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Report from the Field

August 18, 2010 / KHRG #2010-F5

Southwestern Papun District: Transitions to DKBA control


along the Bilin River
This report documents the human rights situation in communities along the Bilin to Papun Road and
along the Bilin River in western Dweh Loh Township, Papun District. SPDC forces remain active in these
areas, but DKBA soldiers from Battalions #333 and #999 have increased their presence; local villagers
have reported that they continue to face abuses by both actors, but KHRG has received a greater number
of reports of DKBA abuses, especially regarding exploitative demands, movement restrictions and the
use of landmines in civilian areas. This report is the first of four reports detailing the situation in southern
Papun that will be released in August 2010. Incidents documented in this report occurred between
November 2009 and March 2010.

Since late 2009, the Democratic Karen


Buddhist Army (DKBA) has strengthened
its presence in southwestern Dweh Loh
Township, Papun District, increasing
troop levels and camps, commencing
gold mining operations on the Bilin River,
and enforcing movement restrictions on
the civilian population. Residents of the
village tracts near the Bilin River and
along the Bilin to Papun road, which
follows the eastern bank of the Bilin River
north through the centre of Dweh Loh
Township (see map), have told KHRG
field researchers that they have faced
heavy demands for forced labour to This photo, taken on February 16th 2009, shows labourers
support the increased DKBA presence, working at a sluice box at a gold mine on the Baw Bpaw
detracting from the time they can spend Loh River in Wa Muh village tract, Dweh Loh Township.
on livelihoods activities. Communities [Photo: KHRG]
with a DKBA camp nearby have had
livelihoods further curtailed, as DKBA soldiers have enforced strict curfews and other movement
restrictions that have prevented villagers from spending sufficient time in their fields.

Units from the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) Army, meanwhile, remain
deployed in southwestern Papun, and villagers living near active SPDC Army camps report that
they continue to face exploitative demands and irregular violent abuses from SPDC troops.
According to KHRG’s most recent information, as of March 2010 DKBA soldiers from Battalions
#333 and #999 were occupying more than 15 camps in Wa Muh, Meh Choh, Ma Lay Ler, and
Meh Way village tracts in western Dweh Loh Township; SPDC soldiers from Infantry Battalion
(IB) #96 and Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) #704, under Military Operations Command (MOC) #4
Tactical Operations Command (TOC) #1,1 were also active in the same area. While there does
not appear to have been a formal transfer of authority from SPDC to DKBA Battalions in these
areas, reports from local villagers suggest that they now face greater exploitative demands and
human rights threats from increased DKBA military control in southwestern Papun District.
Troops from Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) 5th Brigade are also active in southwestern
Papun, chiefly placing landmines and making sporadic ‘guerrilla’ style attacks on the SPDC and
DKBA.2

Abuses by the SPDC Army


Locals and village leaders who spoke with KHRG field researchers said that in 2009 and 2010
they continued to face exploitative demands issued by SPDC soldiers active near their homes.
Several interviewees noted that SPDC exploitative demands and other abuses had decreased
in comparison to previous years. The apparent decline in SPDC abuse, however, has been
overshadowed by increased DKBA activity and abuses, particularly by Battalions #333 and
#999, in village tracts along the Bilin River in southern Dweh Loh. Further, in at least one
incident two villagers suffered violent abuse at the hands of an SPDC commander after two
SPDC soldiers were injured and a DKBA soldier was killed by a landmine detonated while the
soldiers were transporting rations between P--- village and the SPDC Army camp and Meh Way.
Even though four residents of P--- village were accompanying the column as porters when the
mine exploded, IB #96 Battalion Commander Kyaw That Tun accused the villagers of planting
and detonating the mine themselves, or of cooperating with Karen National Liberation Army
(KNLA) soldiers. In the following quotes, two villagers describe the incidents:

“On January 10th 2010 IB #96 was occupying Meh Way. Their battalion commander is
Kyaw That Tun. His third company commander was ambushed and then he tortured one
of our villagers named Saw H---. He asked [Saw H---] to push up3 and asked him to
carry 1,000 bullets and a gun starting at Ht--- [village] to Gk--- [village]. Moreover, he
slapped his face and grabbed his hair and [made him] sit up… [Kyaw That Tun] tortured
him because he mistakenly thought that this villager contacted the enemy [the KNLA].
We’ve seen that they didn't do a good thing or follow the law, because Saw H--- is our
simple villager. He asked [Saw H---] to push up starting at H--- [village] to Gk--- [village].
It takes 30 minutes to walk. It’s very hard for a person to push up like this… Saw Ky---,
the same age and from the same village as Saw H---, was asked to go and take out
mine wires at upper P--- village. He didn’t dare to go so he was slapped and grabbed.
Later he did it because he was afraid.”
- Saw G--- (male, 37) C--- village, Dweh Loh Township (February 2010)

“After they heard the sound of explosion, they gathered all the men in the village and
asked us to go to the place [where the explosion occurred]. Two were injured and one of
the DKBA soldiers had died. When we arrived at that place, one of the officers said that
the people who detonated the mine were not KNU; they were the villagers. Then he
called one of my villager named Ky--- and asked him to pull out the mine wires that they
found. He slapped Ky---’s face before asking him. Ky--- did as they asked and pulled all
the mine wires they could see, but he didn’t dare to go to the place that the wires were
coming from. He was afraid that some mines were planted there. Later he cut the

1
A Military Operations Command (MOC) typically consists of ten battalions. Most MOCs have three Tactical
Operations Commands (TOCs), made up of three battalions each.
2
The KNLA formally adopted the use of guerrilla tactics in 1998 at a military conference in Mae Hta Raw Tha,
Dooplaya District. See, Ashley South. Ethnic politics in Burma: States of conflict, New York: Routledge, 2009
(2nd ed.), p.56.
3
This punishment was not clearly described in this interview. Based upon other interviews describing the incident,
it was likely an ad hoc method of punishment devised by the battalion commander in which the detained man was
forced to jump like a frog while portering a heavy load.

2
wires… Then they asked us to bury the DKBA soldier who had died in the mine
explosion. They didn't continue going back to Mae Way, but they went down to Gk---
village with their two injured soldiers. When we were going down to Gk--- and arrived at
N---, which is near our village, we rested for a moment. Another one of my villagers,
named Sh--- [H---] looked up at the SPDC company commander’s face. Then the
commander asked him ‘Do you think I'm your step father?’ Then Sh--- stopped looking
at him but he came over to my villager and started beating him until he fell over. And
then he forced Sh--- to carry 1,000 bullets from N--- to P---, which is near Gk--- village.
He forced him to jump like a frog with 1,000 bullets. He wasn’t allowed to walk the same
as us. He jumped until he arrived at H--- then was forced to stand up and sit down 100
times.”
- Saw B--- (male, 40), P--- village, Dweh Loh Township (March 2010)

These photos, taken on February 24th 2010, show villagers from M--- village, Dweh Loh Township
gathering in their village before departing to porter rations for SPDC soldiers based in the camp at K---.
[Photos: KHRG]

The most frequently reported SPDC exploitative demands were for forced porters, for the
fabrication and delivery of building materials, and set tha4 and other labour in SPDC camps.
Many villagers indicated that they were ordered to provide building materials in large volumes
just a few times each year, and that demands for forced porters were issued more regularly;
January and February 2010 saw particularly high demands for forced porters as new SPDC
battalions rotated in to camps in the Bilin River area of southwestern Dweh Loh Township, and
rations were delivered to the new units. On February 12th 2010, for example, SPDC LIB #704
commanded by Tha Tun Win ordered residents of villages near Wa Muh to carry rations from
the SPDC Army camp at Wa Muh to another camp at Mae Bree Kee. W--- and M--- villages
were each given responsibility for portering 100 large packs of rations, while P--- and M---
villages were ordered to transport 200 and 300 packs respectively. In the following quotes,
villagers from the Bilin River area describe their recent experiences with SPDC forced labour
demands.

“In 2009 and 2010, sometimes they ordered people to cut bamboo and work in Gkay
Gkaw camp… They change every six months and anytime they change they call the
village heads [to a meeting] and order villagers to cut bamboo for them… For demands,
in Gkay Gkaw military camp, they cut people’s thatch and ask villagers to cut [thatch for
them] without paying. They even cut all the villagers’ plants. Villagers had to cut
bamboo too far away, so they planted more bamboo but the SPDC cut their bamboo and
they couldn't do anything… Moreover they forced P--- villagers to go and carry two
injured soldiers to Kwih T'Ma… They didn't ask the village head. They arrested them all.
4
Set tha; Forced labour as a messenger stationed at army camps or bases and serving as a go-between to deliver
orders from army officers to village heads, but also involving other menial tasks such as cooking, collecting water
and cutting firewood

3
They had to go and it took one day, they didn't change the people until they arrived in
Kwih T'Ma.”
- Saw G--- (male, 37) C--- village, Dweh Loh Township (February 2010)

“In 2010, they demanded that we cut trees and bamboo once. They demanded 300
bamboo poles and 300 thatch shingles; we went and gave them. We couldn't refuse
them. I don't remember the date, but I think it was in January 2010… They [the SPDC]
are still in Ku Thu Hta. We went and cut them half way to their camp, 30 minutes’ walk
away. We carried the bamboo ourselves, because there was no way to carry it with
carts. I saw that time, they didn't pay us. They said they’d make a fence for their camp.
There are always demands, like [portering] their rations… Sometimes they sleep [in our
village], sometimes they don't. Before they took villagers’ property but in 2009-2010 that
hasn’t happened. They don't arrest and force people to porter in the village but they do
that outside of the village. Sometimes they abuse [villagers], sometimes they don't. They
shout and tie us up sometimes when they see us on the way to our hill fields or farms.
And all villages have to face demands.”
- Saw P--- (male, 37), W--- village, Dweh Lo Township (February 2010)

“In 2009-2010, we just had to cut bamboo and thatch and porter. They are in Ku Thu Hta
camp; the military unit is LIB #704. The camp commander who makes demands is Thein
Zaw Aung. He’s still occupying the camp. I had to carry rations for two days on February
24th and 25th 2010. They demanded 46 people for two days. On the first day 22 people
and the next day 24 people went... We started carrying from where they keep the rations
at Koh Gaw Kleh, beside Bu Lo river, to their camp. It takes maybe one and a half hours.
The rations come from Kwih T'Ma and Wa Muh, from towns. They transported them by
truck, then asked us to carry them. We had to carry rice, milk, sugar, and chili and fish
paste, all of their rations. It was very heavy for younger ages, because it was about 40 or
50 viss (65 - 82 kg. / 144 - 180 lb.). They didn’t shout and beat people. They let older
people carry the heavy ones and young people the less heavy ones. They fed us, we
didn't bring [food] from home. We had enough to eat. They fed us like their soldiers when
went and worked.”
- Saw Th--- (male, 43), Bp--- village, Dweh Loh Township (February 2010)

“I went and portered for the Burmese [the SPDC] two days ago. Ten men and six women,
including me, went and portered… [Of the female porters] the oldest was 52 and the
youngest was 14 years old. I was the oldest woman. For men, the oldest was 48 and the
youngest was 16 years old… We portered rice, canned fish, canned milk, salt, fish paste
and sugar. This wasn’t the villagers’ food; it was all for the SPDC. We started from the
other side of the Bu Lo River to the SPDC military camp. It took maybe 30 minutes’ walk.
It was heavy, perhaps five or six viss (8.2 - 9.8 kg. / 18 - 21.6 lb.). Not everyone could
carry so we had to share and help each other. But for the rice, we couldn't share it so the
men had to carry it. It took just one day. We started carrying at 8 am and they let us go
back at 4 pm. It was already dark when we came back. They provided food for us, some
gourd, and three small pieces of dried fish… Maybe, there have been [demands] two or
three times this month. We have to do set tha, carry thatch, cut bamboo. Two months
ago, they demanded people to go and cut bamboo for them. They demanded 300
bamboo poles from each village. One person had to cut 30 bamboo poles, each 20
cubits long. We cut them at upper Ku Thu Hta. It was very far from the military camp…
They paid us nothing. It happens perhaps three to four times in a year.”
- Ma My--- (female, 52), W--- village, Dweh Loh Township (February 2010)

“We had to carry rice and bullets. We have to porter once a week. Sometimes, they [the
SPDC] demand two people and sometimes five people or ten people. We sometimes
have to carry things from Kwih T'Ma to Mu Bpray Kee and sometimes to Kwih T'Ma and
Meh Way. They demand porters from the village heads… If they can't get porters, they’ll

4
fine the village head, sometimes with pigs or chickens. It happens just like this. There’s
always portering service. Now, [demands for] portering service has become a little less
since between 2007 and 2009.”
- Saw Gk--- (male, 50), W--- village, Dweh Loh Township (February 2010)

“Sometimes, villagers run away when the SPDC army comes to the village and
sometimes we stay in the village. It’s not under SPDC control. Sometimes, we have to
go and meet with them… The villagers flee when they call for porters.”
- Saw Hs--- (male, 42), K--- village, Dweh Loh township (December 2009)

“They [the SPDC] live in a camp where they’re based at Wa Muh. We sometimes go
when they demand loh ah pay 5 and set tha but they don’t enter in and out [of our
village]… [Wa Muh is] six or seven miles and about two hours walk… In 2009-2010 they
demanded bamboo and we had to go and cut it for them once in the last two months. At
that time there were 18 households so 18 of us went. We went and cut 50 pieces of
bamboo for them. We cut the bamboo near Wa Muh village and we carried it to them.
We slept there one night and we came back after working two days for them… They pay
us nothing because they force us, not because we want to do [the work]… We had to
bring our own food from home but they boiled water for tea. We brought our own rice
and cooked… Sometimes, [they demand labour] twice a month or once in two months.
They ask when they need it… If we look, the SPDC still orders and demands things, like
thatch and bamboo, but it’s become less. In 2008, it was too much. But now, the DKBA
has come and there are more demands from the DKBA.”
- Saw Ch--- (male, 43), M--- village, Dweh Loh Township (February 2010)

Abuses related to DKBA gold mining operations


In October and November 2009 DKBA troops from Battalions #333 and #999 in Meh Choh, Wa
Muh and Ma Lay Ler village tracts began gold mining operations along sections of the Bilin
River and its tributaries. These business activities were accompanied by an increased DKBA
presence in those areas and tighter movement restrictions on residents, to secure control over
the mine sites. These measures have in turn made it more difficult for villagers to avoid
exploitative abuses, while actually increasing the demands for forced labour and material
support as locals have been made to support a larger contingent of DKBA soldiers as well as
forced to work on the mining operations.

“There are 15 [DKBA] bases. They’re based in Ma Lay Ler, Kho Lu, Mae Toe Hta, Mae
Toe Ner Kee, Thay Bay Lu, Wah Baw Kyo, Htaw Row Lu, Pway Pwya Bu, Thay Kyo,
Doh Koh Wah, Tee Gkay Hta, Pway Pwya, Chaw Me Hta, Mae Kleh Hta, Mae Gho Hta,
Dayh Htaw K'Law Lu. That’s just in Ma Lay Lerh village tract… On November 19th 2009,
Battalion #333 led by Bo lwe came to Ma Lay Ler village tract and also in other village
tracts as far as I know: Wa Muh, Meh Choh, Ma Lay Ler and Meh Way village tracts…
There are 700 soldiers that have become active. They’re from Kaung Daung, Bilin, Nan
Gyi and Shwe Gkoh Gko… They came here for panning gold on the Meh Gkleh, Meh
Toe and Meh Way rivers.”
- Saw G--- (male, 37) C--- village, Dweh Loh Township (February 2010)

5
Loh ah pay; a Burmese term now commonly used in reference to forced labour, although traditionally referring to
voluntary service for temples or the local community, not military or state projects.

5
This photo, taken on March 10th 2009, shows two
This photo, taken on January 27th 2010, shows
women standing in front of a section of the bank of
villagers from communities around Ku Thu Hta
the Baw Bpaw Loh River that has been excavated as
village gathering in a betelnut plantation to discuss
part of a private gold mining operation in Ma Lay
DKBA gold mining operations along the Bilin River
Ler village tract, Dweh Loh Township. [Photo:
in southwestern Papun District. [Photo: KHRG]
KHRG]

Villagers have been told that the DKBA is preparing to mine gold for at least ten years on
branches of the Bilin River near Meh Gkleh, Meh Toe and Meh Way, although operations have
reportedly only begun in earnest on the Gkleh Law River near Meh Kleh, in Wa Muh village tract,
while preparations are underway to commence mining in Ma Lay Ler village tract. The DKBA
officers carrying out the mining at Meh Gkleh employ machines to excavate large parts of the
river bank, and transport excavated sand by vehicle to Meh Lah in Bilin Township, Thaton
District, where it the sand is sifted for gold. A road has been build between Meh Lah and the
river for this purpose, which has resulted in the destruction of irrigation canals vital to villagers’
farms and plantations in Wa Muh village tract. Locals estimate that nearly 1,000 acres of
agricultural land has been rendered useless by the construction of the road, with no
compensation offered by DKBA authorities. In addition to the destruction of agricultural land,
locals in Ny--- village in Wa Muh village tract have reported that since January 2010, the water
has become too polluted to drink or bathe in due to the mining.

“They said they’ll do gold mining for ten years. They came to do mining with machines
and carry the sand back with cars to other places in order to pan for gold. They carry the
sand back immediately after they dig the gold. They carry it back to Meh Lah in Bilin
Township, Thaton District… If they mined gold only in the river, it wouldn’t destroy
villagers' plantations. But now they’re mining gold on the river bank, it’ll destroy some
plantations near the river… They built a vehicle road in Wa Muh to the river, where there
are villagers' workplaces such as fields and [irrigation] canals. The canals were
destroyed. I’m not sure if they can submit the case to get back payment for the canals or
not.”
- Saw M--- (male, 56), K--- village, Dweh Loh Township (December 2009)

“They’ve already started mining gold in Meh Gkleh. They mine gold with machines and
carry sand out with cars. They carry it back for panning in Meh Lah. It’s very hard to do.
They always oppress the villagers. They don’t hire the villagers who do mining… All the
workplaces such as plantations and fields along the vehicle road in the Wa Muh area
were destroyed… The villagers don’t dare to tell them not to do mining because they are
soldiers. It’s so difficult for villagers who lost their farms because they can’t do their
livelihoods to support themselves… They plan to do gold mining for ten years.”
- Saw Hs--- (male, 42), K--- village, Dweh Loh Township (December 2009)

“They started constructing a road from Bilin [Township] to the Gkleh Law River. They’re
constructing the road for mining gold… They’ve come and are active mostly in Wa Muh

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village tract, the place where they’re mining gold. Of course farms, betel leaf plantations
and [irrigation] canals that Poe Kheh Hta and Wa Muh villagers used [were damaged].
Villagers are in trouble. More than 1,000 acres were destroyed. The DKBA didn't give
them payment [compensation].”
- Saw Gh--- (male, 37), C--- village, Dweh Loh Township (February 2010)

“As I heard, they’ve come not only for gold but also for logging. They set up a large table
saw at Nyat Sha Del. They cut wood there and send it to the city. All the trees are gone
around there… I went to Wa Muh and one villager asked me, ‘Uncle, were your lands
destroyed when they constructed the road?’ And I told him, ‘Yes, my palm tree plantation
and farm were destroyed.’ And I asked him, ‘How about you? Were lands destroyed in
Wa Muh?’ [He said], ‘Of course. The canal where we take water for farming was
destroyed. 1,000 acres of farms were destroyed and villagers' dog fruit plantations and
palm tree plantations were destroyed. What can we do? We can't make a living for next
year because won’t get water.’ … If we look at Wa Muh, Mae Kleh Hta, Yuu A, the
villages which are near [the mine], they mined gold and the water has become dirty,
people and not even cows and buffalos can drink it. Sand and mud flow and the whole
river has become dirty. It’s far to get water for drinking.”
- Saw Ch--- (male, 43), M--- village, Dweh Loh Township (February 2010)

The photo on the left, taken on February 15th 2009, shows an active gold mining site on the Baw Bpaw Loh
River in Shwegyin Township, Nyaunglebin District. The photo on the right, taken on February 20th 2009,
shows day labourers working inside another gold mine in Shwegyin Township. [Photos: KHRG]

Forced labour demands


Villagers living near the Bilin River in southern Dweh Loh Township also report that DKBA
soldiers impose heavy demands for forced labour, especially for porters carrying military
supplies and rations, and for messengers (set tha) and sentries in their camps. When villagers
are unwilling or unable to meet forced labour demands, typically because they need to tend to
their fields and plantations or because they are afraid of landmines, they must hire someone to
serve in their place. A replacement porter typically costs 5,000 kyat (US $5.08)6 per day, while
a replacement messenger or sentry costs 3,000 kyat (US $3.05) per day: prohibitive amounts
for subsistence farmers or day labourers who may be asked to serve several times in a month.
Locals have also reported being ordered to fabricate and deliver building materials such as
bamboo and thatch to support local DKBA units.

6
All conversion estimates for the kyat in this field report are based on the fluctuating informal exchange rate rather
than the SPDC government’s official fixed rate of US$1 = 6.5 kyat. As of August 17th 2010 this unofficial rate of
exchange was US$1 = 985 kyat, and this figure is used for all calculations above.

7
“My village is small; since they became active in this area, they demanded 15 to 20
porters one time. All of us weren’t free to go. Five people went but they didn't accept
that, [they wanted] at least ten people. The village head organized ten people. We have
to go one or two days each time to go and carry rations from Mae Kleh Hta to a place
where they store the rations... They start carrying rations from the place where I live to
Doh Koh Wah, which is also called Ah La Kyo, and upper villages. They pay nothing.
Now, we can't do our own work, we only work for them. [We] don't dare to cultivate our
lands or go anywhere.”
- Saw Ch--- (male, 43), M--- village, Dweh Loh Township (February 2010)

“Since November 25th 2009, DKBA Battalion #333 came to our village and demanded
porters and forced labour such as messenger duty. They demanded five to six people
per day for messengers. They also demanded 15 to 20 porters per day… They have to
carry basket with bullets, rice, etc. Even though we couldn’t carry them [the baskets
were too heavy], they forced us to carry them. I had to go to porter three times. They
asked me to carry machine gun bullets, four bowls of rice, three cauldrons, dishes and
bowls...We had to sleep two nights on the way. There were 12 people went to be porters
the first time and 15 people the second time. Recently, there were 20 people who went
as porters the third time. All of them were only from K--- village. DKBA Battalion #333
commander Gkoh Bpee demanded the porters. There are 30 to 40 soldiers in this unit…
The villagers who have to go for messengers are forced to serve as guides and have to
show the way to the places they want to go. They often demand people for
messengers… As the DKBA often demands porters, some villagers can’t go porters
because their wives and children are sick. But, they are forced to go without fail and they
also don’t have money to hire another person to replace them, so they have to sell what
they own and become poor. Some villagers don’t even have food to eat, but are forced
to go as porters. Those who hire people to replace them have to give 5,000 kyat (US
$5.08) per day, and a person has to porter for three days. So, it’ll be 15,000 kyat (US
$15.23) for three days… The DKBA unit operating in our village eats [our] coconuts and
betel nuts. They climb coconut and betelnut trees themselves and eat [what they pick
from the trees]. The villagers don’t dare to tell them anything because they’re afraid that
if they say something to the DKBA soldiers, they’ll do something bad to them… They
don’t consider [the impact on] villagers when they order the villagers to do forced labour.
Some villagers have their own work to do and although they aren’t free to go, they must
go. So, their workplaces [fields and plantations] are destroyed because cows and
buffalos go and eat everything in the workplaces when the owners can’t look after them.”
- Saw Hs--- (male, 27), K--- village, Dweh Loh Township (December 2009)

“They order the villagers to do sentry duty every day. Five people have to go for sentry
duty per day. They issued an order to the village head and the village head informed the
villagers. Me, I’m not free to go so I hire another person to replace me and I have to pay
3,000 kyat (US $3.05) per day… I’ve had to hire another person four times since this
battalion came to operate in our village… I’ve had to hire another person to replace me
to be a porter for three days. I’ve had to hire someone twice. My wife went to work with
her young sibling and borrowed some money and paid it back with paddy later. Actually,
she didn’t get a lot of paddy. If we can’t hire another person, we have to go ourselves.
They’ll often demand porters as long as they operate in the area. One of the villagers
went to tell them to reduce their demands for porters and a DKBA soldier slapped him.”
- Saw Pa--- (male, 44), K--- village, Dweh Loh Township (December 2009)

“In our village, C---, they always demand labour. They demand porters to Gkay Gkaw or
places where they live like Ku Thu Hta directly. We don't have time to do our own work.
Moreover, one group [of soldiers] has just gone but another group has come. Every day,
seven to ten villagers have to do forced labour for the DKBA. They can't work for
themselves… They demand a lot. They demand people to make fences and stay with

8
them [set tha]. Even if people go and stay with them, they have to go to porter too…
Three days or four times in a week, we always have to go… Even when they ask the
village head, sometimes they said they’d ask them to make a fence, but actually they
asked them to porter. They ask people to go and make a ticket [a travel permission
document] and then ask people to porter for them on the way back. All villagers have to
porter… Just portering, making fences, and staying with them. We always have to go,
without fail. Sometimes, they order people to buy pigs and chickens for them.”
- Saw G--- (male, 37), C--- village, Dweh Loh Township (February 2010)

“On February 8th 2010 DKBA soldiers from Gkay Gkaw came into our village and asked
for ten villagers to go with them to the Pah Ah Htah DKBA camp, ten minutes’ walk
away. They took ten villagers with them for two days. They left four villagers in the camp
and took another six villagers with them to another place. Some DKBA soldiers were
based in Meh Gkeh Htah and some were in Meh Khoh Htah. After two or three days, the
six villagers were released and came back to us with a DKBA order to find four new
people to replace the four others who were left in the DKBA camp. In the evening I found
four new people and go to the DKBA camp to replace them. The DKBA battalion
commander is K'Baw Yoo. He’s under control of Brigade #777. His deputy commander
is Kyaw Win. We replaced people like that every two days nearly for one month. The
situation caused a huge difficulty for people in our village, and some aren’t in good
health. Now, there are many people who have no time to work on their own farms and
hill fields. Another thing is that our village has a very small population. The DKBA came
and based there for more than one month then they moved back to Gkay Gkaw. They
asked 12 of my villagers to send them back to Gkay Gkaw and to Mah Lee Ler… Before
I left my village, on March 8th, the DKBA ordered people from P--- village to go and cut
bamboo. The DKBA and SPDC are based at the same place there. They asked for 700
bamboo poles. So, the villagers had to cut bamboo on March 8th and on March 9th they
had to transport it to Gkay Gkaw camp. And they asked the villagers again to build
storage for their rations and a fence. They’d never do it by themselves.”
- Saw B--- (male, 40), P--- village, Dweh Loh Township (March 2010)

“They also demand people to send rations for them. These are different demands,
demands for porters and for carrying rations. For those who send and carry rations for
them, they have to do it every day. They told us that they’d pay 10,000 kyat (US $10.15)
for those sending rations, but they didn’t pay anyone. They don’t demand only from our
village, but also three people from M--- [village] and more people from W--- [village].
From K--- village, they demand 10 to 20 villagers… They provide us food to eat but their
rice isn’t good. It has a lot of paddy grain.”
- Saw Hs--- (male, 42), K--- village, Dweh Loh Township (December 2009)

“They demanded forced labour immediately after they came to our village… They’re
based in a monastery in our village, on the other side of the river and in upper areas of
M---… They ask us to porter things to Lah Gkyoh Mountain and the Ma Lay Ler area.
They’re also based at Lah Gkyoh Mountain. We have to porter rice and other food such
as chilli and salt. For carrying rice, we don’t have to carry it every day. We have to carry
it whenever the rice is sent. Sometimes, they demand 30 people. Also, people have to
go and stay in the army camp for three days [set tha] and then rotate with others. Now,
there are three people waiting to rotate with others. These three people have stayed in
the army camp for many days, but people usually rotate after three days. These three
people have to carry things and always stay in the camp. They also have to find
vegetables, cook, etc.… They don’t pay us any money for carrying rice and they also
don’t pay for these three people who go to work inside the camp. We have to go
whenever they issue an order. If villagers can’t go, they have to hire another villager to
replace them. They have to hire them for 15,000 kyat (US $15.23) for three days…
When villagers are forced to leave their work and don’t have time to do their livelihoods,

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their wives and children have to go and look after [their fields and plantations]. So, they
don’t have enough food to eat. To have enough food for everyone, they have to
struggle.”
- Saw M--- (male, 56), K--- village, Dweh Loh Township (December 2009)

In areas in which DKBA soldiers fear landmines have been placed, either by KNLA soldiers or
by previous DKBA units that have rotated out, villagers forced to serve as porters may be
required to walk ahead of soldiers as human minesweepers. This practice adds a physical
security risk to the standard threat to livelihoods posed by regular forced portering. Villagers
maimed or killed by such ‘atrocity demining’, as well as their families, can face long-term
livelihoods difficulties as a result of their injuries or deaths. In the following quote, a villager
from Meh Choh village tract described the verbal and physical abuse to which he was subjected
when he refused to endanger himself by portering through mined areas.

“The DKBA army often asked me to go away because they didn’t like me. They ordered
me to go among landmines and sometimes, I didn’t dare to go and I always refused to
go. So, they told me that I was useless and they wanted to hit my head with a stone…
This DKBA battalion is led by Doh Lweh. I had to porter for them in the lower part of Ma
Lay Ler. They ran and dragged me among the landmines and told me that I was useless
for everything… As there were landmines planted there, we didn’t dare to go; they forced
us to. We knew there were landmines and they knew, too. People from this side [the
KNLA] plant landmines, but they [the DKBA] also plant landmines. I couldn’t think of why
they dragged me among the landmines. They don’t consider us. I came [here] to meet
with village tract leader, then I’ll go back to my village. I don’t want to stay here
anymore.… They scolded me and told me that I was useless and that they’d hit me with
a stone. They also told me that they’d kick me if I didn’t work well. Then, they kicked
me... I’m not useless. If people asked you to go among landmines, you wouldn’t dare to
go either.”
- Saw Hs--- (male, 42), K--- village, Dweh Loh Township (December 2009)

DKBA movement restrictions and landmines


Villagers in DKBA-controlled village tracts along the Bilin River have also reported having
access to their fields and plantations heavily restricted by local authorities. Curfews have been
imposed in many areas preventing locals
from staying outside of their villages at
night. Such measures exacerbate the
damage to livelihoods caused by
exploitative demands such as involuntary
labour, as villagers are forced to spend
even more time away from tending their
lands, increasing the risks that their crops
will be damaged by the elements or eaten
by animals. At key points in the
agricultural cycle, rural villagers in Karen
State furthermore traditionally sleep in
field huts near their farms or plantations,
which can be several kilometres from
their homes, to maximise labour time and th
agricultural production. Individuals This photo, taken on February 9 2010, shows a leh mah
caught outside during restricted times risk travel permission document for villagers in D--- village.
being accused of contacting the KNLA, Since January 2010, DKBA authorities have required all
adult men in Meh Choh, Wa Muh, and Ma Lay Ler village
detained, physically mistreated and tracts to purchase these documents whenever travelling
summarily punished, or simply being shot beyond their village. [Photo: KHRG]

10
at indiscriminately. Since January 2010, DKBA authorities have begun requiring all adult male
residents of Wa Muh, Meh Choh and Ma Lay Ler village tracts to purchase travel permission
documents called leh mah in order to guarantee their identity when travelling outside their home
villages. These documents do not, however, supersede the regular curfews and other
movement restrictions imposed on villages. Leh mah must be applied for and purchased for
500 kyat (US $0.51); locals report that DKBA commanders threatened that male villagers
caught without leh mah would be treated as though they were members of the KNLA. In the
following quotes, several villagers summarise the movement restrictions they face, and how
these restrictions affect their lives.

“Villagers aren’t allowed to travel at night time while they’re based close to our village.
We aren’t even allowed to use flashlights. People have to arrive home before six o'clock
in the evening and can go out after six o'clock in the morning… It really affects the
villagers' livelihoods. When people have difficulty to travel, food problems also follow.
We can't go to our working fields as early as before, when they weren’t here. Before, we
could go to our working fields earlier and come back late at night. Work that we could
finish in an hour before, we can’t finish in one day now. And villagers don’t dare to go
anywhere because if something happens outside they always blame the villagers…
When we don’t have time to look after them, animals such as buffalos come into our hill
fields or plantations and eat them until they’re all damaged. Many of our plantations have
been damaged this year. We never had a situation like this before because we could
work full-time in our fields. This year, people can’t even do tobacco plantations due to
the travelling problems [restrictions].”
- Saw B--- (male, 40), P--- village, Dweh Loh Township (March 2010)

“In K--- they’ve ordered all of us to go and make leh mah. They said if they see
someone who doesn't have this leh mah they’ll accuse him of belonging to the
KNU/KNLA and they’ll give him trouble. If you have a leh mah, they’ll regard you as a
good person. If not, you’re the enemy. Men between 18 and 60 have to make leh mah…
We have to pay 500 kyat (US $0.51) for one leh mah… On February 4th 2010 I went and
got a leh mah in a monastery at K--- village... All of Meh Choh village tract has to make
leh mah.”
- Saw P--- (male, 37), W--- village, Dweh Loh Township (February 2010)

“They [villagers] can go if the DKBA gives them permission. Now, there is a problem for
our villagers to travel. The DKBA has sanctioned male villagers who are between 15 and
60 in our village… Every single villager has to go and get permission… They have to pay
500 kyat (US $0.51) each. They won’t give them [permission] if they don't pay the 500
kyat. If a villager doesn't have this paper, they will see this villager as a bad man or
belonging to the KNU. They won’t see him as a normal villager. The DKBA allows
villagers to go outside of the village after 7 am and [they have to] come back at 6 pm.”
- Saw G--- (male, 37), C--- village, Dweh Loh Township (February 2010)

“They [the DKBA] deny many things to the villagers, like they can't travel after 9 pm and
they can’t go to the places where they work now. They don't allow villagers to go. If you
go, they question you about many things, like if you’re a spy. They don't allow free travel.
We have to take their leh mah; you can't travel without a leh mah, or they’ll arrest you.
It’s not free; we have to pay 500 kyat (US $0.51).”
- Saw Gk--- (male, 50), W--- village, Dweh Loh Township (January 2010)

“Now they’ve released an order for guarantee papers. Every man between 15 and 60
years old has to go and get this paper. It isn’t easy, if someone doesn't go [get a paper].
They [the DKBA] said ‘Every one of you has to take my paper. If I see someone who
doesn't have my paper, I’ll accuse him of being in the KNLA. I’ll fine him, put him in
prison or kill him. I’ll do what I want.’ Now villagers have to be afraid and they have to go

11
and take the paper to travel. They ask 500 kyat (US $0.51) per paper. All the villagers in
three village tracts, a large population, have to go and take the papers… Then they
released an order that everyone has to stay in the village after 6 pm and can go outside
to bathe at 6 am. They plant landmines [outside the village] after 6 pm and they take
them out at 6 am.”
- Saw Ch--- (male, 43), M--- village, Dweh Loh Township (February 2010)

As suggested in the preceding quote, the DKBA units active around the Bilin River in Dweh Loh
Township frequently use landmines to restrict the movement of villagers under their control.
Landmines are also deployed to protect DKBA positions, and especially gold mining or logging
operations, from KNLA attacks. In some cases, the deployment of mines entails permanently
denying villagers’ access to areas traditionally used for farming and plantation agriculture. This
can result both in the loss of land and crops under active cultivation, with immediate and severe
economic and food security consequences for affected communities; as well as the loss of
potentially cultivable land, which can constrain the rotational hillside agriculture practiced in
many upland parts of rural eastern Burma, degrading the soil quality of available land and
undermining agricultural yields in the long-term.

The deployment of landmines by any state or non-state armed group 7 in Karen State
furthermore creates a long-term physical security threat for villagers, since groups neither
adequately map mined areas nor possess the capacity to safely and comprehensively de-mine
polluted areas. On the contrary, when DKBA units have rotated out of a given area they do not
always pass on information about hazardous areas to incoming soldiers. In the following quotes,
villagers from Ma Lay Ler village tract describe how mines recently deployed by the DKBA and
other armed actors have constrained their livelihoods.

“When they [villagers] are going to cultivate, they have to be afraid of enemy landmines.
The DKBA told them, ‘In this and that place we’ve already planted landmines, you can't
go and cultivate there.’ Moreover, Bo Zaw Wah said ‘I planted landmines there, don't go
and cultivate there. If I hear any sound (like cutting bamboo), I’ll shell there.’ So it’s very
difficult for villagers… In Ch--- [village], Pe---’s dog was injured, then U T--- (aka. Saw Pi-
--) from Ca--- [was injured]. He’s 47 years old. He went and visited his brother at Th---
[village] and when he came back, the DKBA had planted landmines, but he didn't know
that and was injured… It injured his legs. It happened between W--- and some betelnut
plantations, on January 31st 2010… In Ma Lay Ler village tract, they plant landmines on
the hills and valleys and they inform the villagers that they’ve planted them. So the areas
where villagers want to make plantations, they can't. They have to make plantations
where it’s less fertile because the DKBA planted landmines.”
- Saw Gh--- (male, 37), C--- village, Dweh Loh Township (February 2010)

“They planted landmines in places which are for cultivation. Because of landmines
villagers don’t dare to go anywhere, like one of my friends named Sh---. His barn is in his
hill field. He was going to take his grain but he was told [by a DKBA soldier] ‘I planted
landmines there and also at two other barns.’ Lowland people like us who do hill fields,
we keep our grain at our hill fields because we can't carry [all of it]. We go and take
some when we need it, and we eat it. How can we do that now? We don’t dare to go
and take it. We have to be afraid of landmines. We don’t know yet what we’re going to

7
Both the KNLA and the SPDC Army have made extensive use of landmines in Papun District and across eastern
Burma. Landmine Monitor’s 2009 country report for Burma notes that the SPDC, DKBA and KNLA manufacture
and use landmines widely, and that “every township” of Karen State is hazardous for civilians, including SPDC-
delineated Hpapun Township, which roughly corresponds to KNU-delineated Papun District. See, "Landmine
Monitor Report 2009," Landmine Monitor, 2009, pp.1029-1040. For a description of the types of landmines used by
the SPDC and KNLA, see "Insecurity amidst the DKBA – KNLA conflict in Dooplaya and Pa’an districts," KHRG,
February 2009.

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eat for next year... They aim to protect themselves for digging gold. And to injure KNLA
soldiers when they come and fight them. They plant many kinds of landmines. L---, Ny---
, W---, C---, D--- and Th--- [villages] are like my village. They don’t dare to go out of their
villages. Sometimes when villagers go out to find vegetables and when they [DKBA]
hear sounds, they shoot and it nearly hits us. What can we do? We don’t dare to go out.
[We might be] hurt with guns and when they see flashlights, they shell mortars. What
then can we do? How can we live?”
- Saw C--- (male, 43), M--- village, Dweh Loh Township (February 2010)

“It’s very difficult to travel because we have to be afraid of landmines… We have to be


afraid because most of the landmines are planted along the ways to our working places
and around the village. All the landmines were planted by the DKBA, the SPDC and the
KNLA. So, it isn’t easy for the village people to travel as before… For the KNLA, they
inform the villagers in advance and let villagers know their landmine areas, too. But the
DKBA and the SPDC don't do that.”
- Saw B--- (male, 40), P--- village, Dweh Loh Township (March 2010)

Conclusion
“Several households in P--- left because of too much forced labour by [DKBA officer] Bo
Pa Beeh who stays in P--- village… Now they stay in another village, because there’s
less [forced] labour there. If they work too much for the DKBA, they have no time to do
their own jobs.”
- Saw Gh--- (male, 37), C--- village, Dweh Loh Township (February 2010)

“Now in M--- village, some have already fled. Only three to four households are still left
among 18 households. They went and lived in first brigade [Thaton District], in K--- and
in M--- [villages].”
- Saw C--- (male, 43), M--- village, Dweh Loh Township (February 2010)

“The thing that I want to say is they force us to do things too much. For us, we don’t
have food to eat and they force us to go even though we don’t want to and don’t dare to
go. So, we don’t want to stay in our village anymore and we [want to] flee from our
village. Some villagers have taken all their property and run away. Some want to flee,
but they don’t know where to go and they also don’t dare to go, so they have to be
patient and stay in the village like this.”
- Saw Hs--- (male, 27), K--- village, Dweh Loh Township (December 2009)

The increase in exploitative human rights abuses and movement restrictions since the DKBA
increased its presence in the village tracts around the Bilin River in southern Dweh Loh
Township has severely threatened the livelihoods of local villagers. In response, some
households – or, in at least one case, an entire village – have opted to flee to other villages or
upland areas. According to a KHRG field researcher on January 17th 2010, for example,
residents of K--- village abandoned their homes and lands to flee further from DKBA control and
associated human rights violations and livelihoods constraints; 113 villagers in total fled. This
displacement should be understood as strategic, rather than panicked; villagers weighed human
rights and security concerns, and in some cases decided that displacement was their best
available means of protection. Villagers who choose to hide face serious potential physical and
food insecurity, including being shot on sight and having one’s homes or fields shelled or mined
by SPDC and DKBA soldiers. That many individuals and communities continue to determine
that confronting such threats is preferable to regular exploitative abuse under SPDC or DKBA
control illustrates the extent to which forced labour and other demands can undermine rural
livelihoods and ultimately survival. The expanded DKBA activities in southwestern Papun
District appear to have intensified the pressure on local livelihoods; villagers are likely to have to

13
continue to confront this pressure for as long as DKBA forces maintain their presence and
current military and administrative practices in the area.

Further background on the situation in Papun District can be found in the following KHRG
reports:
• SPDC mortar attack on school in Papun District (February 2010)
• Starving them out: Food shortages and exploitative abuse in Papun District (October 2009)
• Ongoing accounts of village-level resistance (July 2009)
• DKBA attack on villagers and the forced dismantling of a mosque in Papun District
(July 2009)
• IDPs, land confiscation and forced recruitment in Papun District (July 2009)
• SPDC and DKBA road construction, forced labour and looting in Papun District (March
2009)
• Attacks, killings and the food crisis in Papun District (February 2009)
• Mortar attacks, landmines and the destruction of schools in Papun District (August
2008)

Photos documenting the human rights situation in Papun District are presented in KHRG Photo
Gallery 2010 (updated June 2010), KHRG Photo Gallery 2009 (updated June 2009) and other
previous KHRG photo galleries and photo sets. These and other reports are available on the
KHRG web site at www.khrg.org.

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