Extract of KHRG incident report from Thaton (Doo Tha Htoo) District | August 26, 2015
Below is an extract of Karen Human Rights Group’s (KHRG) News Bulletin describing an incident in which the Burma/Myanmar government police force and Burma/Myanmar Department of Forest Management destroyed and burnt down 97 villager houses, displacing approximately 500 villagers in B— village, Hpa-an Township, Thaton District in June 2015. Despite holding Karen National Union (KNU) issued land grants, villagers were ordered by the Burma/Myanmar government to move out of their village since the government demarcated the area as a forest reserve. However, villagers reported that this land was the location of their old village, which they had to leave behind in 1983 during altercations between the Tatmadaw and the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA). The villagers also noted that even though the government demarcated the land as a forest reserve, there are no big teak or ironwood trees there. In addition, businessmen from Hpa-an Town came and planted rubber trees and the Tatmadaw sometimes use the area for target practice. The Chief Minister of Kayin (Karen) State, U Zaw Min, threatened villagers into signing a document stating they agree to dismantle their houses and would not live on that land anymore. In attempting to prevent the destruction of their village, villagers sought help from Saw P—, who attempted to advocate on their behalf, to no avail. When the villagers refused to dismantle their village, the Burma/Myanmar government police arrested 25 villagers, one monk and one KNU/KNLA-Peace Council (KNU/KNLA-PC) member and continued to raid the village, burning and looting villagers’ houses, and planting teak trees. In the aftermath of the raid, approximately 100 villagers fled to Myawaddi Town with the help of Saw P—, since they do not dare to live in the village any longer.
On June 22nd 2015, a large number of police officers and authorities from the Department of Forest Management of the Burma/Myanmar government came into the village and dismantled the houses. They destroyed the houses with chainsaws and burnt down the houses of villagers, including a school that the villagers had built on their own. The police also arrested three villagers on that day, totalling 27 people in the course of the raids on B— village. Among those arrested was Saw Michael, the Deputy Commander of KNU/KNLA-PC Battalion #776, and a monk. There are some villagers who are still wanted by the police but they have so far successfully evaded arrest. The police and Department of Forest Management representatives came again on June 23rd, 24th and 25th 2015, destroying and burning down houses. Some of them planted teak trees while the others continued destroying and burning the remaining houses.
According to the villagers, 97 houses were destroyed by the police in addition to another 78 houses that were dismantled by villagers themselves prior to the June 21st deadline given to them. As a result of these events over 500 people were displaced. Some villagers ran into the jungle and some villagers went back to C— village. The police also took two motorbikes, one solar panel, two batteries, two TVs and two grass cutters that belonged to the B— villagers, in addition to taking 900,000 kyat (US $771.21) from B— villager U H—’s house for themselves.
Within four days, the police had dismantled and burnt down all the houses in B—. They had previously ordered the villagers to dismantle their own houses prior to June 22nd 2015, before they came and destroyed them themselves. Only a few villagers obeyed the order and dismantled their houses prior to the arrival of the police in the village, but most villagers did not. Over 30 households, amounting to approximately 100 villagers, fled to Myawaddy Town with the help of Saw P—, since they do not dare to live in the village anymore, and they are afraid that the police could come and arrest them at any moment.