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August - 2012

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COMMENTARY: Why people still flee Shan State and seek refuge in other countries

For more than 5 decades, since the Burmese military seized power from the democratically elected civilian national government in 1962 and put the whole country under military rule, people have been fleeing to other countries to escape their oppressive rule and find a better means of livelihood.

Many people with brains and skills and money, e.g., professors, doctors, engineers and business people, etc., fled the country soon after the military takeover to escape the persecution by the military authorities and the harsh life under their rule.

Later, ordinary people such as farmers and workers etc., also have to flee because of unbearable various human rights violations by the military authorities and increasing difficulties to earn a decent living, creating more or less regular flows of refugees and migrants to neighbouring countries, and from there to other parts of the world.

Even students, though in much smaller numbers compared to that of other elements of society, have found their own means and ways to get out of the country to further their studies elsewhere, because the education system in the country has become dysfunctional due to the oppressive rule of the military.

Over the last 4-5 decades under the military rule, the numbers of people that have left the country have now reached millions. It is estimated that there are currently between 3 to 4 million in Thailand alone, trying to eke out a living that they say is somewhat better than what they could do back home.

Even though there has recently been some attempt by the nominally civilian government to call back those who have left the country for various reasons, only a small number have shown some willingness to return and a still smaller number have actually returned.

Furthermore, people in Shan State have continued to flee their native places in an attempt to seek better means of survival elsewhere, including Thailand, even after the nominally civilian government has been in power for more than a year. There have even been more people coming to Thailand over the last several months.

The reasons appear to be because there have been little changes on the ground and the general situation has not improved, but has become even worse in some areas, due to various factors including human rights violations committed by the authorities up to the present.

This month’s issue contains reports about the facts why people are still coming to Thailand, based on interviews with newly arrived refugees from Shan State, conducted by SHRF field workers at the Thai-Shan border during early and up to around mid 2012.



CONTENTS: Themes & Places of Violations reported in this issue

*Themes: Forced Labour, Land Confiscation, Extortion, Forced Recruitment, Persecution, Forced Relocation, Beating and Intimitation

* Places: Kae-See, Murng-Su, Murng-Kerng, Lai-Kha, Kun-Hing, Nam-Zarng, Murng-Nai and Larng-Khur



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

IB = Infantry Battalion





At least up until May 2012, people from Kae-See township in Northern Shan State have been fleeing their native places and coming to the Thai border where SHRF field workers met and talked with them to learn the cause of their flight.

In January 2012, a group of newly arrived refugees from Murng Awd village in Murng Awd village tract, Kae-See township, was interviewed by SHRF at the Shan-Thai border. The following is their story.

Since around mid 2011, the Burmese military have been deploying 10-20 battalion of troops in Kae-See township to fight a Shan resistance group based in the area. Since then the Burmese troops have been roaming the rural areas and giving a lot of troubles to the local people.

Because of frequent skirmishes between the two sides and because of forcible conscription of guides and porters by the Burmese troops, people in many villages dared not go out to work their remote rice farms and fields and had to abandon their subsistence crops before the harvest.

Towards the end of 2011, many people were left with no rice and money. Many tried to survive by working in other people’s farms, which were still relatively safe, as day wage labourers, but could hardly earn enough to feed their families.

Since the situation seemed to be getting worse, they did not think they would be able to work their farms during the coming rice growing season. So they decided to come to Thailand to find a better means of survival, at least until the situation in their homeland got better, they said

In February 2012, SHRF talked to newly arrived refugees from Phak Naam village tract in Kae-See township. Their story was not so different from that of the villagers from Murng Awd village tract.

Although the Burmese troops said they had stopped fighting the Shan resistance troops, they were still roaming the rural areas and even reinforcing their troops at some places so that people dared not yet go back to work their farms and fields.

They said they came to find their relatives who were already working in Thailand in hope of getting some means of survival. They simply had no choice because they could no longer earn enough to survive by remaining in their villages.

In March 2012, a group of refugees from Murng Nim village tract in Kae-See township came to the Shan-Thai border. They said, in addition to the situation mentioned above, there had been so much forced labour in their area that many people could not earn enough to survive.

In April 2012, refugees from Nim Long village in Ha Wan village tract, Kae-See township, were interviewed by SHRF at the Shan-Thai border. They said they came because they could not work their rice fields and farms since last year and could not survive any longer by remaining in their village.

In May 2012, SHRF talked to newly arrived refugees from Murng Lerm village tract in Kae-See township. Their story was virtually the same as those mentioned above. They lost all their crops last year and would not be able to work their farms this coming season.



In June 2012, refugees from Murng Zaang village in Murng Zaang village tract in Murng-Su township arrived at the Shan-Thai border, stating that they had to flee because of land confiscation and mining activities by a mining company with the assistance of the Burmese military in their area.

Sometime earlier in the year, a large area of land north west of Murng Zaang village was confiscated by the Burmese military authorities and sold to a mining company (thought to be Hong Pang Company) to extract some kind of minerals.

Many plots of land cultivated by the local villagers were included in the confiscated land area, for which the owners received no compensation. The following were some of them:

1. 15 plots of tea plantations, each 3-5 acres big

2. 4 plots of rice fields, more than 20 acres in all

3. 10 plots of rice and sesame farms

More than 10,000 ethnic Burman workers from lower Burma have been brought into the area by the Burmese military to work for the company and other projects, leaving little room for locals to take up any job. Furthermore, many Burman workers stole whatever they could, from vegetables up to motorcycles, and bullied the locals.

Three mountain streams in the area, which had served as a water source to villagers of Murng Zaang for drinking and washing for generations, had become dirty and unusable because the company used the water upstream to wash the earth and stones they had dug out.

People who had lost their livelihood because of what the Burmese military and the said company had done could find no alternative means for survival in the area and were forced to flee to other places. Many of them had come to Thailand and some of them were even said to have gone to places under the control of the Wa ceasefire group to find work.



In early March 2012, SHRF interviewed newly arrived refugees from the areas of Nam Hu and Nam Neb village tracts in Murng-Kerng township at the Shan-Thai border and learned that Burmese military operations and forced labour in their areas were still causing people to flee.

In early 2012, increased military operations and forced labour by the Burmese army troops of LIB514 had caused many people in Nam Hu and Nam Neb village tracts in Murng-Kerng township to flee to other places, including Thailand.

During late and early 2012, 2 military patrols from LIB514, each comprising about 40 troops, came to patrol and search the areas of Nam Hu and Nam Neb village tracts, forcing people to serve as their guides and conscripting villagers’ vehicles for transportation.

Each of the patrols went separate ways and conscripted 2 guides and 2 tractors from a village, and went on to search the areas in all directions they wanted to go until they reached another village. The Burmese troops then conscripted 2 new guides and tractors from that village and released the previously conscripted guides and tractors.

The Burmese troops went on searching the areas until they reached yet another village where they took new guides and tractors and released the old ones. When evening came, they stopped to spent the night in a village, released the old guides and tractors and conscripted new ones.

At night, the villagers of the said village were forced to provide different kinds of food stuff, including at least 5 viss (1 viss = 1.6 kg) of chickens. In the morning, the troops started out to continue patrolling the areas, changing their guides and tractors at a village they stopped.

As the Burmese troops went round and round in the areas for some time, they happened to come to several villages many times in the process, badly affecting the lives of the people in those villages, especially those who were already struggling to survive the already harsh situation.



In February 2012, a group of refugees from Naa Poi village tract in Lai-Kha township arrived at the Shan-Thai border, stating that rampant forced labour, forced recruitment and extortion by a Burmese military-sponsored people’s militia were still causing people to flee.

A former Shan ceasefire group, that had recently been given people’s militia status by the Burmese military, based at Nam Hu Kaang area in Naa Poi village tract, Lai-Kha township, continued to extort rice from villages in the area, at least up to early 2012.

Amounts of rice were extorted according to the size of each village and on a monthly basis, all year round. A village with 80 up to a little over 100 houses, was required to provide 20 baskets of unhusked rice, and a village with 50 and less houses had to give 20 baskets, every month.

Forced labour of the villagers was routinely used all year round to maintain the sides of the road leading from the military base at Nam Hu in Naa Poi village up to the entrance of Lai-Kha town. About 120 yards area of land on either side of the road had to be kept clear of trees, brush and bushes.

At least 2 villagers in every village in the area had to be on standby on a 24-hour daily basis to serve as guides whenever patrols of Burmese troops from IB64 and militiamen needed them. Furthermore, under the instruction of the Burmese military, the people’s military force had to recruit new members periodically.

The people’s military force was required to recruit new members 3 times a year and each time 1 recruit was taken from each small village and 2 from each big village. If a new recruit was not available, money had to be provided instead, usually 1,300,000 kyat for each recruit, without fail.

There were also other random forced labour and extortion by both troops of the Burmese army and the people’s militia force. All these have increasingly put many people in so difficult a situation that they could no longer earn enough to survive and had to flee to other places, mostly to Thailand.



In late June 2012, refugees from Ho Naa and Naa Keng villages in Wan Paang village tract in Kun-Hing township arrived at the Shan-Thai border and told SHRF field workers that forced recruitment by the Burmese army and a people’s militia force had caused them to flee.

According to them, since 1 June 2012, the Tactical Operations Command of the Burmese military, based at Ka Li in Kun-Hing township, had issued an order to a people’s militia force to recruit local villagers to serve in the Burmese army.

Accordingly, the said people’s militia force had since then been recruiting villagers in the areas under their control. A certain number of both men and women, aged between 18 and 35, had been recruited and given some training before being handed over to the Burmese army.

The specified number of recruits the villagers of Ho Naa and Naa Keng villages were required to provide was said to be 15. They also learned that those who refused to comply with the order after being chosen would be punished by imprisonment and/or heavy fines.

As soon as they heard about the order, many villagers abandoned their houses and fled to other places, including Thailand. They were afraid of both being recruited into the Burmese military and being punished by the military authorities.



Sometime during the end of 2011, SHRF met newly arrived refugees from Tin Loi village in Wan Nawng village tract in Nam-Zarng township at the Shan-Thai border. They were of ‘Black Karen’ ethnic minority in southern Shan State and had come in groups of families.

They said they came to Thailand to try and find a better means of survival because they could no longer earn enough to feed their families at their village, due to several reasons including persecution by members of the Burmese military and police force, which had become worse during the second half of 2011..

Military patrols of the Burmese army troops from IB247 and IB248 often came to the area of Tin Loi village and forcibly conscripted villagers, including those who were working at their farms, to serve as guides and porters for 2-3 days at a time.

The Burmese military patrols also often shot and stole villagers’ cattle in the area of the village. During a period of 4-5 months, from June 2011 up to November 2011, at least 6 cows belonging to the villagers of Tin Loi village had already been shot and stolen.

When the Burmese troops stayed in the village during the night, in addition to requiring the villagers to provide rice, pork, cooking oil, vegetables and other food stuff, they also stole chickens from the villagers’ houses, until there were hardly any chickens left in the village near the end of 2011.

Whenever villagers of Tin Loi village went to Nam-Zarng town with their mini-tractors on unavoidable business matters, members of the police force in the town always extorted money from them. At least 6,000 kyat, sometimes even up to 10,000 kyat, for each tractor.

In addition to all the difficulties mentioned above, the villagers said they had to sell the crops they produced at very low prices and had to buy virtually everything they needed at increasingly higher prices. They could no longer survive in such a situation, they said.



In April 2012, villagers from Haai Kur and Mai Hai villages in Haai Kur village tract, Murng-Nai township, arrived at the Shan-Thai border and told SHRF field workers the following story.

The villagers were among those who had been forcibly relocated to the outskirts of Murng-Nai town during the mass forced relocations in 1996-1998 carried out by the then SLORC (State Law and Order Restoration Council) troops.

After the forced relocations, they had managed to survive the long difficult years by sneaking back to work their rice fields at their original villages until recently. During the last decade or so, they had tried to resettle at their villages several times, but had always been persecuted by the Burmese troops until it was impossible to do so.

During last year, 2011, the Burmese military brought in many Lahu villagers from the area of Wan Zing in Kae-See township to settle down in the areas of Haai kur and Mai Hai villages in Haai Kur village tract in Murng-Nai township.

The Lahu villagers were mostly members, and families and relatives, of a people’s militia force under the command of the Burmese military. To support them with a means of livelihood, the Burmese troops then confiscated and gave to the Lahu villagers many of the rice fields in the areas.

Since last year, after their rice fields had been taken away by the Lahu villagers, the villagers were not able to find other means of livelihood and could not survive the situation any longer. So they decided to come to Thailand in hope of finding some means of survival.

“We did know how the situation is in Thailand currently. It is quite difficult, and even more so for newcomers like us who have no documents, for migrant workers to get decent jobs with reasonable pay. But we simply have no other better alternatives”, they said.



In early 2012, SHRF met some refugees from Wan Taeng Nur village in Wan Haad village tract, Larng-Khur township, at the Shan-Thai border and asked them what had caused them to leave their village. Their story is as follows.

On 10 October 2011, a patrol of Burmese army troops, thought to be from IB99 based in Larng-Khur, came to Wan Taeng Nur village by a forcibly conscripted civilian truck and stopped in the village. The troops then disembarked, spread out and went to many villagers’ houses in different parts of the village at the same time.

The Burmese troops asked the villagers about the activities of Shan soldiers in the area and beat up many villagers in the process, causing a lot of crying and screaming. After some time, they re-embarked the truck and went to Kung Niu village in the same village tract.

At Kung Niu village, the Burmese troops shot dead a villager’s buffalo, a big bull which was worth not less than 400,000 kyat, cut up the meat, loaded on the truck and continued to Naa Kong village in Naa Kong village tract in the same township.

At Naa Kong village, the Burmese troops accused 3 villagers of helping the Shan soldiers in crossing the Nam Taeng river to and fro safely every time and beat them up with sticks, causing serious injuries to all of them.

In the evening of the same day, as they returned to their base by the same civilian truck, the Burmese troops stopped at Wan Taeng Nur again for a while. They told the villagers that they had taught them only a small lesson for receiving and helping the Shan soldiers. “Next time when we hear that Shan soldiers are still coming to your village, you will see what will happen to all of you”, said the Burmese troops as they left the village.

Because of that, many villagers became too frightened to stay on in the village. Soon after that, one after another, they fled to other places, including Thailand, after managing to sell out their possessions, including rice and other crops, cattle and other livestock.