English News Letter

SHRF By Monthly Newsletter April-May 2013

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SHRF Bi-Monthly Newsletter April - May 2013

COMMENTARY: No Positive Change Yet On The Ground,  Rights Abuse Still Widespread

“We are a military that adheres not only to civil and to martial laws and regulations, but also to the Geneva Convention. Since we train our Tatmadaw men to acknowledge and adhere to the Geneva Convention, our Tatmadaw have never committed any war crimes and soldiers (who committed punishable acts) have had effective action taken against them according to military regulations”

 

This is an excerpt from the speech given by the commander-in-chief of the Burmese military at the Armed Forces Day celebration in Naypyitaw in March this year. However, those who are familiar with the current situation in Burma, especially in the ethnic areas where the Burmese military is still fighting the ethnic armed groups and abusing the civilian populations, certainly know how far from the reality on the ground this rhetoric of the military top brass is.

It completely ignores the numerous documents, compiled over the years by many well respected local, regional and international human rights organizations, on the role of the Burmese military in war crimes, crimes against humanity, murder, torture, burning of villages, abductions, forced relocations, forced labour, child soldiering and many other serious human rights abuses.

In his eagerness to defend his institution’s performance, the military chief appeared to have forgotten that it is impossible to hide the facts, especially those that are very obvious and have happened repeatedly over a long period of time, from the eyes and ears of the international community. But he seemed to believe it was possible with the support of Aung San Suu Kyi who was, at the time, sitting in the front row of the viewing stands for all to see.

Instead of trying to cover up the wrongs it has done, and is still doing, to the people and claiming credit for what it does not rightly deserve, the military should acknowledge the truth and try to change itself from being a deceitful and irresponsible institution to a truthful and responsible one, to match the words of its highest commander.

If it does not want, or feels embarrassed, to openly acknowledge its wrongs, the military should at least immediately stop abusing and deceiving the people and actually commit itself to truly become an establishment as described by its chief commander in his Armed forces Day message. In fact, actions speak louder than words.

President Thein Sein, during his visit to America this May, laid a wreath at the tomb of George Washington, the first President of the USA who was also a former military man, but who “saw the inherent value of a military under civilian control for the health and success of democracy”, as put by the US Ambassador to Burma who was at a special business dinner with him.

By doing this, the Burmese president probably meant to send out certain messages to the world, especially to his own people and his hosts. Whether Mr. Thein Sein meant to say that he was inspired by what Washington had accomplished and would try to emulate him, or just to impress the people of his host country to gain more favour for his mission, we do not know.

However, even if he really has the ambition to walk Washington’s way, however long and difficult the journey might be, it looks virtually impossible as long as the current Constitution, which gives the military power over all civilian institutions and clearly stipulates a leading political role for the armed forces, is unchanged.

This is just a general comment on some of the episodes and events that have recently taken place among the leading figures at the top echelon of Burma politics, where many positive changes seem to have been taking place in the eyes of many leading members of the international community.

However, people on the ground in Shan State have so far seen virtually no positive change to their daily life, especially for the rural communities. Patrols of Burmese military troops have still been roaming and abusing them in many ways with impunity up to the time of this report, as presented in this newsletter issue.

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CONTENTS: Themes & Places of Violations reported in this issue

Themes: All the reports in the first of the two sections in this bimonthly newsletter’s issue are about the continued forcible use of civilian guides, porters, vehicles and animals to serve the military unpaid by the Burmese army troops in Shan State, who have also extorted livestock and other foodstuff from the people, during late 2012 up to early 2013.

In the second section, there are reports on the problems faced by the indigenous people in Kaeng Tawng area of Murng-Nai township after the militarization of the area by the Burmese military, and the immigration and colonization by ethnic Burman civilian populations.

**  Places: Murng-Su, Murng-Nai, Kun-Hing, Murng-Pan and Murng-Paeng

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ACRONYMS:

LIB = Light Infantry Battalion (e.g. LIB246 = Light Infantry Battalion No. 246)

IB = Infantry Battalion

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MAP

 

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SITUATION OF FORCED LABOUR: FORCIBLE USE OF CIVILIAN GUIDES, PORTERS, VEHICLES AND ANIMALS; EXTORTION OF LIVESTOCK AND FOOD STUFF, CONTINUE

Up to as recently as early 2013, two years after the nominally civilian government came to power, the use of unpaid civilian forced labour by the Burmese military in Shan State has continued unabated, especially in the rural areas.

Villagers have still been often forced to serve the military as unpaid guides and porters at many places in many townships in Shan State. Civilian vehicles, including cars, trucks, tractors and motorcycles, and even animals, have also been frequently conscripted to serve the military as a means of transport unpaid.

In addition to conscripting the villagers and their vehicles and animals to provide unpaid forced labour, Burmese army patrols have also often extorted from the villagers several things, including livestock and different kinds of foodstuff, etc., without ever paying for any of them.

The following are some such instances that took place during late 2012 up to early 2013:

VILLAGERS FORCED TO SERVE AS UNPAID GUIDES AND PORTERS FOR MANY DAYS IN MURNG-SU

In February 2013, 12 villagers of Murng Awd village in Murng Awd village tract in Murng-Su township were forced to serve as unpaid guides and porters for several days by the Burmese army troops from IB247 and IB9.

On 20 February 2013, a patrol of Burmese army troops from IB247 and IB9, based respectively at Murng Naang and Murng Nawng villages in Kae-See township, came by a truck to Murng Awd village in Murng Awd village tract in Murng-Su township.

The Burmese troops conscripted 12 villagers of Murng Awd village to serve as guides and porters and set out on foot to patrol the surrounding areas, leaving their military truck in the village. The villagers were forced to act as guides and at the same time carry several things on their shoulders.

After patrolling and searching for Shan soldiers in many areas in Murng Awd village tract for 5 days and nights without finding any of them, the 12 villagers were released by the Burmese military patrol and permitted to return to their village.

It was later learned that, about 2 days after the above incident, the Burmese army troops went by themselves, without taking any civilian guides and porters, and attacked a stronghold of Shan State Army - North on the Loi Laang mountain range, about 10 miles north of Murng Awd village.

Another incident took place 2-3 weeks earlier, in which 5 villagers  from Murng Awd village tract were forced to be unpaid guides and porters for many days by Burmese army troops while patrolling areas not only in Murng-Su but also in Tang-Yarn township.

On 1 February 2013, a patrol of Burmese army troops came to Nam Hu village in Murng Awd village tract in Murng-Su township and conscripted 2 male villagers, aged between 30-40, as unpaid guides. When the patrol reached Naa Mawn village in the same village tract on the same day, they conscripted 3 more civilian guides of about the same age.

The military patrol then headed north and patrolled several areas in Tang-Yarn township for some days before heading back towards Murng-Su township, following a route east of Murng Awd village tract and after some time reached Wan Naa village near Murng-Su town.

The Burmese troops then released the 5 villagers, who not only had to serve as guides but also had to carry foodstuff and ammunition for many days, at Wan Naa village and went into Murng-Su town, leaving the villagers to find their own means by which to go home.

Fortunately, before very long the villagers managed to find a tractor from Naa Mawn village in Murng Awd village tract that was returning from visiting Murng-Su town, and they were allowed to ride it till they reached Naa Mawn free of charge.

From Naa Mawn, the 2 villagers from Nam Hu had to walk back to their village. It had been 8 days since all the 5 villagers were conscripted by the Burmese army patrol, but they received nothing for their time and labour.

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VILLAGERS AND CIVILIAN VEHICLES CONSCRIPTED FOR FORCED LABOUR; CHICKENS, PIGS AND OTHER FOODSTUFF EXTORTED, IN MURNG-NAI AND KUN-HING

In January 2013, villagers and civilian vehicles were forced to provide unpaid forced labour for several days by a patrol of Burmese army troops who also extorted pigs, chickens and other foodstuff from several villages, in Kaeng Tawng sub-township, Murng-Nai township.

On 19 January 2013, a patrol of about 40 troops from LIB332 and about 50 from LIB569 came to Kun Mong village in Kun Mong village tract in Kaeng Tawng sub-township, Murng-Nai township, and conscripted 2 villagers to serve as guides and 3 civilian vehicles to carry them around.

The Burmese army patrol of 3 civilian vehicles then set out along a logging road towards Kun-Hing township. After patrolling for some time and passing through some villages, the military patrol came to Kaeng Kham village in Kaeng Kham village tract in Kun-Hing township and stopped for the night.

Kaeng Kham was once a large village with a sizeable population before it was forcibly relocated in 1996-97 by the Burmese military. However, there were now only about over 40 households in the village, who had come back a few years ago after the authorities allowed the villagers to return.

Even though Kaeng Kham was now a small village and the villagers were mostly only subsistence farmers, the Burmese troops extorted 10 viss (1 viss = 1.6 kg) of chickens, worth around 40,000 kyat, and a pig, worth 50,000 kyat, from the villagers.

The Burmese troops ate the pig and the chickens, spent one night in Kaeng Kham village and left the next morning. Around midday, they reached Wan Phaai village in Wan Phaai village tract in Kun-Hing township and extorted 10 viss of chickens from the villagers.

They reached Nam Paa Man village in Kaeng Lom village tract in Kun-Hing township in the evening and stopped to spend the night in the village. That evening, the Burmese troops forced the villagers to provide them with 2 baskets of white rice, 10 bottles of cooking oil and 20 viss of chickens, all free of charge.

The military patrol left Nam Paa Man village in the following morning and rode the 3 civilian vehicles until they reached Nam Maw Ngern village, located on the main road that led from Kun-Hing to Murng-Paeng, where some military vehicles were already waiting for them.

The Burmese troops then released the 2 civilian guides together with the 3 civilian vehicles at Nam Maw Ngern village on 21 January 2013. The 2 guides and the 3 vehicles received nothing for their time and labour from the Burmese military authorities.

During late 2012 up to early 2013 when this report was received, villagers’ motorcycles and tractors have been routinely forced to provide free labour by the Burmese army troops from LIB569, manning 2 military outposts in Kaeng Tawng sub-township in Murng-Nai township.

One of the outposts was located at about a mile north of Nam Un village and manned by 15 troops, and the other was at a place called Kiu Sop Wo, with 30 troops. Both outposts were situated on the main road about halfway between Kaeng Tawng and Kho Lam village tract in Nam-Zarng township, and not so far away from each other.

Nam Un village in Nawng Hee village tract was one of the villages that had once been forcibly relocated in 1996 by the Burmese military and now, since the construction of a motor road, about 15 households have come back to resettle. After some time, they managed to buy some China-made motorcycles and tractors for their own use.

Because of that, the Burmese army troops at the said 2 outposts have forced the villagers of Nam Un to routinely provide them with forced labour of their motorcycles and tractors. Every day, 2 motorcycles had to be sent to the 2 outposts for the soldiers to use as they wish.

Every 3 days, water for drinking and washing was required to be transported to the outpost at Kiu Sop Wo, which the Burmese soldiers had renamed  ‘Kyauk Taung’ (stone hill or rocky mountain), by villagers’ tractors for the Burmese troops

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FORCIBLE USE OF CIVILIANS FOR GUIDE AND PORTER SERVICES, AND CIVILIAN VEHICLES AND ANIMALS FOR TRANSPORTATION, IN MURNG-PAN

During the period from around midyear up to late 2012 when this report was received, Burmese army troops inMurng-Pan township were still forcing civilians and their means of transport to work for the military without pay.

In November 2012, 3 villagers of Kung Keng village in Kung Keng village tract, Murng-Pan township, were forced to serve as unpaid guides for 8 consecutive days by a patrol of Burmese army troops from LIB520.

On 3 November 2012, a patrol of about 50 Burmese army troops from LIB520 came to Kung Keng village in Kung Keng village tract, Murng-Pan township, and conscripted 3 male villagers, aged between 40 and 50, to go with the patrol and serve as guides.

The Burmese troops went north into Murng-Nai township and patrolled many areas for many days until they reached the western bank of the Salween river at one point. The military patrol then turned back towards Murng-Pan township and released the 3 villagers when they got back to Kung Keng village from where they had been conscripted.

The villagers had been forced to serve the Burmese military for 8 days as guides, but received nothing for their time and labour. They were told by the military authorities that the aim of the operation was to train the troops, as ordered by the higher authorities, and they needed guides to go around.

Sine around mid up to the end of 2012, a remote Burmese military outpost on Paang Pi mountain range, southwest of Murng-Pan town, havs routinely used forced labour of the people and their vehicles and animals to transport troops and their rations.

The troops manning the outpost were replaced every 3-4 months by troops from different units or even from different townships. Each time a replacement took place, civilian vehicles and animals were conscripted to transport the troops to and from the outpost.

Civilian vehicles, mostly conscripted from Nawng Long and Nawng Hee villages in Nawng Long village tract in Murng-Pan township, were required to transport the troops and their equipment to the foot of Paang Pi mountain range, and villagers’ horses and mules had to carry them up the mountain to the outpost.

This method was also often used by the Burmese troops to regularly transport rations and other things to the outpost. In these cases, not only civilian vehicles and animals, but also human porters were forced to serve the military without any payment.

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ROUTINE USE OF FORCED CIVILIAN PORTERS AND GUIDES IN MURNG-PAENG

Up until the end of 2012 when this report was received, Burmese military troops have still been routinely and frequently using civilian guides and porters during military patrols and to transport rations to several outposts in Murng Pu Long village tract in Murng-Paeng township.

There were at least 3 Burmese military outposts along the eastern banks of the Salween river, at Ta Phaa Khaao, Ta Sop Pu and Ta Long, in Murng Pu Long village tract in Murng-Paeng township. These outposts were set up some years ago and were manned by troops from Murng-Paeng-based LIB360 at the time of this report.

About every 7 days, about 20-30 villagers in Murng Pu Long village tract were forced by the Burmese military to carry supplies from Murng Pu Long village to the military outposts on the banks of the Salween river, which were about 2 days-walk away.

There were about 10 villages, big and small, in Murng Pu Long village tract, which included Waeng Hawng, Waeng Zaan, Wan Tong, Lawn Keo, Peck Saang, Kaeng Hin, Kun Kawk, Zawm Tawng and Waeng Kao.

A village was required to provide from 2 to 5 porters each time, in accordance with the size of the village. The villages had to work in rotation and provide up to 20-30 villagers each time, and about 4 times a month.  Each time, the porters were released only after serving 4 days and sometimes 5 days.

Things which the porters were forced to carry on their shoulders included foodstuff such as rice, cooking oil, bean, chicken and pork, etc.; clothes including blankets and bed sheets; ammunition and equipment, and other things which individual soldiers wanted them to carry.

Apart from having to regularly serve as unpaid porters to carry supplies to the said military outposts, villagers of Murng Pu Long village tract were also often conscripted as unpaid porters by Burmese military patrols, which often came from different units based in other townships, to patrol Murng Pu Long area.

From November 2012 up to early 2013 when this report was received, a force of about 75 Burmese army troops from a unit based in Ta-Khi-Laek township was deployed at Wan Tong village in Murng Pu Long village tract in Murng-Paeng township.

Virtually every day, small patrols were sent out from Wan Tong to different directions to search the hills and mountains in the area. Almost every day, a few villagers were conscripted by these patrols of Burmese army troops to serve as unpaid guides and porters.

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CURRENT SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS AND COMMUNAL PROBLEMS, IN KAENG TAWNG AREA, IN MURNG-NAI

Over the last 7-8 years, the Burmese military have set up several military bases and have brought in not only their troops but a great number of ethnic Burman civilians into the Kaeng Tawng area of Murng-Nai township, causing a lot of trouble especially to the original indigenous populations.

Ever since Burmese soldiers first came to militarize the area, there have been rampant numerous human rights violations, including many mass forced relocations, committed by them against the local populations. When they later started to bring in their families and civilian relatives, and encourage other ethnic Burman civilians from lower Burma to come and settle down, many other problems have also arisen.

The indigenous Shan communities not only have to endure various abuses by members of the Burmese military but also have to face many problems posed by newly arrived Burman civilians who apparently enjoy the backing of the Burmese military.

The following are some of the stories, or complaints, commonly heard among the original indigenous populations in Kaeng Tawng, which has now become a sub-township in Murng-Nai township, about how they have been maltreated by the new comers since their arrival up to the present:

SITUATION OF LAND GRABBING IN KAENG TAWNG, MURNG NAI

After forcibly taking as much land areas as they wanted for setting up several army battalion bases and other military facilities in Kaeng Tawng area in Murng-Nai township, Burmese military authorities have continued to take more and more land for other purposes.

Many lands, originally cultivated by local farmers, have been confiscated by the Burmese military and given to Burman civilians who have come to settle down in the area to cultivate. Every year up to the present, more and more lands continue to be confiscated by the military and given to newly arrived Burman families.

The confiscated lands were mostly those with fertile soil and at places where there were water sources that could be easily diverted for irrigation, and those who received them were mostly families and relatives of the Burmese troops, or those who one way or another connected to them.

Since ethnic Burmese from lower Burma have still been coming to the area, often deliberately brought in by the military, the numbers of the newcomers appeared to have lately become even greater than that of the original populations and, together with them, various other problems have also increased.

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STEALING AND LOOTING OF LOCAL PEOPLE’S PROPERTY IN KAENG TAWNG, MURNG-NAI

In addition to having to worry about the threat that more and more of their lands could be forcibly taken away from them any time, the native local people of Kaeng Tawng area in Murng-Nai township also have to face many other problems, especially stealing.

Since many newcomers have brought virtually nothing with them and seemed to have no money, they have been quick to lay their hands on whatever they could get for free. This includes the Burmese troops themselves, who are also notorious for stealing.

The most common problem the original local people have had to face appeared to be rampant theft. Almost everything of any value could be stolen at any time if not kept safely enough. Even in the market place, incidents of theft have become frequent occurrences.

One common instance, as told by a local farmer, goes like this: “Many of them would crowd around the peddlers as if to buy their goods. While some were talking and bargaining with the peddlers, others would pick up some things out of sight of the peddlers and fled”.

When the peddlers later found out that their things had been stolen and tried to lodge a complaint with the police, they were usually told that nothing could be done if the actual persons who had stolen their things were not known.

Sometimes, when the complainants happened to be ethnic Shan and the concerned officials happened to be ethnic Burman, the officials would even say that there were also many thieves among the Shans, not only among the Burmans.

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STEALING OF LOCAL PEOPLE’S MOTORCYCLES IN KAENG TAWNG, MURNG-NAI

Stealing of vehicles such as motorcycles also seemed to have become frequent occurrences in the area. SHRF field workers have learned about 2 separate incidents of motorcycles having stolen by Burmese army soldiers in late 2012 and early 2013, in just one village alone, in Kaeng Tawng sub-township, Murng-Nai township..

In February 2013, a motorcycle belonging to a villager was stolen away by a Burmese army soldier from LIB574, after borrowing it from the owner at the market place in Ton Hung village in Ton Hung village tract, Kaeng Tawng sub-township.

On 28 February 2013, a Lahu villager, Ja Thaw (m), aged 40, of Paang Yaao village in Kun Long village tract in Murng-Nai township, drove his motorcycle to the market at Ton Hung village, carrying some dried deer meat to sell in the market.

As Ja Thaw parked his motorcycle outside the market, a Burmese army soldier from LIB who was standing at the entrance of the market came to him and asked to borrow his motorcycle for a short while. Because it was a Burmese soldier, Ja Thaw dared not refuse and reluctantly lent his bike to him.

As the soldier drove his motorcycle away towards Ta Kun village military camp. Ja Thaw went into the market to sell his goods. After a while, when all his dried deer meat had been sold out, he came out of the market to find the soldier and his motorcycle, but they were nowhere to be found.

Ja Thaw thus lost his motorcycle, worth 300,000 kyat. On later inquiry, it was learned that the soldier in point was on leave at the time. He had dismantled the motorcycle into small parts, put them into some gunny sacks and taken away with him as he went to visit his family somewhere in lower Burma.

Although he had learned what had happened to his motorcycle from some villagers of Ta Kun, Ja Thaw could not do much about it. He could not think of any way in which he could get his bike back, and complaining to the authorities would only make it worse.

Another similar incident had also taken place in the same village, Ton Hung, in late 2012, but in which the perpetrator had stolen the motorcycle from a house whose owners knew him well. He was said to be Maung Lay (m), aged 28, a Burmese army soldier from LIB574 based at Ta Kun village.

On 4 October 2012, at about 4 o’clock in the morning, Maung Lay came to the house of Lung Ka-Ling and Pa Maad, husband and wife, in No. 5 quarter of Ton Hung village, and drove away a motorcycle without the knowledge of the owners.

When Lung Ka-Ling later did not see his motorcycle and asked around, his neighbour told him that it was Maung Lay who came early in the morning and drove it away. They knew Maung Lay well because he often visited Lung Ka-Ling’s house, and thought that he was just borrowing the bike.

Lung Ka-Ling also thought likewise and expected Maung Lay to return the motorcycle in due time. After waiting long enough and Maung Lay had not turned up, Lung Ka-Ling went to the military base at Ta Kun village and enquired about it.

When he was told by the Burmese troops that Maung Lay was on leave and had now gone to visit his family in lower Burma, and they did not know anything about the motorcycle, Lung Ka-Ling then went into Ta Kun village and asked around.

What he had learned form the villagers of Ta Kun was that Maung Lay had dismantled the motorcycle into small parts, put them into big gunny sacks and taken away with him whe

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