Summary of a KHRG interview in Thaton District, Karen State | August 26, 2015
Below are excerpts of Karen Human Rights Group’s (KHRG) interview with Ma A—, a Karen villager who describes events occurring in her village in June 2015, including land confiscation, forced relocation, attack on a village and villagers, threatening, looting, arbitrary detention and threats to children’s right to education. The interview was conducted in Thaton District in July 2015 by a community member trained by KHRG to monitor local human rights conditions.
|Background of the Interviewee|
|Marital Status: Married|
Can you tell me how they came and destroyed your houses?
My house was beside the road. When they arrived, they stopped in front of my house.
How many police [officers] were there?
There were about 100 police [officers].
Only the police came?
It also included some civilians including the forest [Department of Forest Management officials] and other elders [government staff]. There were about a total of 150 people including civilians and police [who] came. There were a lot of people.
Who was the leading person?
They were the village head, Aung Mo, and Aung Thwin Aye; these three people.
What did they do after they came?
They appeared suddenly in the village.
Where were you at that time?
At first, we were hiding beside the bamboo trees on the mountain which is not very far from the village and we were observing them. I was watching them from far away and they came and surrounded my house and ate the food that I had in my house. I was heartbroken when I went back home [and saw that]. I went back to my home at 6:00 pm after they were gone.
What time did they come in the morning?
They came at about 9:00 am and it was on Monday [June 22nd 2015].
How did they destroy the houses?
They cut our house with a saw. They demolished our house; some destroyed the walls, some climbed up to the roof and destroyed the roof. I have three knifes and an axe in my house and they took all of them. They did not leave anything. They took all of the food and goods that I had in my shop.
What about your rice? What did they do [with it]?
I had a big tub of rice and they threw it away. Before destroying the village, they held a meeting with the villagers and they persuaded the villagers [of C—] to destroy the houses [of B— villagers]. They destroyed all of the houses which were beside the road. Some people were destroying and some people [from the police and the Burma/Myanmar government] were planting the teak plants [trees]. They planted a lot of teak plants at the same time on that day.
Did they torch the houses after they had destroyed them?
On June 22nd and 23rd they torched all the houses after they had destroyed them. Some houses were burnt down without cutting them [first], including [along with] the pots, plates and bowls [inside them]. They took all of the possessions from people’s houses. People said that they asked the other villagers who live beside the main road [in C—] to take them [the looted goods] and the [C—] villagers also took them. I told Saw P—, “Teacher! My life has been ruined. If you do not help us, there is no one who is going to help us.” I owe him gratitude and I do not know how to pay it back. Otherwise, [without his help] we, all villagers, including men and women would have been arrested and put in jail. [At the time when we were hiding in the mountain], Saw P— said, “If you want to go hide in Myawaddy, then let’s go and hide. I will send you there.” We also told him, “Where are those who produced land grants for us [KNU]? Are they not going to help us? Ask them to help us!” I would have died hiding in the mountain. One of my children was very sick. He did not have much energy and could not walk very well. It was also very rainy the whole day when we were hiding.
Did you have a raincoat?
Yes, I had [one]. There were a lot of villagers fleeing. [While we were hiding in the forest], we heard that they are going to come and arrest us in the forest. Then, we continued to flee separately. Some villagers fled up to the mountain, some villagers went to hide in the monastery and some villagers went back to their relatives’ houses. Why were they arresting the people like that regarding this land? If they [the police and government officials] had done the right thing, there would not be any problems; since they had not done the right thing, it created problems. We, the villagers, do not lie. We are telling you the truth. [For example], “If our parents love us, there will be peace [at home]. If our parents do not love us, our siblings will go their separate [ways].” Now it is like that; even the village head can’t look us in the face [for not having resolved the land problem], we had to flee separately and our lives have been ruined. We said, “Sir! Teacher! Help us, please. We do not know anything [about how to address this problem] and they [the police] have done [treated] us very badly.” Since Saw P— knows about the law, he said that he is going to help us [at first]. However, the village head said that he did not get along with him. So, it is like the person who works for the right thing and the person who does not work for the right thing cannot work together, right? That is our story.
We had to flee from them [the police] until we arrived in this place [Myawaddy], as our houses were destroyed [and burnt down] and we did not have any place of residence. When we arrived at this village, people helped us with food. We are very happy. When we came to this village, we did not have clothes and people gave us clothes.
Who gave you the clothes?
I do not know. They are from an organisation. They also supported us with rice. If the rice is gone [finished], they come and give [us] more rice. We, I thank them very much. Only if you [KHRG researcher] help us, we will have a chance to get our land back and we will be able to go back and live in our village. If there is no one who is going to help us, we will continue facing problems. We are going to encounter more challenges than now and we do not know where we are going to be sent. My parents are also getting very old and if you [researcher] do not help us, we will not make it to go back to our village. We want to report about our problem that we are facing to you since we heard you went to visit E— [B—] village. When you went to E— [B—] village, we thought that you heard the good thing [truth] only if you met with the good people. If you [met with the bad people and] listened to them, our lives were going to be ruined. Now, [we want to know] how they are going to compensate us for our loss.
How much does it cost, all of the things that they burnt down: your house and shop?
They also burnt down my small traditional house which was behind my house as well as all of the firewood that I kept under my house. They brought tires and petrol. They poured petrol around my house and burnt down my house. The price [of the destroyed assets] has been noted, it all cost 1,970,000 kyat (US $1,688.09).
That is only for the cost of your house?
Did the police take anything from your house?
Yes, they took many things from my house.
What did they take?
They took the zinc, finished timbers [that formed part of my house] and stilts that were still in good [condition after they had destroyed my house]. They took all of the valuable things. They left only the things which are not valuable and they kept them [the non-valuables] beside the road and the other villagers came and took them [for themselves]. I did not go and take any of it as I did not want it anymore. What I want [from the police] now is to get back our land. Please try [advocating] for us until we get back our lands. We have our land grants [that were] produced by the KNU, but they [the police still] did this to us. Therefore, we ask teacher [Saw P—] to help and he said that there are some people [NGOs] who are going to help us [to get back our lands]. I do not know any other people [organisation]. I have never been here in Myawaddy. This is my first time coming here.
Now I met with you [researcher] and told you all about it. You can analyse whether it is right or wrong after you listen to it. [You can] leave it [be] if it is not right. What we want from them now is to give compensation for our lives which have been ruined by them.
Who are they?
I mean those who burnt down our houses. Please help us make them arrange places of residence for us. We want to go back and live on our land. We were asked to go live beside Shwe Wa Htun road [Shwe Ni area, Kaw Yin A Htet village tract] and we were asked to draw lots [for plots of land there]. We do not want to draw lots because we do not want to go live there. I do not own any land [in C— village]. If you do not believe me, you can check my name in the Hpa-an [Township] office. I am not lying. My husband also had asked me to go and live in his village [in Bilin Township] but I did not want to go live in his village. I have been living in my village [B—] for 44 years. I was born in my village and I am also going to die in my village. Therefore, I do not want to go live in other people’s village.
What I want to say to you is that my husband has not done any mistake. Why did they arrest him? It has been one month already. They have not let us know why he was arrested.
What about your father? Was he released?
No, he has also not been released yet. All of the 25 villagers are still in jail. When I talked to my father over the phone, he told me that he was sick and had a headache and he was going to die in the jail. He said that he did not have good health. And he asked me, “What are you going to do [to get us out of jail]? Are we going to continue being held in jail?” My father is someone who gets frightened easily and is a quiet person. He does not drink and smoke.
What were the villagers working on for their livelihoods?
They were working on hill farms and on paddy fields. Mostly, they are working at hill farming.
What did you work on?
I worked on hill farming. Now, people [wealthy individuals] have planted rubber trees [on the hill that we used for farming] and it became a rubber plantation. We do not have any place to work for hill farming. There is also no hill forest. Currently, there is no paddy field left, either. They said that the paddy field land was the forest land. I told them that I do not know when you recognised the paddy field as forest land. You did not let us know about it. The paddy fields which we used to work on in the past now became rubber plantations, rich people’s lands and forest lands. Therefore, we, the villagers, do not have any place to work. We depend on the KNU [to solve this problem for us].
What do you want to add, in terms of the fact that your house has been destroyed?
What I want to say is that we [villagers and police] need to get along with each other so that we will have a chance to go back and live in our village. They also must guarantee that they will not disturb us and allow us to go back and live in our village and release those who are in jail because they have not done anything wrong, right? That is all I want. Now, we have to stay away, far from our parents [who are in C— village]. We could not have regular meals in the past [after the village was burnt down and before we arrived in Myawaddy]. We could [only] have regular meals when we arrived here. When we were fleeing, we could not have meals. We had to flee the whole day. We had to ask for rice from other people’s houses, to say, “I am very hungry, can you provide me a meal?” I also felt shy and didn’t dare eat very much, the way we wanted to. We also didn’t dare go back home to cook [our own] rice. That is what I have experienced. To be honest, l don’t dare to go back [to my village] now. I am so disappointed [in the Burma/Myanmar government and police].
How many villagers came to stay here [in Myawaddy]?
There are a total of about 50 villagers who have come to stay here.
Are there any students [villagers’ children] who came here, as well?
There are six students who came here with us.
How is their schooling?
They are missing school for this year. If we can go back to our village, they will be able to continue their schooling. If we cannot go back, they will not. They have been attending their school for only two or three weeks [this year] before the conflict started. Since the conflict started, they were not able to go to school.
Was there a school in your village?
A school has already been built in our village. The day that the school just had been built [finished being constructed], the police came and arrested the villagers.
Did they destroy the school?
Yes, they burnt down it. They destroyed [everything,] including the teacher’s house, school tables, and desks. We had collected 2,000 kyat (US $1.71) per house to build that school. But they destroyed all of it. You will not see any stilts from the house left in the village because they have dug out all of them and then made the land plain. They said that they did not want to see any piece of wood left. Now, they have planted teak trees all over the land, which [still only] have two leaves [since they are young]. They started planting the teak trees on June 22nd 2015.
Do you want to add anything else which I have not questioned you about?
This was all [I wanted to mention] about my feelings. [I would like to know] how they are going to arrange our place of residence, the compensation for what they have burnt down; our houses including the chickens, which the police shot to eat. I had 40 chickens that I raised in my house. When I got into the car [to come to Myawaddy], I saw that my pigs, dogs and chickens were running around and the police shot them to eat them. We thought that police are doing this to us and there will be someone who is going to help us so we decided to come and stay here. We asked help from our teacher. He is our kyay zu shin. Now, we meet with you [researcher] and you are also our kyay zu shin. We will not forget our gratitude to anyone if we have the chance to go back and live in our village. The people who help us are Karen people, not the Burmese people.
Thank you so much.
Yes, thank you.