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A REPORT on the conditions of inter
- Subject: A REPORT on the conditions of inter
- From: Rangoonp@xxxxxxx
- Date: Wed, 09 Jun 1999 23:27:00
Subject: A REPORT on the conditions of internally displaced persons in Shan
State of Burma
To: burmanews@xxxxxxxxx, "Burma Net-l @igc.apc.org" <burmanet-l@xxxxxxxxxxx>,
X-Mailer: QUALCOMM Windows Eudora Pro Version 4.0
March 29, 1999
A report on the conditions of internally displaced persons in Shan State
by the Shan Human Rights Foundation
The aim of this report is to draw attention to the plight of the
hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons in Shan State.
Although the problem of internal displacement has existed for decades in
Shan State, owing to the ongoing civil war, the situation has become
critical following the massive forced relocation program carried out by
the Burmese military regime (the State Peace and Development Council or
SPDC, formerly the State Law and Order Restoration Council or SLORC) in
Central Shan State since March 1996 which is continuing to this day.
The report "Dispossessed" published by SHRF in April 1998 gives detailed
lists and maps of the over 1,400 villages relocated, and records the
many extrajudicial killings perpetrated by the Burmese military against
the relocated villagers. However, the report contains no detailed
analysis of the conditions of the internally displaced villagers, since
it had been hoped that the devastating effects of the mass uprooting of
over 300,000 villagers would be self-evident, and that publicizing the
forced relocation program would bring international condemnation and
pressure to bear on the regime to stop the program. Sadly, this has not
been the case. The forced relocation program and accompanying slaughter
and abuse of the relocated populations has been continuing unabated
throughout 1998 and into 1999. The junta is continuing to commit gross
human rights violations in Shan State with impunity and to dismiss
reports of any abuses as opposition propaganda.
With hundreds of thousands of villagers now facing a fourth year of
internal displacement, and no end to their suffering in sight, the SHRF
has felt it necessary to produce a report specifically detailing their
plight and the devastating social consequences of the forced relocation.
This report begins with a background to the political situation in Shan
State, and then gives a summary of the forced relocation program to date
and the patterns of internal displacement. The report then uses the
"Guiding Principles Of Internal Displacement" drawn up by the
Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Internally Displaced
Persons, as a basis for analyzing the situation of the internally
displaced in the areas of forced relocation in Shan State. These
principles have been extremely useful in enabling the systematic
documentation of all aspects of displacement.
The SHRF uses the definition of internally displaced persons given in
these Principles as "persons or groups of persons who have been forced
or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual
residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects
of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of
human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not
crossed an internationally recognized state border."
The information in this report is based mainly on the results of
questionnaires given to Shan refugees in Thailand during
October-November 1998. All the refugees interviewed had been forcibly
relocated from their homes by the Burmese military during the relocation
program that began in 1996, and become internally displaced inside Shan
State before fleeing to Thailand. The questionnaire used is given in the
appendix of this report. Although it would have been preferable to
interview Shans who were currently internally displaced, this was not
possible for security reasons. The number of refugees inside Thailand
willing to be interviewed was also limited because of their illegal
status. However, the refugees interviewed are from a wide geographical
area and represent a broad cross-section of the displaced population.
The information gained from the questionnaires was supplemented with
information from the former SHRF reports on forced relocation
("Uprooting the Shan" printed in December 1996, and "Dispossessed"
printed in April 1998), other SHRF interviews, the monthly SHRF
newsletters and the two Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG) reports
published in 1996 and 1998 on the Shan forced relocations.
Regrettably, the SHRF only had access to ethnic Shan refugees for this
report, so that very little information is included regarding the other
ethnic populations, such as the Palaung, Pa-O or Lahu, who have also
become internally displaced in the central Shan State area.
Geographical and historical background of the Shan State
Shan State is situated within the boundaries of Burma, bordering China
in the north, Laos in the east, Thailand in the south and Burma (Proper)
in the west. It covers approximately 160,000 square kilometers (62,500
square miles) of high plateau. It is rich in natural resources, both
above and below ground.
According to the 1931 census, the population of Shan State was 1.65
million, numbering no less than 10% of the total population of Burma,
which was then 14.47 million. The present total population of Burma is
estimated by the military junta as over 46 million.
The majority of the population are Shans, or Tai as they call
themselves, who according to historians are the second most widespread
race in Asia apart from the Chinese and are ethnically related to the
Thais, Laotians, Tais in Vietnam, Dais in Yunnan and Ahoms in Assam,
India. Besides the Shans, there are several other ethnic nationalities,
such as Pa-O, Palaung, Wa, Lahu and Akha.
The Shans have a long history, dating back to even before 94 B.C., when
it is believed the Mao Kingdom was founded by their ancestors and which
was marked as the beginning of the Shan Calendar.
Although the Shans were able to dominate most of Burma from the 13th to
the 16th Century, in 1555 they were defeated by the Burmese King
Burinnong. After this time, the hereditary princes of the numerous
principalities of Shan State paid tribute to Burmese or Thai monarchs.
In 1887, two years after Burma had become a British colony, the Shan
States became a British Protectorate and ally. Taunggyi was made the
capital in 1894.
In 1922, the Shan States became a federation known as "the Federated
Shan States" or simply "the Shan States" and, during 1939-45, Shans
fought in the World War II as British allies.
In 1947, Shan leaders signed the historic Panglong Agreement with
Burmese leaders for joint independence from the British. They agreed to
form a Union on an equal basis, with political and economic autonomy,
democracy and human rights for the non-Burmans. Based on the spirit of
the Panglong Agreement, a Union Constitution was drafted and ratified,
which became known as the 1947 Constitution, promising the Right of
Secession to the Shan States and the Karenni, another sovereign entity.
Independence finally came on January 4, 1948, with Sao Shwe Thaike, the
Shan Prince of Yawnghwe, as the first President and U Nu as the Prime
Minister of the new-born "Union of Burma". "The Federated Shan States"
then became "Shan State", a "State" in the "Union" with equal status and
autonomy, and the special Right of Secession.
In 1949, Chinese Nationalist (KMT) forces entered Shan State from China,
after being defeated by Mao Zedong's People's Liberation Army. Under the
pretext of defending the Union from the KMT forces, the Burmese Army
marched into Shan State in 1952 and imposed martial law, thus starting
to violate the terms of the Panglong Agreement. The people of Shan State
had to bear atrocities committed by both the KMT and the Burmese Army.
As the situation became increasingly chaotic in Shan State, voices of
dissatisfaction with the Central Government and the Union Constitution
swelled, to the point that some expressed their willingness to secede. U
Nu then promised to wage war with Shan State if the Right of Secession
was invoked by the Shans. The military tightened its control and General
Ne Win was allowed by U Nu to take control of the caretaker government
in 1958 to prevent the Right of Secession being exercised, causing the
first Shan revolt led by Sao Noi.
After repeated efforts and pressure from the Shan leaders, as well as
many fair-minded Burman leaders and politicians, an amendment of the
Union Consitution was promised in 1960 by U Nu, who had won the election
conducted under General Ne Win's caretaker government. In 1961, a
Federal Amendment Proposal was drawn up by the Shans, demanding equal
status and equal rights, and insisting that Burma Proper should stop
being a mother state, and instead become an equal member state like
others. The Proposal was approved by the Inter-States Convention held in
Taunggyi in the same year.
However, in March 1962, before the Parliament in which the Federal
Amendment Proposal was to be presented could be convened, General Ne Win
seized power in a military coup, and threw hundreds of government and
political leaders into prison. His stated reason was "to prevent the
disintegration of the Union." The Union Constitution was scrapped, the
multi-party democratic system was replaced by the "Burmese Way to
Socialism," and the long oppressive military rule that continues to this
Having lost the forum in which they could voice their opinion
peacefully, many non-Burman ethnic peoples, including the Shans, then
took up arms to fight for their rights and freedom.
Recent political events leading to the forced relocation program
There have been a variety of Shan resistance armies operating since the
1960s. The most powerful alliance of resistance forces was the Mong Tai
Army set up in 1985 and led by Khun Sa. The MTA numbered well over
20,000 troops, but following a mutiny and breakaway of about 4,000
troops by Major Karn Yord in June1995, Khun Sa began negotiating with
the SLORC military regime and surrendered in early January 1996.
However, one section of the MTA led by Major Yord Serk refused to
surrender. Calling themselves the Shan United Revolutionary Army, this
group of initially only about 600 troops began moving north from the
former MTA areas along the Thai-Burma border. They aimed to join the
remaining Shan resistance forces in the north, the Shan State Army and
the Shan State National Army (that had broken away from the MTA in 1995)
which had ceasefire agreements with the SLORC.
By late January 1996, the SURA troops had crossed to the north of the
Salween River and begun heading north to the area of Larng Kher. Despite
SLORC attempts to block their passage, by February they had penetrated
into Central Shan State and began operating as a guerrilla force.
The SLORC responded with drastic measures. In early March, they embarked
on a systematic program to relocate all villages in suspected rebel
areas to towns or sites along main roads and near SLORC army bases. The
aim was to prevent the villagers from providing any support to the
rebels and therefore force the Shan soldiers to surrender.
Even while the relocations were going on in 1996, the SURA were
attempting to negotiate with the SLORC to reach a ceasefire agreement.
SURA leader Yord Serk sent several letters to SLORC Chairman Than Shwe
asking for dialogue, but received no reply. The SLORC also warned the
two other main Shan groups, the SSA and SSNA who already had a ceasefire
with the SLORC, not to make any contact with the SURA or give them any
However, in late 1996, the leaders of the three Shan groups met at the
SSA camp of Seng Kaeo in Si Paw township and signed an agreement to
unite under a common banner, the Shan States Army (SSA). Sao Sai Naung,
the Chief of the combined force, then went to Rangoon and made another
peace attempt, asking for SLORC's official recognition of their new
group. This offer was again turned down and the fighting has been
continuing to the present, with the regime intent on crushing the SURA
(now called the SSA-South), and continuing its forced relocation program
against the Shan civilian population.
The forced relocation program
The Burmese military regime has long been using a "4-cuts" strategy
against the ethnic resistance forces, aimed at cutting the food, funds,
intelligence and recruits provided by local villagers to the resistance
armies. This has often involved forcing whole village tracts to move to
strategic sites which could be closely guarded. Throughout the past
thirty years, large areas of Shan State have been repeatedly disrupted
in this way. However, the massive forced relocation begun by the SLORC
regime in Central Shan State in 1996 and continuing to this day is
totally unprecedented in scale.
Beginning in March 1996, the SLORC troops ordered village after village
in eight townships -- Larng Kher, Murng Nai, Nam Zarng, Lai Kha, Murng
Kerng, Kun Hing, Ke See and Murng Su -- to move to sites near towns and
main roads, turning once thriving farming communities into depopulated
free-fire zones. By December 1996, SHRF had documented a total of 605
villages relocated in these townships, estimated at over 100,000 people.
In March 1997, having failed to force Yord Serk's SSA-South to
surrender, SLORC intensified the forced relocation program. Previously
untouched villages in seven of the eight townships already affected by
the 1996 relocations were relocated, and already existing relocation
sites were moved closer to the towns, to bring the villagers further
under the Burmese military control.
In May 1997, the relocation program spread south-east to the township of
Murng Pan, where Yord Serk's forces had started operating. Then in
December 1997, relocations began to the east of the Salween in Murng
Paeng, and in January-February 1998, the area of relocation spread to
the west in the townships of Loi Lem and Ho Pong.
During 1997, in addition to expanding the area of forced relocation, the
regime's troops also began systematically killing villagers caught
outside the relocation sites in a program to deter others from going
back to their original villages. On several occasions villagers were
massacred in large groups. SHRF recorded a total of at least 664
relocated villagers killed by Burma Army troops during 1997.
By April 1998, SHRF had documented in the report "Dispossessed" a total
of 1,478 villages that had been forcibly relocated, estimated at over
During 1998, there continued to be consolidation of relocation sites, as
had occurred in 1997. In October 1998, the relocation sites of Wiang Kao
and Ho Ta (in Murng Nai township) were moved again to the site of Ton
Hoong. This was in response to continued fighting in the area between
the Shan resistance forces of the SSA-South and the SPDC. There were
also new villages forcibly relocated in Loksok township, to the west of
the existing areas of forced relocation. During the first few months of
1999, new villages in Murng Ton, in southern Shan State on the
Thai-Burma border have been relocated.
In most of the areas relocated since 1996 the relocation orders are
still being strictly enforced, and the relocated villagers are still
forbidden from going to farm outside of about 3 miles from the sites,
and are at risk of being shot on sight if they return to their old
villages. However, since August 1998, in several townships including
Kunhing, Namzarng and Laikha, some villagers have been ordered back to
their villages if these villages are on the main roads, and within about
10 km from the towns. This seems to be a strategy by the SPDC to ensure
greater protection for their troops when travelling on the roads, since
they can post agents in the villages to watch resistance troop
movements. However, most of the villagers are too scared of the SPDC
troops to return to their villages, and many have even fled to Thailand
as a result. SHRF only knows of 2 villages about 4 km from Namzarng
where the villagers have agreed to return.
Thus about 300,000 Shan villagers remain uprooted and unable to return
to their homes.
Patterns of displacement.
There are various patterns of displacement for the Shan villagers who
have been forcibly relocated from
their homes. There are basically four alternatives, which are detailed
below. However, many of the displaced have not chosen a single
alternative, but have chosen more than one or, in some cases, even tried
all four, in different orders. Thus, there are countless variations on
the patterns of displacement.
1. Moving to the relocation sites
The term "relocation sites" refers to the sites designated by SLORC/SPDC
troops to which the relocated villagers were forced to move. These were
usually areas of bare land near towns, main roads and army bases where
nothing at all was provided for them by the local authorities.
According to the questionnaires given, the following percentages of
households obeyed the SLORC/SPDC military and went straight to the sites
to which they had been ordered:
Village name, township original no. no. of households %. of households
of households that moved to first that moved to first relocation site
Nawng Wo, Murng Kerng 70 10 14%
Bang Hoo, Loilem 150 15 10%
Huay Pherng, Kun Hing 30 16 53%
Nawng Pum, Murng Nai 80 57 71%
Kun Mi, Kun Hing 15 12 80%
Wan Lao, Kun Hing 200 29 14%
Loi Yarng, Kun Hing 30 14 46%
Wan Na Jerm, Kun Hing 25 25 100%
Nar Kaw, Ke See 80 42 52%
Koong Kao, Loilem 20 20 100%
Loi Ser, Larng Kher 100 57 57%
Ho Yarn, Kun Hing 100 43 43%
Wan Ti Jen, Lai Kha 30 21 70%
Pai Kay, Murng Ton 100 5 5%
Wan Mai, Nam Zarng 25 1 4%
Wan Pang, Murng Kerng 22 15 68%
Wan Lai Kha, Lai Kha 30 30 100%
Wan Hai Ker, Murng Nai 150 15 10%
Loi Mot, Loilem 80 30 37%
Based on these figures, an average of only about half of the households
moved straight to the relocation sites.
Factors affecting whether or not villagers moved straight to the sites
appear to be:
a. Coercion and fear of the SLORC/SPDC troops
In many cases the relocations were ordered at gunpoint, and villagers
were threatened to be killed if they did not move. Thus, even though the
villagers were usually not physically escorted by troops to the
relocation sites, many felt obliged to obey the orders that were given
for fear of reprisals.
However, in some cases, for example in February 1998, at the relocation
site of Wan Nong Wan Koong, near Parng Long, SPDC troops were ready and
waiting for the villagers relocated to Parng Long, and actually took
them in trucks to the relocation site, forbidding them to stay anywhere
b. Proximity of the site to the original villages
Some villagers chose to go to the relocation site if it was close to
their original village, since they hoped they would be allowed back or
be able to sneak back to farm their old fields.
c. The expectation of being allowed back soon to their original village
Particularly during the first year of relocations (1996), when it was
unknown how long the program would last, and villagers were hopeful that
they might be allowed home after only a few months, they appeared
willing to go to the relocation sites for a temporary stay despite the
poor conditions there. During 1997, when villagers were again relocated
from existing relocation sites to towns further from their homes, many
either decided to flee to Thailand or took the chance to go back and
hide in their old villages, realising that their displaced status was to
be permanent and they could see no future in the relocation sites.
d. A lack of other options
Villagers who had no money to travel and purchase land or houses
elsewhere, or no relatives who could accommodate them in other villages
and towns, and were too scared to hide out in the jungles felt they had
no choice but to stay in the relocation sites.
2. Going into hiding
One option for the villagers ordered to move was simply to go into
hiding in the jungles near their villages, and then lead a precarious
existence dodging Burma Army patrols while seeking to continue
cultivating their crops. Various factors seem to have influenced
villagers to do this:
a.. Belief that the relocation would be temporary
Some of the villagers went into hiding believing that the relocation
would be temporary, so it would be better to simply hide all their
supplies near their villages and try to survive somewhere nearby. They
hoped they could continue to cultivate and live off their old fields and
crops. When they were allowed to return to their homes, they would thus
be in a better position than those who had abandoned everything and
b.. Belief that survival in relocation sites would be impossible
Having no possessions to sell for cash to buy food, some of the poorest
villagers appear to have believed that survival in the relocation sites
would be impossible. They thus preferred to risk being shot on sight
rather than starving away from their fields.
Traditional agricultural practices also played a factor in this
decision. For example, many of the Pa-O villagers in the hills in
western Murng Pan township remained in hiding when they were forced to
relocate down to the plains, because they were used to planting hill
rice fields, and could not conceive of changing to wet rice cultivation.
c. Topography of the area
Some areas were more suitable for hiding than others. For example, in
the Murng Kerng area, some villagers explained that no one had gone into
hiding near their villages because it was a flat, plain area, with
little forest covering, so that they would be easily found by Burmese
soldiers. However, in other areas, such as south of Kun Hing, there were
many hills and forests where villagers could hide. Several villagers
said they had hidden in caves; others had hidden on wooded islands in
3. Moving to towns or other areas of Shan State (outside of relocation
Some forcibly relocated villagers moved straight to towns. The main
factor influencing whether people did this was either money, which meant
that they could afford to purchase land or housing there, or else having
relatives in towns with whom they could stay, and perhaps find work.
Others moved to villages on the periphery of the area of forced
relocation, which they felt would be safe from relocation because they
were under the control of the ceasefire organisations such as the Shan
State Army, the Shan State National Army, the Shan Nationalities
People's Liberation Organisation or the Pa-O National Army.
4. Moving to Thailand
There has long been a pattern of migration of Shans to Thailand to find
work, as particularly during the time of economic expansion before 1997
there was a huge demand for migrant labour. Thus, despite the fact that
there are no refugee camps on the Shan-Thai border, Thailand was thus
the obvious place for many of the relocated villagers to flee for
survival, as opposed to some of the other neighbouring countries such as
Laos and China.
According to the questionnaires given, the following percentages of
relocated households have ended up in Thailand:
Village name, township original no. no. of households % of households
of households that ended up moving that ended up moving to Thailand to
Nawng Wo, Murng Kerng 70 40 57%
Bang Hoo, Loilem 150 50 33%
Huay Pherng, Kun Hing 30 2 6%
Nawng Pum, Murng Nai 80 40 50%
Kun Mi, Kun Hing 15 10 66%
Wan Lao, Kun Hing 200 100 50%
Wan Na Jerm, Kun Hing 25 10 40%
Nar Kaw, Ke See 80 5 6%
Loi Ser, Larng Kher 100 30 30%
Ho Yarn, Kun Hing 100 53 53%
Wan Ti Jen, Lai Kha 30 2 6%
Wan Mai, Nam Zarng 25 20 80%
Wan Pang, Murng Kerng 22 9 41%
Bong Toon, Larng Kher 300 30 10%
Wan Hai Ker, Murng Nai 150 12 8%
Murng Lin Ho Deng, Murng Kerng 50 40 80%
Loi Mot, Loilem 80 40 50%
According to the above list, the average percentage of households coming
to Thailand is 39%.
Based on the questionnaires, the main factors influencing people to come
to Thailand are as follows:
1. having enough money to travel to the border
Most of the relocated villagers travel by truck to the Thai-Burma
border, which is expensive, costing between 20,000-50,000 kyats per
person. Some sell their possessions to come; some have to borrow or save
up money. When asked why other villagers from their villages had not
come to Thailand, the most common reason given by refugees interviewed
was that they did not have enough money.
However, it would be mistaken to assume that the refugees arriving in
Thailand are in any way well-off. According to one refugee from Murng
Kerng: "The Army forced us to move to Murng Kerng. Some villagers went
to Murng Kerng town and some went to Thailand. Only the rich went to
town, because they thought that they could continue their business
there. The poor went to Thailand." (KHRG #10, #98-03)
2. inability to feed themselves in the relocation sites
While the refugees that arrived at the Thai-Burma border in early 1996
were mostly villagers who had fled straight to Thailand following the
relocation, there has been a steady flow of refugees arriving since then
from the relocation sites themselves. These refugees have simply found
it impossible to survive without land, and with the demands of forced
labour by the Burmese military.
3. fear of abuses by the Burmese military
Many refugees interviewed about their reasons for fleeing to Thailand
said they were afraid they would be taken as porters, or killed by the
Burmese military if they stayed on in the relocation sites or in hiding.
Some had left immediately after an incident in which a close family
member had been killed.
For example, one of the survivors of the Tad Pa Ho massacre on June 16th
1997, in which 29 villagers were killed by SLORC troops, explained why
she had fled to Thailand: "The SLORC soldiers announced that wherever
shooting breaks out, all the villagers in that area will be killed. I
was too afraid to stay on. I had to leave. You never know when and where
fighting will break out." (KHRG #3, 98-03)
Total numbers of internally displaced
It is extremely difficult to arrive at accurate figures of the numbers
of villagers who have been displaced into the various locations.
However, based on the previous reports of SHRF, the questionnaires
compiled for this report and other Shan sources, rough figures can be
In the report "Dispossessed", published in April 1998, it was estimated
that 80,000 forcibly relocated villagers had fled to Thailand. Since
that time, relief agencies working in northern Thailand have reported
steady flows of refugees from the areas of forced relocation in Shan
State, particularly to northern Chiang Mai province. There have been on
average 2,000 refugees coming each month. This means that a further
24,000 refugees have arrived in Thailand during the last year. Added to
the original 80,000 refugees, an estimated total of 104,000 refugees
have now fled to Thailand. This concurs roughly with the percentages
obtained in the questionnaires compiled for this report, according to
which 39% of the relocated households had come to Thailand (which equals
117,000 people out of 300,000).
Also based on the questionnaires, an average of about 50% of the
relocated villagers moved to the first relocation sites. However, since
many villagers have mentioned that when relocation sites were moved
again, fewer villagers moved to the new sites, the actual number of
people in the relocation sites is now likely to be much less than 50% of
the total. Those villagers that mentioned numbers currently in the
relocation sites indicated that many of the sites were now lying nearly
empty. For example, of the total number of about 2,000 households that
had been relocated to the relocation site near Parng Long in early 1998,
only about 100 households (5%) were left by September 1998.
According to reports from the Shan Herald Agency from News (SHAN) at the
end of 1998, based on sources inside Shan State, it was estimated that
about 100,000 relocated villagers (33% of the total) were still in
relocation sites. Since this figure concurs roughly with the findings of
the questionnaires, it can be used as an approximate figure for the
numbers of internally displaced in relocation sites.
The same sources from SHAN estimated that about 50,000 villagers remain
in hiding near their old villages, and about 50,000 had moved to other
areas of Shan State (with 100,000 refugees coming to Thailand). Since
SHRF has been unable to reach any other estimates of these figures, it
is suggested that these figures be used for a rough breakdown of the
population displaced by the forced relocation.
In summary, the following figures can be used to show approximately the
population displacement of the total of 300,000 villagers forcibly
relocated in Central Shan State:
Displaced villagers who have fled to Thailand: (over) 100,000
Villagers displaced to relocation sites 100,000
Villagers displaced to other areas of Shan State 50,000
Displaced villagers in hiding 50,000
Analysis of the forced relocation program according to the Guiding
Principles of Internal Displacement
Following is an analysis of the forced relocation program carried out by
the SLORC/SPDC in Shan State and the conditions of the relocated
villagers according to the Guiding Principles of Internal Displacement
drawn up by the Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Internally
Displaced Persons. Not all the principles are referred to, but simply
those that are most useful in exposing the extent to which the military
regime in Burma has violated accepted international norms in carrying
out the forced relocation.
The principles are mostly referred to in the order in which they are