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Editorial & Opinion ; The long road
Subject: Editorial & Opinion ; The long road to freedom
Editorial & Opinion
The long road to freedom
THE Karenni people have been waging a war of resistance against Burmese
colonisation for 50 years. Once an independent nation, the Karenni State has
now been swamped by Burma's brutal soldiers who are systematically targeting
civilians, to destroy any support for the Karenni army and end any yearnings
for Karenni independence. Refugees continue to arrive in Northwest Thailand
with stories of forced relocation, murder and starvation, writes Dean
''THE Burmese army soldiers said that if we didn't relocate they would cut our
throats and burn our village. At first we fled to the forest but they found us
hiding.'' The terrified villagers were forced at gun-point to a relocation
in Shadaw township. The miserable journey took seven days. Some villagers
brought their livestock but the Burmese troops soon appropriated it.
Shelter for hundreds of down-trodden families arriving in Shadaw was
non-existent. Some found temporary cover from the monsoon rains beneath the
town's stilted houses or in an old school building, but most slept on the cold
''There was no toilet in the camp so we went to the toilet anywhere and caught
many diseases.'' The sick went to the hospital where ''they were given
injections, but only one needle was used for 10 people. The villagers had to
drink water from a ditch which had sewage in it and 120 people died in one
Wells were sunk but the authorities, apparently fearing an epidemic, ''put
pesticide in the wells without prior warning, killing five adults and 10
children.'' The authorities later repeated this, but this time it was thought
to be a deliberate poisoning resulting in over 50 deaths.
In the ''cleared'' areas the Burmese army is systematically looting and
all villages, destroying farms, rice stores and paddy, killing livestock while
executing anyone they come across. The de-populated areas have become
zones -- anyone and everyone is shot on sight.
The Burmese junta's plan, ''Uprooting the region'', has been so incisive in
applying pressure on the Karenni independence movement that the junta has
expanded the programme to include at least two-thirds of the state's
When Burmese troops raided a village in Mawachi township, in the expanded
relocation area, they captured nine people, six of whom were children. Their
hands were tied behind their backs. An elderly widow was the first to have her
skull smashed with a huge wooden pestle, normally used for pounding rice. Four
of her children watched in horror. They were battered to death in the same
Such stories of gross human rights violations are almost impossible to verify
in one of Burma's ''black zones'' -- areas completely off-limits to
foreigners. But such reports surface with frightening regularity.
Antonio was 12 when he joined the Karenni army. His reasons for wanting to
fight were unequivocal; ''I want revenge. The Burmese army forced my family
the people of our village into a concentration camp at gun-point.'' Antonio
didn't have to wait long for revenge. In the two battles for Ember Hill he
killed at least six Burmese soldiers.
''One shot, one kill, no fear'' is how Antonio's CO described the teenager's
discipline during battle. Antonio was proudly wearing the blood-splattered
hat of the young Burmese soldier he picked off in the initial battle. The
baby-faced Catholic happily acted out the exchange of fire in which he shot
enemy dead between the eyes. He said he wasn't afraid.
In peace talks the Burmese officer responsible for the offensive, Col Maung
Kyi, admitted to Karenni officials that the forces under his command sustained
over 1,000 casualties. A third are believed to have perished and their deaths
went unreported. Although Rangoon and Karenni representatives signed a
ceasefire in March 1995 the peace lasted less than three months and
have continued unabated ever since.
The Kayan, or the long-neck women, are perhaps the most well-known of the
Karenni people and their villages in Thailand are now an intrinsic part of the
tourism industry in the north of the Kingdom. The villages are often referred
to, by visitors, as human zoos but the Kayan take great offence at the
inference of them being animals. The Kayan also continue to suffer
the hands of Rangoon's lawless soldiers.
When Lah Jiang, the husband of a long-neck woman, tried to return to his
parents home in the Karenni state, he was accused of illegally smuggling
by Burmese troops. After being beaten he was imprisoned in Loikaw jail, in the
''I thought I'd never see my family again,'' recalled Lah Jiang, still deeply
traumatised by his incarceration, ''and that I would die in jail.''
He claimed over 700 prisoners were kept in the long, dark, airless concrete
buildings and that prisoners regularly received bloody beatings from the
guards. Many prisoners had worms or defecated blood.
The severely sick were taken to the hospital never to return. Although a
handful of rice was given to the prisoners twice a day, prisoners starved to
Lah Jiang served eight months before standing trial but the charges were not
DEAN CHAPMAN is a freelance photographer based in England. He is the winner of
the European Publishers Award for Photography 1998. A book called ''Karenni,
the forgotten war of a nation besieged'' has just been released in Europe in
English, French, Spanish, German and Italian. Photo-exhibitions of the work
were shown in Newcastle, England, and in Rome last year. Further exhibitions
will be held in Milan and at the Nikon Ginza Salon, Tokyo, in April. Dean
Chapman has just returned from Burma where he has been photographing child
labour and forced labour.