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Special Posting: KHRG Commentary #9

Subject: Special Posting: KHRG Commentary #99-C1 

             May 25, 1999     /     KHRG #99-C1
Note: This Commentary is also available on our website
      The reports "Death Squads and Displacement" (#99-04) and
      "Continuing Fear and Hunger" (#99-05) which are both referred
      to below are not yet posted to our website but will be shortly.
      The report "False Peace" (#99-02) is already available in full
      on our website.

"They tied him up, covered his face and forced him to go with them.  His 
wife came down [out of the house] and said, 'My husband is a good 
person.'  The Burmese who captured him said to her, 'He is a good 
person now, but in the past he was a bad person.'  Then they pulled him 
away. ... When they pulled him out of our village they were beating him, 
and we heard the next day that they killed him in Yay Leh and threw his 
body in the Sittaung river.  Some people saw it.  He shouted loudly and 
said, 'I am not the leader of the defenders.' ... The rest of the Burmese 
left in the village called people to come to the school for a meeting.  I 
didn't dare go, I stayed in my house.  Many people hid in their houses.  
They said, 'Let this serve as an example.  We won't forgive you next 
time.  In the future, you must live and stand for people on this side [the 
side of the SPDC], you shouldn't contact the KNU.  The day we hear 
about you contacting the KNU, you will know.'  This is really 
dangerous." - 34-year-old Karen villager from Yan Myo Aung relocation 
site in Nyaunglebin District, describing an arrest by a Sa Thon Lon 
execution squad; KNU is the Karen National Union ("Death Squads and 
Displacement", page 21)

The rainy season appears to be beginning early this year, and as the rains 
begin many people look back and evaluate the past dry season.  Though 
the period since October/November 1998 has not featured a major military 
offensive, the situation for rural villagers in eastern Burma has continued 
to deteriorate and there have been some extremely worrying new 
developments.  In general, the State Peace & Development Council 
(SPDC) regime has continued to use increased militarisation, forced 
relocations and tighter controls on villagers as a means of consolidating its 
control over remote regions, and as a result more and more villagers are 
becoming internally displaced each month while life becomes even more 
desperate for those who are already displaced and hiding in the forests.  
This dry season the SPDC has also added a new weapon to its arsenal 
which is now terrorising villagers and driving many of them to flight:  the 
'Sa Thon Lon Guerrilla Retaliation' execution squads.
Sa Thon Lon is an abbreviation for the Bureau of Special Investigations, a 
branch of the SPDC's Directorate of Defence Services Intelligence (DDSI) 
headed by Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt, who is also Secretary-1 of the SPDC.  In 
1998, reportedly under the direct orders of Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt, the Sa 
Thon Lon 'Guerrilla Retaliation' (Dam Byan Byaut Kya) force was formed 
in Nyaunglebin District, which covers part of northwestern Karen State 

and eastern Pegu Division.  An estimated 200 Non-Commissioned 
Officers were selected from several of the Battalions in the area, given 
special training and sent into the villages of Nyaunglebin District east of 
the Sittaung River.  They operate in small sections of 5 to 10 men, have no 
fixed base and often move between villages at night.  They wear 
camouflage short pants and civilian clothes, so the villagers often call 
them the 'Short Pants Group' or the 'Guerrilla Group'.  They also go by the 
names A'Htoo Ah Na Ya A'Pweh ('Special Authority Group', a reference to 
their authorisation by Khin Nyunt) and Shwit A'Pweh ('Shwit' group; when 
asked to explain this, they have told the villagers that 'shwit' is the sound 
of cutting someone's throat).  Local SPDC Operations Commanders and 
Strategic Commanders have told villagers that the regular Army has no 
control over them, and they are never seen together with regular SPDC 
troops.  They operate secretively; many of them use pseudonyms, and 
villagers are ordered not to even look in their faces.  However, they have 
been very open in telling villagers their mission, which is to systematically 
execute everyone who is suspected of having any contact whatsoever with 
the Karen opposition forces, regardless of how minor that contact or how 
long ago it occurred.
"When they came and captured my husband, we were all in the house: 
my mother, my children and me.  When they called him to go with them, 
I told my husband, 'Don't be afraid, pray to God.'  Then Shan Bpu took 
his knife and held it to my throat telling me not to speak.  He said, 
'Don't say anything!  Don't open your mouth!  Or you will die!'  I was 
afraid and couldn't speak. ... They pulled him from place to place and 
then killed him at Teh Su while we were still in Yan Myo Aung. ... We 
didn't have contact with the KNLA and we don't have a well known 
name, the Burmese soldiers had never asked about us before, so how 
could we have known that they were going to come and kill us?" - A 
villager from Mone township recounts the night the Sa Thon Lon took 
away her husband and killed him ("Death Squads and Displacement", 
page 19)
"One night at 9 o'clock they entered Shan Su village and arrested Ko 
Kyi Hmwe, the 43 year old son of U Poh Bin.  I saw them kill him 
outside of the village.  They did that sort of thing in other villages also.  
They stabbed U Than Myint from Ma Oo Bin village with a knife, they 
did it in the middle of the village.  While he was working on his pond, 
they went and called him and then killed him without asking any 
questions.  In Leh Gkaw Wah village, which is near Ma Oo Bin, they 
called Maung Ba Aye down from his house and killed him without 
asking anything." - A villager from Shwegyin township lists some of the 
Sa Thon Lon killings in his area ("Death Squads and Displacement", page 

They have carried out this mission relentlessly, and since their appearance 
in September 1998 they have killed anywhere from 50 to well over 100 

villagers in the plains just east of the Sittaung River.  They reportedly
'lists' of villagers to kill and enter villages looking for them.  Usually
surround people's houses by night and take them to the forest for 
execution, or they summon people on various pretexts and then execute 
them.  Their methods are deliberately brutal; they usually kill with knives, 
often by cutting the throat, and then mutilate the bodies by beheading 
them, gutting them or cutting off ears or tongues.  They leave the bodies 
where they lay or dump them in the river, and in several cases they have 
hung villagers' heads along the pathways as a warning to others.  In one 
such case in Mone township in December 1998, they even forced local 
villagers to guard two heads to make sure they were not removed, under 
the threat that if the heads disappeared they would be replaced by the 
heads of those guarding them.  The purpose is obvious: to deliver a 
message to villagers throughout the area that any contact, however minor, 
with the resistance forces will be punished by death, if not now then years 
from now.  Many have been killed simply for having guided a Karen 
National Liberation Army (KNLA) column or provided them a tin of rice 
one time 5 or 10 years ago.  Several village headmen and former headmen 
have been executed for contacting the KNLA just because in the past the 
KNLA came to them to demand food or taxes.  Burmans who live in the 
area have been targetted just as much as Karens, because many of them 
oppose the SPDC or are sympathetic to the Karen forces.

"They hung one of the heads on the path out of the village that goes to 
Mone and another on the path to Ler Doh.  We had to cut bamboo and 
weave it into stands like those used for drinking water and then put the 
heads on them. ... [T]hey ordered people to do sentry duty around those 
heads and if the heads disappeared, they said the villagers would have to 
replace them with our own heads.  They kept them there for over a 
month and then another Army group came and forced the villagers to 
bury the heads." - Villager aged 30 from Mone township who was forced 
by the Sa Thon Lon to guard the severed heads of villagers Saw Aye and 
Po Theh Pyay ("Death Squads and Displacement", page 24)
"Ka Ni Ni was yelling in the jungle because his throat wasn't completely 
cut.  When we were worshipping in church at noon he was yelling, 
people heard it and went to him but he died when they got there.  People 
buried him after the Short-Pants group left.  We couldn't bring him 
home because all his blood had run out.  As for Hsah Tu Ghaw, there 
was a hole in his side where they'd stabbed him with a knife.  And as for 
Pa Bee Ko, he had been ill almost to death even before they killed him." 
- A woman aged 22 from Tantabin township in southern Toungoo District 
describes a Sa Thon Lon execution which occurred in April 1999 ("Death 
Squads and Displacement", page 22)

The main function of the Sa Thon Lon squads is killing, but they have also 
incorporated other tactics in their efforts to keep the population in fear.  
They have established strict curfews and require villagers to have passes 
when leaving their village or relocation site.  People caught outside the 
village at night or caught in their fields in possession of a stockpile of
or medicines have been executed.  In Nyaunglebin and southern Toungoo 
Districts, they are forcing people to fence in their entire villages so that 
their movements can be strictly controlled.  In Mone township they have 
forced the people of several villages to kill all their dogs so that Sa Thon 
Lon units can enter villages by night without detection.  And whenever 
they meet villagers along the path, even by day and with a valid pass, they 
beat them simply to keep them in fear.
As a result people in the plains of Nyaunglebin District are terrified of the 
Sa Thon Lon, many of them dare not tend their fields and many Karens 
and Burmans are fleeing westward across the Sittaung River, eastward 
into the hills or southward to Pegu and on to Thailand.  At the same time, 
the Sa Thon Lon force has now expanded its area of operation westward to 
include the plains of Pegu Division west of the Sittaung River, and 
northward into Tantabin township of Toungoo District.  This development 
is cause for extreme concern, because it may indicate that the Sa Thon Lon 
squads are an experiment which the SPDC may begin to expand and 
implement in other regions as well.  The SPDC is certainly capable of 
doing so, particularly with the Sa Thon Lon being under the direct control 
of Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt.  It is possible that there are also some internal 
SPDC politics at play in this case; while the regular Army veterans like 
General Maung Aye in the SPDC are known to favour conventional 
military offensives, Khin Nyunt is believed to favour more subtle tactics to 
destroy the opposition.  The Sa Thon Lon initiative is definitely consistent 
with Khin Nyunt's methods, and may also be an attempt to show that his 
tactics are more effective than those of the other Generals.  At the same 
time, this initiative gives Khin Nyunt and the DDSI an armed wing, 
essentially their own private army.  For these reasons as well as the human 
rights concerns involved it is important to watch closely any expansion in 
the size or area of operation of the Sa Thon Lon force.  It is ironic that 
despite this and all of his other known activities, Khin Nyunt has managed 
to be labelled a 'moderate' by many in the international community simply 
because he is often friendly in conversation and is better at sounding 
reasonable than the other Generals.  However, the existence of the Sa 
Thon Lon proves otherwise; that there are no moderates in the SPDC, only 
hardline military men with different tactics but the same overall goals.  
(The Sa Thon Lon and the overall human rights situation in Nyaunglebin 
District are described in detail in "Death Squads and Displacement: 
Systematic Executions, Village Destruction and the Flight of Villagers 
in Nyaunglebin District", KHRG #99-04, 24/5/99)

For many villagers in the plains of Nyaunglebin District, the Sa Thon Lon 
is simply the final straw in a long litany of abuse which is making it 
impossible for them to survive.  Many of them have been forcibly 
relocated several times over the past few years, and there have been new 
waves of forced relocations into SPDC-controlled sites since the 
beginning of 1999.  Conditions in the relocation sites are bad, nothing is 
provided and there is little or no access to good water, health care or 
education.  Those who try to farm their fields have to face the movement 
restrictions imposed by the Sa Thon Lon and regular SPDC troops, and 
have to fear encountering the Sa Thon Lon at all times.  Droughts and 
floods have destroyed most of the rice crop for two years running, yet 
even those who manage to get a crop have to pay heavy crop quotas to the 
SPDC authorities as well as the Army.  The quotas have actually increased 
despite the crop failures, so many villagers have had to buy rice on the 
market just to hand it over to the authorities, and are surviving on thin
gruel themselves.  Many people have had to sell all of their belongings and 
go into debt in order to pay these crop quotas and the ever-increasing 
extortion fees being demanded by all of the SPDC units in the region.  
"People who have hill fields must give 12 baskets per acre.  Whether our 
fields yield or not we must give them what they order.  They told us, 'We 
don't care if there's a hole in your bucket, just bring us the water.'" - A 
woman from Kyauk Kyi township, Nyaunglebin District, talking about 
SPDC rice quotas imposed on farmers ("Death Squads and 
Displacement", page 44)
"From each basket they took out a 'donation', then they took an extra 5 
baskets from my field for the Ma Ah Pa [Township Peace & 
Development Council] without paying anything, then they took 4 bowls 
[about 8 kg / 18 lb] for free from each acre of my field, and they also 
took 25 Kyats out of my money just for themselves.  They are just crooks, 
and I said to them, 'Ma aye loh, tha ko dway!' ['Motherfucker, thief!']  
But they didn't say anything back to me, they were just quiet because 
they're satisfied once they've got their money from you." - A farmer from 
Mone township complaining about SPDC corruption when collecting rice 
quotas ("Death Squads and Displacement", page 46)

Similar burdens are being imposed on villagers in rural areas nationwide, 
particularly in non-Burman areas close to regions where resistance forces 
are active.  Forced relocation, or the threat of forced relocation, to Army-
controlled sites is being used all over Karen districts as a way to bring all 
villages under direct SPDC control.  Many villages are paying bribes in 
the hundreds of thousands of Kyat to the local military to avert forced 
relocation orders.  In Toungoo District, some villages have tried to avoid 
forced relocation by making informal agreements with local SPDC Army 
commanders that they will comply with all Army demands quickly and 

completely, if only their villages are not burned or forced to move; these 
villages have now been dubbed 'Peace Villages'.  However, most of them 
have found that they simply do not have the people or the resources to 
keep up with all of the SPDC demands for forced labour, food, and 
money.  When they cannot comply the troops once again threaten them 
with forced relocation, arrest the elders or burn some houses.  People in 
the 'Peace villages' and other SPDC-controlled villages in the plains of 
Nyaunglebin and Toungoo Districts are regularly forced to labour on the 
roads and as servants at Army camps, and they are also taken as porters by 
Army patrols heading eastward into the hills to "mop up" the villagers 
there.  (For more information on the situation in Toungoo District see 
"False Peace: Increasing SPDC Military Repression in Toungoo 
District of Northern Karen State", KHRG #99-02, 25/3/99.)
"All villagers must sleep in the village at night and must not sleep in any 
gardens / fields outside the village. ... Everyone must ask permission 
from the village authorities in order to travel to other places such as 
Toungoo, and must go only when the authorities have registered them 
and given permission. ... The family lists will be checked in all villages, 
and if someone is not sleeping at home at night when the family lists are 
checked by the authorities, he will be regarded as one who has contact 
with insurgents and appropriate action will be taken." - Extract from a 
typed SPDC order letter issued to some of the 'Peace' villages in Toungoo 
District ("False Peace", page 11)

In the rugged hills of Papun and Nyaunglebin Districts the SPDC has 
trouble rounding up the villagers for relocation, so in 1997 the regime 
began a campaign to destroy all villages and food supplies in order to 
undermine the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA).  The KNLA is 
still very active, but the villagers are now struggling to survive.  Several 
thousand of them live in hiding in the forests, eating jungle vegetables, 
trying to grow small amounts of rice and avoiding the SPDC Army patrols 
which regularly come to hunt out and burn their shelters and food 
supplies, rip up their crops in the fields, and shoot villagers on sight.
SPDC logic in the remote hills of all Karen districts is that the civilians 
support the resistance, so to undermine the resistance they are trying to 
depopulate the area by a combination of forced relocations, village 
destruction, and starving out or killing the villagers who try to remain near 
their land.  Numbers are difficult to estimate, but there may be 5,000-
10,000 villagers in hiding in the hills of Nyaunglebin District, 20,000-
30,000 in the hills of Papun District, and 2,000-5,000 in the hills of 
Toungoo District.
"The day after they were shooting in our village, they went to Kler Kee 
village.  The villagers had already fled when they got there but had left 

their belongings in their houses.  They entered the village and shot the 
pigs and chickens, then they burned the village.  After they burned Kler 
Kee village, they went to stay at Lah Soe.  There are 2 or 3 farms at Lah 
Soe and they destroyed them all.  They pulled out the paddy and stomped 
on it, they didn't eat it." - A villager from the hills of Nyaunglebin 
District describes some of the actions of SPDC columns in his area 
("Death Squads and Displacement", page 61)
"The SPDC soldiers ordered the villagers from Bu Sah Kee, Hsaw Wah 
Der and Klay Soe Kee to move to Kler Lah.  Some villagers went to the 
relocation village but most of them ran to hide themselves and live in the 
jungle now.  Whenever the SPDC soldiers see them in the jungle they 
capture them and kill them, and they also destroy their paddy fields and 
gardens when they see them.   The SPDC soldiers accuse the villagers 
who stay in the jungle of helping the KNU, so they burn their paddy and 
fruit gardens and they also burn down their huts." - Excerpt from the 
report of a KHRG field reporter in the hills of Toungoo District ("False 
Peace", page 26)

In Karenni State the situation is at least as desperate.  Approximately 200 
villages were forced to relocate to Army-controlled sites beginning in 
1996, displacing 20,000-30,000 people and wiping out approximately half 
of the villages in the entire State.  Many went to the relocation sites, but 
many others hid in the forests to try to survive.  SPDC patrols have burned 
and destroyed almost all of the relocated villages since then, and continue 
to sweep the forests looking for villagers in hiding.  At the same time the 
population has gradually drained out of most of the relocation sites 
because there is no way to survive there and no services are provided; the 
villagers have to forage outside the sites for food and eventually flee back 
into the forests.  The crop failures which have hit Burma over the past two 
years have also hit the Karenni in the relocation sites and the forests, and 
since January approximately 1,500 new refugees have arrived sick and 
weak at the refugee camps in Thailand, no longer able to survive either in 
the relocation sites or in the forests near their home villages.  (For more 
details see "Continuing Fear and Hunger: Update on the Current 
Situation in Karenni", KHRG #99-05, 25/5/99)
"In Nwa La Bo you can't do any work to get food.  The only way to get 
food is to sell all your belongings, such as the silver coins our parents 
gave us, and buy food.  Finally, all our belongings were gone." - 
Karenni villager (age 27) describing why he fled Nwa La Bo relocation 
site into the forest ("Continuing Fear and Hunger", page 7)
"If the Burmese saw our footprints they followed us, so we had to hide 
in the bushes.  They always followed our footprints to kill us.  We never 
built houses and only prepared our beds to sleep.  We could only stay a 
few nights in each place because when the Burmese came near we had 

to run to another place.  We had to move from place to place so often 
that we can't count how many shelters we built each year.  If the 
Burmese saw our place we had to quickly move to another place." - 
Karenni villager 80 years old, describing the dangers of living in hiding in 
the forest in Shadaw township ("Continuing Fear and Hunger", page 5)

Further south in Pa'an District of central Karen State, many observers 
were expecting a major SPDC military offensive this dry season.  Many 
SPDC troops were sent into the Dawna Mountains in the east of the 
district near the Thai border and there was a lot of localised fighting, but 
the expected mass offensive never materialised.  Despite this, many people 
in and around the Dawna Mountains had to flee their villages into the 
forests or to refugee camps in Thailand because the SPDC troops heading 
into the mountains were taking large numbers of porters; some of the 
porters were also Burmans and other nationalities who say they were 
rounded up in towns such as Kawkareik and Myawaddy, or stopped and 
taken from public transport vehicles on the roads of central Karen State.  
Portering is especially feared in this area because it has been heavily 
landmined by all sides in the conflict and SPDC troops regularly force 
their porters to march in front of the column to set off mines.  Farmers in 
the area are also fleeing because the SPDC and DKBA have ordered 
everyone living near their fields to move into the main village and have 
imposed heavy restrictions on their movements, and to enforce this they 
have shot some farmers on sight in the fields and burned outlying houses 
and farmfield huts.  (See "Uncertainty, Fear and Flight: The Current 
Human Rights Situation in Eastern Pa'an District", KHRG #98-08, 
Now that the Karen National Liberation Army operates using guerrilla 
tactics and no longer attempts to firmly hold territory, the SPDC will 
probably not have to mount major military offensives any longer and will 
present the lack of such offensives to the world as 'peace'.  In this
it is essential that the outside world pay attention to the quieter but much 
more harmful military offensives which are really going on in the 
countryside: the widespread forced relocations, the Sa Thon Lon execution 
squads, the increasing restrictions on villagers, the forced labour and the 
rape of their villages, all of which are making it impossible for them to 
survive any longer.  These SPDC tactics will never grab international 
attention in the same way as a major military offensive, but they are much 
more harmful to the population than any military battle ever could be.  Not 
only are they ongoing and unending, but they are specifically aimed at the 
civilians rather than the opposition forces.  Unfortunately, in the absence 
of major military battles, the international community is largely ignoring 
all of the SPDC abuses against the rural population and choosing instead 
to focus all of their attention on the political grappling between the SPDC 
and the National League for Democracy (NLD).  Many articles in the 

international media and statements by foreign activists and governments 
even go so far as to proclaim that the SPDC's most serious human rights 
abuses are its detentions of NLD members and its efforts to force them to 
resign.  These political manoeuvres may be important to the overall future 
of Burma, but there are far graver human rights abuses affecting hundreds 
of thousands of people going on in the countryside.  If the international 
community protested as strongly against executions by the Sa Thon Lon 
Guerrilla Retaliation force as it does against the detention of NLD 
members, there is a good chance the execution squads would disappear.  
The SPDC, after all, wants the world to believe there is 'peace' in the 
In the past, when the rains came it meant, if not peace, then at least a 
respite for the beleaguered villagers.  SPDC mobile columns would 
withdraw to the plains, and troops based locally would stay in their camps.  
However, this rainy season does not look promising.  Over the past several 
years the SPDC Army has been much more active in the rainy season, in 
some cases even launching military operations in the rains.  There are no 
more withdrawals, there is no more respite, and therefore there is no 
chance for the people in the villages, the relocation sites, and in hiding in 
the forest to let down their fear or their guard even for a moment.  The 
next SPDC patrol may  be coming their way.
"The people from the foreign country said the SPDC are coming now.  
They said they will come and do good things, but they haven't come to 
do good things.  They have shot and killed the villagers.  We don't 
understand what they are doing.  Will they clear out all the Karen people 
or not?  We don't see how they are going to clear out all the Karen 
people.  We don't know what their purpose is for clearing out the Karen 
people.  However, they are still killing and eventually we will all be 
gone." - A 60 year old Karen man from a hill village in eastern 
Nyaunglebin District, interviewed while he was living in hiding in the 
forest ("Death Squads and Displacement", page 80)

                         - [END OF REPORT] -