Name: Saw S—
Interviewed: late March 1994
I came here because SLORC kept forcing us to work for them. They also came and took as much of our livestock as they could catch, and they took our plants our vegetables and whatever else they could take. They tried to take it all by force, and nobody dared to stop them. We don't know why they do this – it's just their will, they just oppress us. We also had to pay 3,000 Ks of porter fees each time we couldn't go to contribute labour for them, which means once a month. We have to work very hard to earn this money any way we can – sometimes we have to sell our pigs and livestock to pay them.
I've worked on the railway twice, for 15 days each time. The first time was a few months ago on the railway to Three Pagodas Pass. The second time was one month later on the Ye-Tavoy Railway. They are building three different railway lines, the main one from Ye to Tavoy, one near Ye Pone [i.e. one along each side of the north-south Tavoy River], and the Three Pagodas Pass Line. Our village has 70 houses, and over 20 people had to go at a time. The head of the village chose us to go by turns. When your turn comes, if there are five people in your family then all five have to go. The women had to go as well. Everyone over 16 years old had to go.
To get to the Three Pagodas Pass Railway we had to go by public truck to Yebyu, and it costs 150 Ks each [Saw S— has probably mistaken another line running north-south further inland for a railway to Three Pagodas Pass – according to other information IB 405 is based further south, close to the Ye-Tavoy Railway and the proposed gas pipeline route to Nat Ei Taung]. Then we had to walk two days to the work place. The Ye-Tavoy Railway is only two miles from the village. They destroyed our orchards to build it. I myself lost some land. On the Ye-Tavoy Railway, we had to dig the ground and carry the dirt to the railway. We had to bring our own tools and food. If we ran out of food, we had to send a message to our village to send us some rice. We were forced to work in the forest and hills. We worked from to , then we had a break for lunch, then we worked from to
I saw over 3,000 people working there under the control of SLORC IB 409. We were working together with women too. The oldest man was about 80, and the youngest was 16, all working together. Some people were sick, some suffered from diarrhoea, but they got no medicine. The soldiers beat people who couldn't work. They beat them with a big stick. I saw people bleeding, and they beat an old man to death right in front of me. They beat me too – I tried to cover myself with my hands and they beat on my hand with a big stick [Saw S— then showed a large bump on his hand from a badly-healed bone]. Over 10 people were killed from beatings. The soldiers beat them up and then they just got worse and worse and died. Then the soldiers had us drag them to the forest and left them there. They didn't even bury them, and they wouldn't let us bury them. There was a very bad smell from that and we had to breathe it. Quite a lot of people tried to run away, and some were caught on the way. The soldiers just beat some of them to death in front of everyone, and the rest were forced to pay 3,000 Ks.
The work is the same on the Three Pagodas Pass Railway, except that there they are using bulldozers on the flat land and we only have to work on the hills. IB 405 is in control of the area. The working conditions are the same as the Ye-Tavoy Railway. I saw about 3,000 people there, and people were beaten like on the Ye-Tavoy Railway. I didn't see anyone killed on the Three Pagodas Pass Railway. Many people ran away, but I didn't see anyone who was caught. I heard that some women were raped but I didn't see.
Asked what good this railway will be for us, I suppose when it's finished it will look nice. Beyond that it's not good for me nor anyone. I lost some farmland. Now I've come here alone, and my parents have stayed behind. We are all looking for a safer place. Some come here, and some hide in the forest.
Name: Pu T—
Family: Married with 8 children (age 8 to 31)
Interviewed: late March 1994
I've been here about a month, because I can't bear working for SLORC. Before my village was torn apart there were 90 houses. Now almost the villagers from whole village has run away. They ran separately in different directions. The soldiers are breaking up the villages because they want to cut the connections between the villagers and the KNU. They used to torture a lot of people in my village, and last year they killed two young men in front of us after accusing them of having connection with the KNU. After the killing, they tied them and dragged them into the forest. The soldiers also stole our livestock and the vegetables we grow – they took as much as they wanted. I don't know why, and we dared not stop them. They took 1,000 Ks from us for porter fees each time they came. To get the money, sometimes we could give them our savings, and sometimes we had to sell our livestock.
I had to go work on the railway once, for seven days. Over 30 of us went from my village. The head of the village chooses who has to go by turns. The railways goes just by the outskirts of our village, so some people lost their land. At the railway we had to dig the ground, and there were some big trees along the way, so we had to uproot and carry them away. We had to clear a path about 100 feet wide, and we had to take our own tools. I saw over 1,000 people, including a lot of women and a few pregnant women who were also digging the ground and carrying the dirt. We had to carry the dirt about 30 feet.
We also had to break and carry rocks. There were also some men who were about 80 years old, and the youngest were 16 years old. People got sick, but no one died of sickness. If the labourers were seriously sick, the soldiers let them go back home or to the hospital, but the villagers had to replace the sick person.
We worked from until , then from until 5 or At night we slept on the ground, and there were followed by soldiers all the time. While we were working, the soldiers were checking us, guarding us, and watching us. If someone stopped working or rested, they beat them a lot with sticks, or sometimes with rifle butts. I myself wasn't beaten, but some were wounded. They were beaten until they were bleeding from the head. Then the soldiers just left them behind and didn't care about them. They didn't get any medicine or medical care. Some could go back to work, but some couldn't. I didn't see anyone die. The soldiers were from IB 409 and 410.
I don't know why they are building this railway, and I don't think it will do any good. I came here with my family – it took us five days on foot. We only brought a few of our belongings. Now almost our whole village has run away.
Name: Nai U—
Interviewed: late March 1994
I've been here for 9 days. I had to work on the railway twice for 15 days each time. I finished working the second time just before I left for here. 60 people had to go from my village – first 30 people had to go, then the other 30 had to replace them, and the two groups took turns. There are 60 houses in the village, so it was one person from each house. Sometimes the women have to go, and some families would have nothing to eat if the man went to the railway construction site, so he hides and the woman goes instead. They called the whole village together, the village head divided us into two groups and then they sent one group at a time.
The railway is two hours’ walk from the village. At the construction site we had to down the trees, uproots and stumps, clear the scrub and sometimes cut into the mountains. All this work is being done not by machines, instead by people. If the path was too low, we had to dig dirt and carry it to make it higher. If the ground was too high we had to dig out the dirt and carry it about 25 feet away. We had to make the way flat and equally level all along. We had to break the rocks and whatever else was along the path. We also had to carry rocks and dirt from 50 or 60 feet away to fill in trenches. We had to work in very dense forest, in the hills but also on the flatland and in the valleys. We had to bring our own tools. There were thousands and thousands of people. There were thousands of women, and a lot of aged persons too. They were 50 or 60 years old, and there were children age 12 and above. Everyone had to do the same work. Every morning at the soldiers blew a whistle, and we had to get up and start cooking and having breakfast. Then at they blew another whistle, and everyone had to get into single file and the soldiers counted us. If any people were missing, those people were ordered to pay them 10,000 Ks. Then we had to begin the work. At we got a rest and we wanted to eat but it was just a rest break, not an eating break. Then we had to work from until At night everyone had slept at We got to eat twice a day, early in the morning and in the evening. We had to bring our own food. We brought rice and some oil, chillies and salt. Some people ran out of food, but then their friends from their village gave them some more.
The soldiers watched us all day, because they were afraid people might run away. If a person stopped working, the soldiers shouted at them, ordering them to work. If a person had tried to run away they put him in stocks [SLORC often uses mediaeval-European style wooden leg stocks to confine villagers]. I saw them beating so many people, including three from my village and many from other villages. I saw three people beaten by the soldiers because they had fever, were very tired and couldn't keep working when the soldiers ordered them to. The soldiers were often drunk, and if you couldn't work or if you talked back to them, then they beat you. They beat people very severely, with a piece of wood. They bashed them in the heads until they were bleeding, but they did not lose consciousness. Then they just left them lying there, and we had to take care of them.
There were pregnant women
on the railway, and there was a woman who gave birth there. She couldn't go
home so she had to give birth and sleep on the ground in the forest. No one
could take care of her because everyone was busy doing forced labour, so her
baby died. And I heard there were two girls who were raped by soldiers while
they were walking from one part of the railway to another. The soldiers called
them over to rest, and the girls were afraid of the soldiers so they obeyed and
sat down with the soldiers. Then all four soldiers raped them. Those two girls
I saw about 10 or 15 people who got sick from sleeping on the ground under the trees at night and because we had to drink water from streams that weren't clean. They got fever and diarrhoea. If they got really sick and the village head asked the soldiers, they could get some medicine. If the village head dared to go to the officer and when he could prove they were ill, the really sick people could go home. Otherwise they couldn't. I saw one person who died of sickness at the railway, and one young girl died when a tree fell on her.
Some people tried to run away because they couldn't bear to work for the soldiers anymore. The soldiers went to catch them, and if they were caught then they beat them badly. Then the soldiers ordered them to pay 10,000 Ks and forced them to work for an extra 15 days. They had to get the money to pay or borrow it somehow. Some people couldn't pay so the soldiers grabbed them and took them away, but we don't know what happened to them. The soldiers were from IB 410.
I don't know why they are building this railway. I think they will use it to transport their soldiers and ammunition. Even while we were working at the railway, the soldiers entered our village and took whatever they wanted. Every month they take 1,500 Ks from our village for porter fees. My family was already here, so I came by myself on foot. I didn't bring anything.
Name: Hla V—
Family: Married with 3 children (age 12 to 15)
Interviewed: late March 1994
At home we were working for SLORC all the time. We didn't even have time to provide for our own families. We had to pay them 210 Ks every month too – they said it was "emergency porter fees" for their operations at Nat E Taung, but they just collect the money for their own sake. We had to serve them constantly, and we had nothing to eat. That's why we came here. We arrived 45 days ago, and people are still coming every day.
They started the railway project this year, about five month ago. Our village had to go to work there, and so did the other villages. The last time I went, there were 27 of us from our village of 100 houses. There must have been 4,000 or 5,000 people altogether, from hundreds of villages. We had to go 15 miles to reach the railway. Some villages are closer, and some people had to come much farther, like those from Tavoy, which is 100 miles away from the worksite. SLORC told the village headman how many people he had to send, and he looked at the household register and made a list of people age between 13 and 60. One person per family had to go, regardless of the number of people in the family.
We had to go for 15 days, then when we got home we could stay in our village only for four weeks and then our group had to go again. Before we could go home, we had to wait for the next group from the village to replace us, and it had to be exactly the same number of people. Women had to go if their husbands were sick or couldn't go.
People came by private truck which brought them and then took back the people they were replacing. We didn't have to pay for the truck – SLORC forced the owners of private trucks to bring people to the railway, and the owners had to pay for the petrol themselves.
The soldiers divided us into small groups and we had to work separately. For example, if one group could clear two miles in a day then the next group started two miles further on. We worked from till , then we ate, then more work from until We were working in a forest with a lot of bamboo. There were two parts of the route where we had to clear the path. Along one part we had to clear it roughly, and along the other part we had to clear it very carefully and make it smooth – we even had to sweep it. We had to bring our own tools so we divided them among our village – some of us brought hoes, others brought knives, and others brought baskets. These were soldiers who were watching close to us, and some other soldiers stayed further away watching the whole group. They guarded us carefully because they were worried that someone might escape. Sometimes people tried to escape and were caught, and the soldiers beat them up severely. Sometimes they beat them with wood, sometimes they kicked, sometimes they punched, until the people were bleeding from the head, and some of them were bleeding seriously. Sometimes the soldiers kicked us in the side, punched us in the face or beat us on the head. Sometimes people were beaten until the lost consciousness. After beating, they just sent the people back to their group, and forced them to keep working. No one was beaten to death, but one or two men died from sickness and exhaustion. The soldiers never gave any medical care. The sick had to finish their time like the rest of us. If somebody couldn't work they let him stay by the side of working place, and after he finished his 15 days they let him go home. There was no way we could try to stop working, because the soldiers guarded us closely and forced us to hurry all the time. If someone stopped, they beat him. I saw this happen in our group and in other groups.
They fed us nothing. We had to bring our own food. We ate rice with oil, salt and whatever vegetables we could find in the forest. When we ran out of food, we borrowed from each other. If we finished it all, we had to send a message and get more from home. At night we just made a fire and slept on the ground. We couldn't build a shelter because we didn't have time, and we were in a different place every night. We had no mats to sleep on, just the bare ground. The soldiers were always around the whole night, guarding us closely. We had to ask permission to go to toilet. They didn't follow us, but we dared not try to escape because there were other groups of soldiers nearby.
It will take at least two years to finish this railway, and the villagers will have to do all the work for sure. The railway won't change things for my family, except that hopefully when it's finished we can live in peace and provide for ourselves again. I can't see what good the railway will do for us – maybe we can breed chickens and sell the eggs to the passengers on the train. It won't improve things for rural people in the countryside – we know that. All we get is trouble when SLORC makes a project.
Now, even though we've fled the village, other people have to continue working on the railway project, and they have to continue paying all the porter fees. The poor families don't have any money to hire someone to go in their place, so they have to keep on going to work on the railway. Five or six families came out here with us, and 10 or 11 families had already run away from the village before us. It was dangerous to come here, because if any soldiers caught us they would have beaten us and sent us back to the railway. Our group of families had to hire a person for 3,000 Ks who knew how to avoid the troops and get here. After we decided to run away, we sold all our livestock and property to get the money. We left our land and our farm, and we brought two pots for cooking and some blankets to use along the way. We hope when they finish this railway we can go home, but we're not sure.
Name: Nai X—
Family: Married with 4 children (age 9 months and
5, 14 and 16 yrs)
Interviewed: late March 1994
I came here because I can't bear to work for SLORC anymore. We had to work on the railway, and we had to build a camp for the troops. The railway work started in November. I had to work for them two times, for about one month each time. They gave us nothing. We had to bring our own food, and when we ran out of food we sent a message to home and they sent us more food. I couldn't go home. After I got home from the first month at the railway, it was seven days before I had to go back again to work at the army camp. Every family had to work in turns. If there is no man in the family, then they call the women. They called all of us to work regardless of age. The village head has to make a list each time and choose who goes. We are just farmers and small gardeners, and while I was gone working, my family had to sell things [such as noodles and snacks] as hawkers in order to get money for food and clothes.
The railway is about three miles from the village, and we went on foot. We had to work in the forest and on some hills, cutting down the trees and clearing the forest. The path we had to clear was 100 feet wide. We had to bring our own tools; hoes, shovels and iron crowbars. I saw about 500 or 600 people working there, about half of them were women. One of the women gave birth at the worksite, and some others were pregnant. The youngest people were 15 or 16 and the oldest were 60 or 70 years old. We were all doing the same work together.
Some people were sick with physical pain, but there were even some nurses working on the railway with us. The soldiers gave some medicine to the sick people. I didn't see any of them die. Those who recovered had to keep on working. We worked from until , with a half-hour rest around They gave us nothing – we get no presents from SLORC. The soldiers cooked for themselves – sometimes they ate pork, beef, and good meat curries, because they have money. We only ate vegetables that we collected while working in the forest. Some people tried to escape, and they weren't caught.
The soldiers were always there, just sitting down and watching us. They told us to hurry and not to waste time. They beat people who stopped working, sometimes with bamboo sticks and sometimes with a came. Some got no marks from the beatings, but some got wounds that left scars, and some were bleeding. They beat people on the lower part of the body below the waist. I didn't see anyone seriously hurt or dead from beatings. At night the soldiers surrounded us and we had to sleep in the middle of them on the ground, with nothing underneath. We just had to sleep along the railroad without any shelter. To go to toilet we had to ask their permission and they followed us with their guns. The soldiers were from IB 104 and 108.
We also had to build Klein Aung Camp for IB 108. The railway line is going to pass right by this camp. We had to clear a compound, build all the buildings and cut bamboo to make fences. We had to work for one month at the camp after I was at the railway.
The soldiers also forced us to pay "porter fees" of 100 Ks per month. Anyone who couldn't go to work on the railway also had to pay 300 Ks more. We had to pay it to the army camp at Michaung Ain. Every family had to pay – even while you were working on the railway your family has to pay porter fees. We had to save up this money in various ways. Sometimes we had some rice, betelnut, coconuts or some other vegetables and we sold them. SLORC doesn't say what the money is for, they just send an order paper to the village head who has to collect the money and give it to the army camp. They just collect these porter fees for themselves. The fees are a big problem for every family, but there's no way to refuse the soldiers' order.
How can I know if this railway will do us any good in the future? If SLORC would give us some money for our labour, it would be okay for us. I don't know if it will be for the good of the people, but we are surely in a lot of trouble right now. I think the railway will take at least three years to finish – we didn't even finish building the embankment. I don't know what they're building this railway for. At least 15 or 20 families have left from our village. My family and I came here on foot together with another family. It took us five days to walk here, and along the way we couldn't sleep peacefully at night because we were too afraid of SLORC soldiers. We only brought a pot for cooking and some clothes.
Name: Mi Y—
Marital status Married with 3 children (age 13 to 17)
Interviewed: late March 1994
I came here about a month ago with my whole family, because we had to work for SLORC all the time. My 17-year-old son had to go work on the railway because my husband had to stay at home or we couldn't have provided for ourselves. My youngest son is too young to work. This year our dam broke and most of our paddy was damaged, but SLORC forced us to sell them eight baskets per acre anyway. We also had to pay them 210 Ks every month for porter fees. It was very hard for us to get this money. If we couldn't get enough then we had to borrow from others, and return them back later. Sometimes we had to sell our rice to get the money to pay them. It was very hard to pay them so regularly because we have to concentrate for the survival of the family. We couldn't bear it anymore so we came here. 15 other families had already left the village ahead of us.
SLORC said the money was for porter fees – if we can't pay, then we have to go as porters. We used to send five people from our village as porters every month, but if we pay the money then we don't have to go. For the last two years we have paid instead of going. The poor families in the village have to pay at least 100 Ks, and the richer families have to pay more, up to 400 or even 500 Ks. Our family is "middle class" so we had to pay 210 Ks. It depends on what the soldiers demand from the village. If they demand 10,000 Ks, then the villagers have to collect money until they have 10,000. If they demand 20,000 Ks, then we have to collect until it meets their demands. We have to pay every month. There are three SLORC battalions around – IB 108, 109 and 110, from Klein Aung Army Camp about 15 miles away. They come to our village, but not very often as long as we pay – no more than once or twice a month. When they come they talk to the village head, eat and then go back. When they demand money, they tell the village head who organises a meeting, as only my husband always goes to those meetings, I don't know exactly what they say.
Name: Ma Chit
We were ordered to contribute labour for building the road on 26 January. The village head divided the village into sections. In each section, every family had to send one person. Each family had to build a section of road 7 plah [about 12 feet] long by 4 plah [about 7 feet] wide. A group of militia attached to SLORC made us do this, led by Pa Noe. His commander is Pa Lu Kyaw. This militia made us pay their salaries – we had to give each of them 1,000 Ks and two big tins of rice. IB 24 also patrols around – their commander is Maj Kyaw Kyaw Htay [aka Kyi Myint]. When they want things they ask the headman and give him some money. They also ask for two porters, but instead of going we have to pay them 190 Ks per family, regularly.
Name: Naw Thalay Paw
Family: Married with 3 children (age )
I arrived here over 10 days ago, on Thursday. In my village we had to build a road and plant trees for them [SLORC]. They also tax everything, and try to grab people to work for them so we don't have any time to look after our family and our children. We always have to work for SLORC without any break. To build the road, we had to work in the jungle in the heat of the day clearing 25 feet along each side of the road. We had to dig out stumps and carry stones 1½ feet long. Each rock weighs 3 or 4 viss [5 to 7 kg]. We had to go and get them at the river side not too far away. We had to break these stones with an axe by ourselves and lay them down on the road, then we had to carry gravel and pour it on top, and later we had to plant trees along the road sides. Then after planting trees we have to guard the road, because if Karen soldiers destroy any of it SLORC will arrest us and put us in jail. This road is going from Lu Pleh to Pa-an. It is two hours' walk from the village. We had to keep building it until it reached the main road. It is not finished yet.
There were many people there, one from each family, men and women including the widows. There are over 300 families in our village. Whenever the soldiers grab the men, they usually send them to the frontline as porters, so it is mostly women who are working on the road, young girls and women up to age 40 or 50. When I left we had been working on it for months, and it still wasn't finished. We had two days’ rest each week because some of us are Baptist and some are Seventh-Day Adventist [Baptist Sabbath is Sunday, while Seventh-Day Adventist Sabbath is Saturday]. Every farmer has to leave his field to go and work for SLORC. No one has time to provide for their families. Every farmer also has to give SLORC part of his rice harvest, and everyone who owns a bullock cart has to take it the road to carry rocks.
We always had to take our own food. If you don't go, they arrest you and put you in the cave at Z— and they make you give them chicken. If you give it to them they release you, but if not they keep you there, and they beat you up. If you're late for planting trees, they take you and put you in the cave and keep you there for two or three days with no food or water. Then they hit you two or three times, they say, "You are very naughty", and they send you back to work. Even me, one time I couldn't go for labour because my children were sick so they captured me, put me in the cave and beat me three times on my hips and legs with a very thick and wide stick. I was eight months pregnant. It hurt terribly. I was dizzy, and I got so angry that I just grabbed the soldier by his penis and pulled. He fell down, and then he came and tried to kill me. But the village headman stopped him and said, "Don't kill her. She has many problems. Her children are ill." The soldier asked, "Are they going to die from the illness?" and I said, "Maybe they will die." After that he let me go. I went back home, and when I got there I lost my baby [miscarriage]. This happened two months ago, on 22 March.
On the road, the men especially got beaten whenever they got tired. Some men didn't come to work because their children were sick and they were beaten badly. I saw some men who were beaten so badly they couldn't work anymore, they had to stay in bed. Their friends walk them home and then had to pay the soldiers 300 Ks to replace them. The soldiers would never give any medicine, even if you were dying.
We also had to plant rubber trees at Lu Pleh. We don't know why – they just ordered us to plant and we planted. We had to do that this month, on about 10 or 20 acres of land near the road. We had to do this for the soldiers, not for us. The soldiers ordered us. It's near their army camp. One person from each family had to go and each person had to plant 30 trees. Villagers from AA—, BB—, CC—, DD— and EE— villages also had to go. Some of us had to plant trees while others had to clear and dig out stumps. I worked there for three days, then I left to come here. The soldiers said we would have to work there for one month [they are probably planning to expand the field – SLORC has been recorded confiscating hundreds of acres for such military money-spinning projects]. We weren't paid, and we received no food. Not even water – we had to bring our own water from home. We went home each night.
Before we built the road, I had to go as a porter one time for 15 days. I had to carry rice and sugar. The men had to carry bullets, shells, salt, oil, and fishpaste. The soldiers beat people up, including one man who couldn't urinate because of the beatings. They hit him right on the bladder with a rifle butt. After that he always laid down moaning. He is my uncle FF—. He is 56 years old, and he also came here with us. Now he still isn't cured – he still urinates with blood.
The soldiers come to our village asking for livestock, and if we don't give it to them they kill it themselves and take whatever they want. Whenever they find men around they grab them, beat them and torture them. If they see a farmer with his livestock, they shoot at the livestock. But we're too afraid to do anything. We had to pay 200 or 300 Ks each every month in porter fees, and taxes on every rice field according to its size. For a one-acre field we have to give them five baskets of rice, and for a large field like 18 acres it's over 30 baskets They pay us 35 Ks per basket [market value is 8 to 10 times this, and even the official SLORC price is five to six times more]. People who have a very small harvest and can't afford to pay these taxes are arrested, beaten up and the soldiers take their personal belongings.
I came here because the situation is so bad. The village headman said it was alright for us to leave, because the headmen also suffer under SLORC so they understand. I came with my family, and it was three days' walk climbing up and down the mountains. Now I want to stay here. If we go back we'll just have to be porters again.
Name: Naw May Hla
Family: Married with 3 children (age 2,4, and 6)
Address: Pa-an Township,
We came here in February. My husband came first, because while he was working in our field with his friends the soldiers came and killed his friends. So he didn't dare stay there anymore and came here, and we followed later. They killed his friends last December just two hours' walk from our village. Their names were Pa Kay (24), Maung Par Baw (28) and Mya Zin (28). There was no reason to kill them at all, because they were just civilian farmers. They met the SLORC soldiers when they were riding on a bullock cart, and the soldiers grabbed them and took them away. Later the village head went to vouch for their freedom, but they had already been killed. The soldiers accused them of collaborating with Karen soldiers, beat them up a lot and then killed them. They didn't even shoot them dead – they blindfolded them and then cut their bellies open. There was absolutely no reason – they were just farmers carrying their rice.
Then the soldiers took the bodies to the forest and buried them, because they didn't want people to know about it. Later they came to the village, killed a goat and ate it. I was told they did this to hide the fact that they had taken the three men's heart out and eaten them [there are many reports of SLORC soldiers cutting out and eating the heart and/or liver of fallen Karen soldiers if they capture the body, believing that they get great strength by eating these organs of a fallen enemy]. I heard this because the men's fathers all went to the army camp and found out. My cousin was with them. His name is Maung GG—, and he is 25 years old. They released him, but first they tied him up very tightly and beat him brutally all over his body. They beat him with a gun butt and a big pole. He lost some of his teeth, some parts of his body were bleeding and other parts were badly bruised. Then the soldiers said to him, "Don't tell anybody anything or we will kill you." It was the same group of soldiers who killed the three men.
Whenever that battalion of soldiers sees people they torture them. The soldiers murder and torture so many villagers. There is also another battalion of soldiers, and they ask for porter fees and take porters. Sometimes they ask for five porters, sometimes six or seven [they ask by written order sent to the village]. The village head has to decide who will go, and we have to take turns going. But if the soldiers need more porters, they just come and grab them. I've had to go two or three times myself. I had to carry 1 big tin of rice, and sometimes the soldiers' packs. The youngest girl I saw was about 15 and the oldest man about 40 or 50, and sometimes they even call very old men for some reason. There were both men and women porters – they get the men porters by demanding them from the village head, but as for the women, they just come and get us. Then the village head has to send replacements every five days.
the soldiers came to our village they made trouble for us. They always asked
for money – each family had to pay them 40 or 50 Ks every month. They also
demanded wood, bamboo, and roofing leaves. Each family had to send them 4 or 5
logs, with circumference of at least 2 feet 3 inches and the length has to be
7½ feet. The officer sent a letter to the village head with a bullet inside as
a threat to make sure we'd do it. We had to go far from the village to cut
these logs, and then we had to carry them with our bullock carts to the place
where the soldiers told us at the
So far only five or four families from our village have come to this place, but many more families want to come and are ready to leave. They are just waiting for the opportunity. If they all come now, when the soldiers find out they will make trouble for the village head. We come here on foot and slept two nights on the way. We had to take risks to come here, because we are very afraid of the soldiers. If we had met them on the way, we would have been in trouble because they don't like us to come here. If they knew, they would stop us and kill us for sure.
Name: Naw Paw Paw Htoo
Family: Married with 1 child (age 2) and she is pregnant
I came here in March because we've suffered so much for so long that we just can't suffer it anymore. The worst thing was all the slave labour. We had to work for SLORC all the time and we had no time to rest or provide for ourselves. It was too tiring, but if we don't obey their orders they come to make trouble for us and take our things. They tied up my father one time.
Sometimes we had to send four or five porters at a time and sometimes 15 porters, depending on what the soldiers were doing. We tried to hire people to go in our places. For long-time porters it costs us 1,000 Ks, for medium-time porters 500 Ks, and for short-time porters 100 or 200 Ks. The soldiers also collect "porter fees" as often as four or five times a month. I don't know what they use that money for. Sometimes when they enter the village they also catch people and take them away, and we have to pay a ransom of 500 or 1,000 Ks before they'll release them. When they're in our village, the soldiers also try to get our livestock all the time; if they see a goat, they eat it. If they see a chicken, They eat it.
The porters usually have to go for 10 or 20 days, occasionally for one or two months. When they go for months, some die. Sometimes they only have to carry things close to our village, but sometimes it's very far. I was a long-time porter myself last rainy season. There were about 500 men porters and 500 women. We had to carry ammunition, rice, chillies, sugar and tinned milk for the soldiers. I had to carry about 16 kg. There was one soldier following each three porters. The men porters were beaten up a lot, but the women were treated better. There were also some porters among us who had one amputated leg. The soldiers didn't make them carry anything but just forced them to climb the mountains together with us. The soldiers said to them, "We won't make you carry anything, we just want to kill you by making you climb mountains" [the soldiers may suspect that any man with one leg is a disabled former Karen soldier]. The soldiers collected 20 or 30 people from every village for their operation. The oldest was over 50 and the youngest was 15. On the way we had to sleep on the ground and it was terrible, because it was rainy season and there were leeches everywhere. Some people had brought a plastic sheet, a blanket and a change of clothes, but the porters who were captured along the way by the soldiers couldn't bring anything at all with them. They only gave us a very small amount of rice and salt to eat, and sometimes we got yellow beans that were going rotten, only one spoonful per person. Rain or shine, we just had to keep going with very little food. We had no choice. We carried bamboo cups with us that we could fill whenever we crossed a stream to drink, but we were never allowed to bathe. We had to carry all the way to II— [a distant SLORC operations camp]. We had to walk all day until sunset, and sometimes at night too. Sometimes they let us rest, but only standing up. If the women wanted to rest an extra minute or two they let us, but if the men wanted to rest the soldiers kicked them. When they wanted to beat up men porters they told the women to walk ahead, then they beat the men. They punched and kicked them and hurt them badly. They beat people up all the time.
When some people couldn't carry anymore, they made other porters carry them to a place where there's a cave like a big hole with a stream flowing into it. I saw some rice packs left there, so I think they killed the porters and threw them in the hole. I think porters who couldn't walk were killed, but we never saw their bodies. It was rainy season so many people got sick. I was sick all the time, so I went and asked for medicine. The soldiers gave me a cup of tea, then they gave me an injection and yelled at me, and I was sick for two days after that [the needle was almost certainly not sterilised]. The troops were from LID 33 and 44. They wouldn't let us go home when we got sick. five or six people tried to escape, and when they got caught the soldiers cut their legs with knives.
Sometimes the soldiers patrol near our village, and come to steal our livestock, clothes, cooking pots and other things. Even if the owner knows he can't dare stop them. Whenever they see a cow or buffalo, they catch it and kill it. The soldiers also make us cut bamboo and wood, and make shingles of roofing leaves for their houses. They make us clear the compound in their camp, and they make us clear all the scrub on both sides of the car road at least four or five times a month. The road is two hours' walk from the village. We have to build and maintain the road for them, and provide road security too. Each family has to send one person, and if you can't then you have to pay 1 viss [1.6 kg] of chicken. They made us cut down big trees and build a bridge, then one or two days later Karen soldiers came and blew it up, so SLORC made us pay compensation money for the wood and the logs that we'd cut to begin with. Now we're in debt. That bridge is between Noh Kler and Ta Gho.
They make us go and work repairing the road constantly. We try to grow our rice but we have to leave it to go work for them. Whenever we want to go to our fields, we have to get a pass and pay 10 or 15 Ks for it. If the soldiers catch us without a pass. Our village had 100 houses, but now so many families have left the village to go to different places. Only my family came here. It was a hard walk, because my child kept asking to be carried all the time.
Name: Sai Khorn Mong
Family: Married with 2 daughters (6 and 8)
Address: Kengtung, southeastern Shan State
[Sai Khorn Mong lives in Kengtung and has often been called to do slave labour for SLORC.]
I left Kengtung the day before yesterday, and arrived Tachilek on the same day. In Kengtung now, people are miserable because IB 244 forces people to cut down all the trees in the nearby forest. They also use porters from other places to cut down the trees. Everyone has to go, cut them down and take them to the army base, and then they send them some other place. Not only the trees in the forest, but also trees which were planted by the villagers for their own use – but when the villagers protest, the soldiers won't listen. So all the mountains are becoming barren. Now IB 244 has moved to another place and IB 245 has come to replace them, and they too are ordering all the forest cut down.
This work started three months ago. Everyone in the town and the area has to go in rotating shifts. Each village and section of town has had to send people on 60 of the last 90 days. Each day my section of town has to send 2 or 7 or 10 or 20 people, depending on how many the soldiers demand. There are 60 houses in my section.
I've had to go twice to cut the trees, for one day each time. We had to take all our own tools, machetes and saws. They have a list of types of trees for firewood, and if we see any of these we have to cut them down and send them to the army camp. They make us cut everything down, even the bamboo plants. Then we have to dig out the stumps too, and give them to the army. It's all taken away by army trucks. When the trucks are full, the people have to transport the remaining trees to the army camp at their own expenses, on carts, pulled by buffaloes, or whatever they can.
The best wood is taken away somewhere else, and we have to split all the rest into firewood. They take away the myo sang, ha kong, gaw long, mak mong, lo haw, sak mong and other valuable trees. Some of them are very big, because the villagers have always preserved this forest for various uses. There are also shrines to the spirits that guard each village so the villagers preserved the trees around the shrines, and even those have been cut down.
They'll never stop cutting down the trees. Now the land for five or six miles around Kengtung is all barren. It was jungle before. All the trees around the water ponds were cut down so the ponds have all dried up, and so have most of the streams and wells, so now there's a water shortage problem. We can't understand why they're doing it. There are no rebels there. The soldiers told us the land will all be confiscated and they'll plant a butter bean plantation. The labour will have to be provided by the people, and all the produce will be owned by the army. They haven't planted anything yet though – the land is just cleared and lying there barren. They've already cut down about five miles in every direction, and we don't know when they’ll stop. For example, Nong Pan Village still has forest around it, but they've got a plan to cut that down too. From Kengtung up to Mong La on the border of China [about 70 km northeast of Kengtung] all the big trees have been cut down, and there’s only a small bit of forest left.
SLORC is also taking people's tea farms. They order people to cut down all the tea trees and take the land to grow something else. As for the paddy fields and hill-side rice farms, they wait until the villagers have harvested the crop, then they come and take all the rice away. The farmers grow two rice crops a year.
The first crop is confiscated, and then they have to sell half of their second crop to the army. Market price is 450 Ks for 4 baskets [of unmilled rice], but the army only pays 60 Ks for 4 baskets. Then the farmer has to survive on the rice that’s left. I live in a suburb of Kengtung. I have a land where I plant about 20 baskets of seed, and they confiscate my crops like that.
If I talk about SLORC, there are just too many things to tell. We have to provide porters, some of them die along the way and some are gone almost two months before they come home. We have to provide labour for their farms, we work our own farms only to have them take our crop, we have to provide labour to cut down all the trees, and we have no time to work for ourselves. When they take people as porters they won't let them go home unless the person pays them money. They get the money and as soon as the person gets home the troops come for more porters and take him again. This year I was drafted to go twice, but I gave money to somebody to go in my place. I had to pay 15,000 Ks each time.
I also had to provide labour on the Mong Kwan electric power plant project. It's about 10 miles south of Kengtung. It started three years ago. I had to work for it four times a year, including this year. Each time I had to go for 15 days and take my own food.
We weren't paid anything. There were about 80 to 100 people working all the time, and there were two or three hundred prisoners working there too. They had to work in chains. It was all slave labour. If you refused, you'd have to run away.
Some people ran away from the labour. The soldiers didn't beat us, but sometimes they made us work in the night as well as the day. The dam was very long, about 12 feet broad, and the height of three or four people. We had to level the ground, carry dirt for the dam, and build the roads too. There were soldiers working too, about the same number as the civilians. The project was just finished on 24 July 1994, and now it's sending electricity to the town.
They've asked for applications, and the people who apply have to pay in advance. It's not for everybody. It's only for street lighting, all the army offices and selected people in the town. They promised everyone would get electricity, but we don't expect to. I know I won't, because I live in a suburb.
Now people in Kengtung are living in fear because SLORC is arresting people at random and forcing some young people into the army. I saw two or three people arrested because SLORC suspected them of having contact with rebels. Now SLORC Intelligence are everywhere, so we all have to stay in fear. We can't even trust each other, because some of the Shan are working for SLORC. They're forced to, they have no choice.
As long as SLORC is still there, it can't be good. If we could prosper under them, then we must be very prosperous right now because we've been under them for 30 years already. But we’re still miserable and in trouble, so it would be better if SLORC just left the country. Now I'd like to leave the country if I could.
Name: Saw Kyaw Hla
Family: Married with 3 children
Address: Htee La Nay Village, Hlaing Bwe Township,
I’ve been here just over a month. It took us four days to walk here. We came because we were forced to work for SLORC all the time, and we didn’t even have time to provide for our own family. They abused us in so many ways, and they had so many different kinds of slave labour and unpaid labour that we had to do. I can honestly say that we had to do some kind of work for them every single day. Mostly we had to carry things, dig, and make fences. We had to go to the forest, cut bamboo, and bring it back to the army camp to build their fences for them. It took such a long time just to finish even one fence, because we had to make them very strong and firm or else the soldiers forced us to dismantle them and start again to build it strong enough. They made us build three rows of fences, and between the rows we had to sharpen bamboo sticks and plant them in the ground with the points up, like a trap. Sometimes we also had to sliver bamboo to make ties [these are used to hold things together where nails are not available] for them. We also had to go and cut hardwood for them, which they used in several ways; some for building, and sometimes in their trenches. Everything was done with our manual labour. We had to carry very heavy and difficult loads for them, and it was very hard work. We had to dig trenches all around the camp and inside the camp, and sometimes it was very hard to dig them because the ground was very rocky. We had to build their roads, clean their compound, and carry their rice, sometimes from the village to their camp and sometimes from their camp to another army camp. If men couldn’t go to do all this then the women had to go instead.
When we worked they yelled and cursed at us and ordered us to hurry. People who tried to take a rest and those who couldn’t walk were beaten – not very hard, but the soldiers kicked them and ordered them to get moving. It was horrible.
We also had to guard the road. About 20 or 30 people had to go and guard it for one night. I’ve also been a porter, three times as an operations porter and many, many times as a regular porter. Operations porter means at least one month at a time, and regular porter means when they take you for one week, or sometimes just two or three days. They always made me carry ammunition or rice, about 32 kilograms altogether. Only four months ago was the last time I was taken, and that was for over one month. Sometimes they beat people while they were carrying, and the worst part is being under-fed – they never even gave us enough water, just very little at a time, and they didn’t let us bathe, not even once a day. I didn’t get sick, but so many others did. They couldn’t carry anymore. If they asked for medicine sometimes the soldiers gave them some, but sometimes they didn’t. If they couldn’t carry some soldiers kicked them, then if they looked seriously hurt and sick the soldiers just left them behind. But if their condition didn’t look too serious the soldiers beat them and kicked them down the side of the mountain. Anyone who they caught trying to escape was killed, and they said to the rest of us, “If you try to escape you’ll go the same way as him, so just go ahead and try it if you dare. It’s no big deal to us. We mean what we say.” I’m sure that the people they left behind must be dead, because they left them in such a terrible state.
Sometimes when they arrived at our village they already had 60 or 70 men and women porters from other villages, mostly from Tat Lu Village. Usually those porters were being used for a one-day trip. They were always every size – women from the age of children right up to old women 60 or 65 years old, and pregnant women too. They were forced to carry beans, rice, tinned milk and other supplies.
Whenever the soldiers come into the village they all have slingshots, and whenever they see chickens or ducks they shoot and take them. They catch as many as they can and take them, so all our livestock are slowly disappearing. They also demand things, like from some people they demand a pig and eat it, and they also order one villager to go collect money from everyone, they charge 1,000 Ks every time they come. We had to pay at least three or four times every month. We also have to pay porter fees every month – every family has to pay 100 Ks, sometimes 200 or 250, depending on the situation. They also stole our rice, every family has to give them two big tins of rice every month.
Before I came they beat a man from Htee La Nay Village to death – his name was Maung Khin Tin. He was at his farm field. The Karen soldiers had shot at them somewhere, and after a half hour the SLORC troops went into the forest to try to follow them. On the way they saw Maung Khin Tin at his farm, so they accused him of being a Karen soldier and beat him to death. But I’m sure he was just an innocent civilian.
Once one of their army trucks was damaged by a landmine somewhere, so they came to the village headman, interrogated him and beat him severely, and he was seriously wounded. His name is Ba Htay. Now they force women and children to go along among the soldiers to protect them from attack by Karen soldiers, because the Karen soldiers never attack them when they are mixed with civilians. The SLORC soldiers don’t treat us like human beings, they just treat us like slaves. It was horrible, so for our security we came to stay here. All the villagers there are facing very serious problems now. Their lives have become empty.
Name: Saw Thay Ler
Age: over 50
Family: Married with 3 children
Address: Lay Po Hla Village, Ka Ma Maung Parish,
Hlaing Bwe Township, Karen State
I’ve been here about 15 days [since late January], I slept two nights on the way here. In the village we couldn’t even rest because we always had to sweep the road and guard it for the soldiers. We had to pretend to sweep it for landmines, and we had to build shelters to stay and guard the road day and night for them. We all had to take turns going for three days at a time. They also came to the village and took as much of our livestock as they wanted, without permission, and they captured us to go as porters. I’ve had to go as a porter several times, at least once a year. The last time I went was when they attacked out here [the 1992 Manerplaw offensive].They made me carry 32 kg of ammunition or rice, day and night. Even though they fed us a bit twice a day it was never enough. They beat the porters countless times, and if they caught anyone escaping they shot him dead. They beat me in the head so many times, it was uncountable. Whether you can carry or not, you have to keep carrying – you have on choice. When you’re a porter you can’t count the days – you must either escape or you have no way home. I escaped.
Before I came here SLORC didn’t kill any of my relatives, but they killed some others in our village, like Saw Dah. They accused him of being Kaw Thoo Lei and killed him. But they were wrong, because we all knew him very well and he was a civilian. He was even older than me.
They also force us to go for five days at a time for slave labour at the army camp. They make us clean the compound, make fences and leaf roofing for them, and whatever else they ask us to do. If people from the village don’t go to do the labour, then the soldiers come to the village themselves and take people to do it, even including small boys, girls and women.
The soldiers don’t came to our village very often, as long as we go for slave labour, but when they want even more slave labour they come. This happens once or twice a month, depending on the situation. Whenever they come we all have to run from them to escape, because if they get you have to be a porter and carry a heavy load. As for taking women, sure, they don’t care. When they had their operation out here, they took everyone, even pregnant women. There were so many young girls taken we couldn’t count them all, and they came from many different places. At least they don’t beat the girls quite as the men – the men get worse beatings.
SLORC soldiers always kept telling us that things would get better, but it’s still terrible. We still have to run all the time when they come to catch us as porters.
Name: Naw Say Wah
Age: over 50
Family: Married with 1 child
Before I came–Oh! They were taking so many porters. Even me, I had to go as a porter. So many villagers were porters, men and women. I was taken several months ago, for 10 or 20 days. They didn’t beat the women, but they beat the men, and they didn’t give any of us enough to eat. The also arrested two villagers in Tee Pa Doh Hta and accused them of being Kaw Thoo Lei. Then they made them put on Karen uniforms and killed them. I don’t know their names. They also beat a village man named Pa Kah, he ran away and came here.
The soldiers also abuse people who have done anything at all against them – like if a porter runs then they shoot him or her dead. They beat anyone whom they suspect. If any villager fails to report for slave labour then the soldiers fine them, sometimes 8 kg of beef, 5 chickens, or whatever they want. It’s indescribable, the way they take our things as if it were their own. Sometimes if the Karen soldiers shoot at them anywhere then they come and shoot all our cattle and buffaloes and eat them. They say, “Your Karen soldiers shot at us, so we have to eat your cattle for compensation,” and we can do nothing. And if any porters escape from them, they come to the village head and demand chicken, pork or beef as compensation.