers 
supposed to tolerate them?  That's why the villagers are fleeing from 
Burma."  - Dta La Ku elder (M, 44) from Dooplaya district  (Report #98-

There is no doubt that life is currently becoming worse for the vast 
majority of people in Burma, in both urban and rural areas.  In urban
people are plagued by high inflation, rapidly increasing prices for basic 
commodities such as rice and basic foodstuffs, the tumbling value of the 
Kyat, wages which are not enough to feed oneself, corruption by all arms 
of the military and civil service, and the ever-present fear of arbitrary 
arrest for the slightest act or statement that betrays opposition to the
Peace & Development Council (SPDC) junta.


"We were civil servants in Du Yaw, but we didn't have enough to eat. ? 
At the shop we had to pay 50 or 60 Kyats for one bowl, or over 1,000 
Kyats for one big tin.  The rice gets even more expensive in the rainy 
season.  We couldn't buy rice from the shop because the monthly salary 
they gave us wasn't enough to buy rice.  We had to do farming as well as 
teach at school, otherwise we wouldn't have had enough to eat." - "Naw 
Ghay Wah" (F, 31), a schoolteacher from Pa'an township describing the 
difficulty of living there (Report #98-09)

The SPDC refuses to admit the disastrous state of the economy, trying to 
control the exchange rate by arresting and detaining money-changers, 
claiming the country has no rice shortage and trying to prove it by 
confiscating ever more rice from the farmers so that they can show 
increasing export figures, and hoping to attract further foreign debt
aid, and investment so that they can continue to prop up a system which is 
completely unsustainable.  The current collapse of the Burmese economy 
may have come as a surprise to investors and governments who chose to 
believe the myth of Asia's "economic miracle" and coddle dictatorships 
like the SPDC in search of short-term profits; however, it has come as no 
surprise to anyone who talks to villagers and townspeople about the 
realities of daily life under the SPDC.  For years, activists pointing out
unsustainability of the SLORC/SPDC system have been ignored; and for 
the most part they continue to be ignored by governments and economists 
who claim that no one could have foreseen the current situation.  The truth

is that many people did.


"We call the factory the Sittaun Paper Factory.  At the paper factory 
girls fold the paper and boys put the papers into the machine, they work 
step by step.  There is no need to try one's hardest.  The pay is very low.
They give only 1,000 Kyats for one month, or 30 Kyats for one day.  How 
could we get enough to eat with that?  Some of the workers were 
starving."  - "Maung San Myint" (M, 45, Burman), Sittaun town, Mon 
State, describing living conditions in his home town (Annex to Report 

Most of the 'growth' in the urban Burmese economy which has been 
reported for years has been false, and has been built on a combination of 
money stemming from the narcotics trade and money extorted by the 
military in rural areas.  There has been continual discussion of the role
narcotics money, but almost no one has even mentioned the role of the 
money stolen from rural farmers throughout the entire country by the 
Army; yet this could possibly amount to even more than the narcotics 
profits.  Anyone reading KHRG reports will notice that villagers 
everywhere are forced to hand over money on a regular basis, as often as 
once per week, to local military officers and SPDC officials.  Villagers
often even 'graded' based on their relative wealth and 'assessed' varying 
amounts, which usually total to all the cash that they could possibly
in the given time period, and more; many villagers have to sell livestock 
and valuables to come up with the money.   

These 'fees' take on many names: porter fees, road-building fees, railway 
fees, pagoda fees, sports fees, development fees, firefighting fees, fees
avoid shifts of forced labour - the list goes on and on.  The names are 
usually just excuses, because little or none of the money actually goes 
where the name would indicate.  In total, small villages of 10 to 50 
households have to hand over 10,000 to 30,000 Kyat per month, while 
bigger villages of 100 to 500 households can have to pay in the hundreds 
of thousands of Kyat each month.  Where do all of these 'fees' go?  They 
are not distributed among the rank and file soldiers, most of whom are 
teenage conscripts. The salary of a private in the SPDC Army is about 
US$2 per month, his officer steals half of it and he is forced to buy his 
own uniform out of the rest.  The officers also often steal the rations for

their units and sell these, leaving their soldiers to loot their food from
villagers.  And it is these officers, particularly Company and Battalion 
commanders and above, who take all the 'fees'.  This is the main source of 
their loyalty to the SPDC.  A Battalion-level officer can make millions of 
Kyat per year if posted in a rural area, just by extorting money from the 
surrounding villages, forcing villagers to do labour growing cash crops or 
logging, and selling military supplies which are supposed to go to his 
soldiers.  Military officers have almost no expenses while in the field and

almost all of this money, totalling billions of Kyat per month from all
Burma, is sent by officers to their families in Burma's main towns and 
cities, where it can be used to start businesses - and create an illusion
economic growth.


"When they came in the hot season last year, they came with a 
bulldozer.  They told the villagers how much food they had eaten in town 
and the cost of the fuel [for the bulldozer] and demanded that we pay for 
it.  The Saw Hta villagers had to pay 100,000 [Kyat].  There are over 200 
houses in Saw Hta village, and they came to collect taxes whenever they 
wanted.  They taxed us once a month, but sometimes we had to pay twice 
a month.  I have little money so I was only taxed 500 Kyats.  Richer 
villagers had to pay 2 to 4 thousand Kyats [each time].  I suffered from 
having to porter and from paying the taxes of 500 Kyats.  Each house 
had to pay that much.  Those villagers who couldn't give 500 Kyats were 
ordered to give 300 Kyats and those who couldn't afford that had to 
spend a day and night in the stocks in the police jail.  Some villagers 
went to do daily labour which paid 400 Kyats and then gave that to the 
Burmese."  - Villager (M, 21) from Saw Hta (Azin) village, Dooplaya 
district (Report #98-09)

"?according to the agreement of the Kyaung Ywa village tract 
headmen and small village leaders, xxxx village is assessed (two 
thousand) for servants' fees.  Therefore, [you] are informed to come and 
pay this money at Kyaung Ywa village."  - Text of a written SPDC order 
to a village in southern Dooplaya district, May 1998 (Report #98-09)

Those who wish to look beyond Rangoon and Mandalay, into the farming 
villages where over 80% of Burma's people live, will see the real effect of

this system.  The agrarian economic base is being completely destroyed.   
This is the real cause of Burma's economic crisis, much more than fallout 
from the Asian economic crisis or the crop-destroying floods of 1997.  The 
entire rural countryside is being looted to finance a façade of economic 
improvement in the cities.  Farmers throughout central Burma as well as 
the ethnic nationality areas are facing so much extortion, confiscation of 
their crops and looting of their livestock and other belongings that they
no longer sustain it.  The floods of 1997, followed by the lack of rains in

1998 which have destroyed much of the crop once again, have just begun 
to bring the reality out into the open.


"After that, the Burmese came and persecuted the villagers.  They took 
rice and paddy from us.  They said that they didn't have rice for 
themselves, but I don't know why they didn't just go back [to Rangoon] 
if they didn't have any rice.  They stayed in the village and rampaged." - 
"Pi San San" (F, 50) from Taw Oak village, southern Pa'an District 
(Report #98-08)

The situation is only likely to get worse, particularly because the SPDC is

more focused on political and military control of the ethnic areas than on 
allowing the population to feed themselves.  It is absurd that with a 
nationwide rice shortage going on, SPDC Battalions are systematically 
uprooting and destroying rice crops in Shan State, northern Karen State 
and Tenasserim Division, but according to the villagers that is precisely 
what they are doing.  In areas where there is any form of resistance, the 
current approach of the SPDC is to conduct large-scale forced relocations 
of villagers, hunt out villagers who attempt to hide out in the hills, and 
systematically destroy their houses and food supplies so that there is no 
way they can support resistance forces.

The worst case is in Shan State, where the SPDC has forcibly relocated 
and destroyed approximately 1,500 villages since 1996, displacing as 
many as 300,000 rural villagers with the intent of undermining the Shan 
United Revolutionary Army, now known as the Shan State Army South.  
Villages were first moved to bigger villages, then these were moved in 
turn to more and more tightly controlled SPDC sites.  This was followed 
by systematic massacres of villagers on several occasions.  (For more 
details see "Killing the Shan", KHRG #98-03, 23/5/98, and 
"Dispossessed", Shan Human Rights Foundation, April 1998.)  Tens of 
thousands of villagers fled to Thailand.  Currently a steady stream of 
refugees continues to arrive in Thailand, but according to relief workers 
some of the new arrivals say that they're fleeing not because they're being

ordered out of their villages, but rather because they're being ordered
the relocation sites back to their villages.  The military in the
site orders them to go home, but they know that other battalions are still 
patrolling the area of their villages shooting people on sight, so they
no choice but to flee the region altogether.

The situation in Karenni (Kayah) State, where about 200 villages have 
been forcibly relocated and destroyed since 1996, continues to steadily 
deteriorate as both people in the relocation sites and people hiding in the

forests have been there for well over a year now with little or no food and

no access to outside help.  (See "A Struggle Just to Survive", KHRG #98-
06, 12/6/98.) 


"Some are starving to death.  Many people die of sickness, especially in 
the rainy season from malaria and diarrhoea.  They are also forced to 
work for the military doing things like carrying water, cutting bamboo, 
making fences and collecting firewood for the Army.  Especially in the 
Second District, the Army goes to fight almost every week so the people 
are forced to carry their supplies and ammunition, and many people die 
as porters at the frontline.  Now a lot of people who stay in the 
relocation sites are forced to be militia too, but not only people in the 
relocation sites have to do that.  People from other villages are forced to

do that too." - "Saw Kler" (M, 20+) from Mawchi town in Karenni, 
describing conditions in Mawchi forced relocation site in southern Karenni 
(Report #98-06)

"I decided that if I died everything would be over and that would be 
better than going back, because life is very bad in the relocation site. ? 
The Burmese called the people who escaped to come back to the 
relocation site, but after we escaped we didn't want to go back.  When we 
were hiding there, if the Burmese ever saw some smoke [from a 
cookfire] they fired mortar shells at it.  I was afraid because I saw many 
people killed by the Burmese, and we were afraid we would also be 
killed. ? SLORC soldiers came and when they found villagers they shot 
at them. ? They killed many people.  We were really lucky to survive 
this long.  I'm very, very lucky." - Villager (M, 50) from Daw Kraw Aw 
village, Karenni, talking about his escape from Shadaw forced relocation 
site in northern Karenni (Report #98-06)

Taungoo (Taw Oo) district forms the northern tip of Karen State, 
sandwiched between Karenni State to the east, Shan State to the north, and 
Pegu Division to the west.  Much of this district is steep forested hills
small remote Karen villages.  For several years these villages have also 
suffered destruction and forced labour as SLORC/SPDC troops tried to 
undermine the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) in the area by 
wiping out village food supplies and forcing people to build a military 
access road into the area.  Now that the SPDC Infantry Battalions are more 
strongly entrenched in the area the villagers were hoping for a respite; 
many of them in villages along the road even call their villages "Nyein 
Chan Yay" ("Peace") villages, having made an informal agreement with 
the local SPDC military that they will comply with all orders and demands 
if only their villages are not destroyed or forced to move.  This includes 
villages such as Bawgali Gyi, Ye Tho Gyi, and Kaw Thay Der.  However, 
these villages are facing increasingly heavy demands for porters and 
money by the SPDC battalions, and as they have no money to pay to avoid 
portering they are in a dilemma.  At the same time, villages which are not 
seen as cooperating fully are being punished severely.  In Saw Wah Der 
village SPDC troops recently chose all the nicest houses in the village and

burned them, and all of the villagers now live in the forest in fear.  Many

of them lost their crop this year because SPDC troops started pushing a 
road through their ricefields which is to go to Mawchi in Karenni State.  
With all the troops in their fields the villagers didn't dare to plant. 
east, SPDC Major Myo Myint could see the ricefields of Bu Sah Kee 
village from the camp of Infantry Battalion #26 which he commands, and 
the villagers there always flee into the forest when his troops approach;
in September he sent patrols out with orders to destroy the entire rice
of the 60 families in the village.  They uprooted, cut down or stomped 
down about half of the entire crop which was to support the village 
through the coming year, and the villagers there no longer know what they 
will do when they run out of rice.  (see KHRG Information Update #98-
U5, "Continuing Hardships for Villagers in Northern Karen Districts"; 
the situation in Taungoo District will be reported in further detail in an 
upcoming KHRG report.)

Southwest of Taungoo District in Nyaunglebin District, dozens of villages 
in the hills have been systematically wiped out since early 1997.  In an 
SPDC attempt to undermine the KNLA in the area, villagers' rice supplies 
were hunted out and destroyed.  In August 1998, SPDC troops began 
burning more villages in Ler Doh township.  Oo Ker Kee, Tee Nya P'Tay 
Kee, and Nah Kee villages have been burned in this operation by Light 
Infantry Battalions #364 and 365.  At Oo Ker Kee village, SPDC troops 
occupied a nearby hill and then commenced shelling the village with 
mortars with no warning.  After the villagers fled, the troops entered and 
looted the village, then burned it.  The villagers from these 3 destroyed 
villages are now hiding in the forest with little or no rice to eat.  Part
their crop was destroyed, and they are not expecting to obtain much from 
their fields this year.  Even the fields which were not destroyed have 
suffered from the lack of rains this year.

The destruction of these villages without warning follows the pattern used 
to destroy well over 100 villages in Papun district and eastern Nyaunglebin

district since early 1997.  (See "Wholesale Destruction", KHRG, April 
1998.)  Papun District is bounded by Nyaunglebin District in the 
northwest, Thaton District in the southwest, and the Salween River and 
Thailand to the east.  About 100 of the destroyed villages were ordered to 
move, but many of the villages never saw the order because the villagers 
always flee when SPDC troops approach.  In response, the SPDC launched 
a campaign to simply destroy all villages without warning.


"The SLORC keep coming again and again, so we have to live in the 
forest.  This year they've come into our village 4 times, and they've come 
near our village many more times than that.  We have to run very often.  
At least once a month they come near our village so we can't stay there.  
Now they've burned our houses, our rice barns and everything we had, 
so we have nothing.  Every time they come they burn something.  The 
first time they burned the houses and left 2 or 3 unburned, but they 
came and burned those the next time.  The first time they came they 
burned any rice barns they saw, but they come many times until 
eventually they've found and burned every rice barn.  After their fourth 
visit we'd lost everything, we didn't even have any paddy left. ? 26 
houses.  They burned every house, field hut, and buffalo shed, and also 
our church and our school.  We had a middle school in Kheh Pa Hta, up 
to 7th Standard." - Villager (M, 43) from Kheh Pa Hta village in Papun 
district, interviewed when he had just fled into the forest from a SLORC 
patrol ("Wholesale Destruction", Report #98-01)

The situation in northern Papun District remains very similar to what it 
was earlier in the year.  Most villages have already been completely 
burned and destroyed, but SPDC patrols continue going through the area 
to burn any trace of villages which still remain, food supplies, and the 
shelters of villagers who are hiding in the forest.  These patrols have 
reportedly mined and booby-trapped the burned remains of some villages, 
because they know that villagers are in hiding nearby and that they 
frequently return to scavenge for food, belongings and materials in the 
burned ruins of their villages.  Villagers sighted in the region are 
sometimes taken as porters, but are more frequently shot or otherwise 
executed on sight.  The vast majority of villagers are living in small 
clusters of shelters and lean-to's hidden deep in the forests and high in
hills, trying to access their old hillside rice fields or to clear small
ones in the hills.  These fields have not yielded much, especially with the

lack of rain this past rainy season.  In September, SPDC patrols were sent 
through Lu Thaw township to destroy rice crops where possible, and much 
of the crop was cut down with machetes or stomped down by the troops.  
Villagers in hiding in the forest are living primarily on roots and jungle 

leaves.  Even in areas where SPDC troops seldom arrive, such as Day Pu 
Noh area, there is almost no rice available and villagers are surviving on 
rice soup, sharing around whatever rice they can find or buy from town.  
Villagers in this region are much closer to Thailand than those in Taungoo 
and Nyaunglebin districts, but most of them do not want to go because of 
their very close attachment to their land, their extreme fear of landmines 
and SPDC troops along the escape routes, and their fear of abuse and 
forced repatriation by Thai troops which they know may await them on 
arrival at the border.


"Then we built shelters above the village because we didn't dare live in 
the village.  We thought we could plant a crop, so we had already 
cleared the weeds.  Then they came a second time, 2 weeks ago.  They 
came to the place where we were staying, so we had to run to this side 
[of the river].  Then when we were staying on this side they came back a 
third time, one week ago.  They came right here.  So we ran further that 
time, and we've just come back 3 days ago.  We can never stay in one 
place, we have to keep running like this.  We're very afraid that they'll 
see us.  If they come again we'll run further than before." - Villager (M, 
43) from Lay Po Kaw Tee village in Papun district, interviewed while 
living in hiding in the forest ("Wholesale Destruction", Report #98-01)