KHRG:Living conditions for displaced villagers and ongoing abuses in Tenasserim Division

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Villagers in SPDC-controlled parts of Tenasserim Division, including 60 villages forced to move to government relocation sites in 1996, continue to face abuses including movement restrictions, forced labour and arbitrary demands for 'taxation' and other payments. In response, thousands of villagers continue to evade SPDC control in upland jungle areas. These villagers report that they are pursued by Burma Army patrols, which shoot them on sight, plant landmines and destroy paddy fields and food stores. This report primarily draws on information from September 2009. Because KHRG has not released a field report on the region since 2001, this report also includes quotes and photographs from research dating back to 2007.
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   Report from the field October 29 th 2009 / KHRG #2009-F19 Living conditions for displaced villagers and ongoing abusesin Tenasserim Division Villagers in SPDC-controlled parts of Tenasserim Division, including 60 villages forced to move togovernment relocation sites in 1996, continue to face abuses including movement restrictions, forced labour and arbitrary demands for ‘taxation’ and other payments. In response, thousands of villagerscontinue to evade SPDC control in upland jungle areas. These villagers report that they are pursued by Burma Army patrols, which shoot them on sight, plant landmines and destroy paddy fields and food stores. This report primarily draws on information from September 2009. Because KHRG has not released a field report on the region since 2001, this report also includes quotes and photographs fromresearch dating back to 2007. Tenasserim Division is Burma’s southernmostregion, bordered by the Andaman Sea to thewest and Thailand to the east. Fairly narrowand never more than 60 miles (97 kilometres)across, the 400 mile (644 kilometre) longdivision constitutes a narrow peninsula, sharedwith Thailand and pointing towards Malaysia.The northern end of the division, Kaw Te HgahTownship, has received extensive internationalcoverage for abuses related to the Yadana andYetagun gas projects, 1 both owned byinternational energy companies, as all well asthe government-owned Kanbauk to MyaingKalay gas pipeline. 2  Abuses in areas of Tenasserim Division southof the pipeline area have received littlecoverage, however, belying the degree to which human rights continue to be consistentlyviolated by the Burma Army. 3 In 1996, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) 4   1 Earth Rights International began publicizing abuses related to the Yadana project with the release of the report Total Denial  in July 1996, later pursuing a litigation strategy in the United States that spread to Belgium and France.The group has continued to release reports on pipeline related abuses since 1996. Most recently, see Total Impact:The Human Rights, Environmental, and Financial Impacts of Total and Chevron's Yadana Gas Project in Military- Ruled Burma , September 2009; Getting it Wrong: Flawed ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ and MisrepresentationsSurrounding Total and Chevron's Yadana Gas Pipeline in Military-Ruled Burma (Myanmar) , September 2009.KHRG also documented abuses related to the pipeline project. See, “Ye-Tavoy area update,” January 1996; “Effectsof the gas pipeline project,” May 1996. 2 See,  Laid Waste: Human rights along the Kanbauk to Myaing Kalay gas pipeline , Human Rights Foundation of Monland, May 2009. 3 For the most recent report by KHRG dedicated to documenting abuses in Tenasserim Division, see  A Strategy of Subjugation: The Situation in Ler Mu Lah Township, Tenasserim Division , KHRG, December 2001.This photo, taken on September 19 th 2009 in Ler MuLah Township, shows a bullet wound sustained bySaw G--- two weeks after SPDC LIB #557 openedfire on him and ten other villagers as they returnedfrom working on their paddy field. [Photo: KHRG]   2 began forcibly relocating thousands of villagers to government-controlled areas. A decade later,villagers still living in these sites, as well as villagers in previously existing villages in nearbyareas, report exploitative abuses including forced labour, arbitrary ‘taxation,’ movementrestrictions and punishment as alleged supporters of the Karen National Union (KNU). Becauseof abuses such as these, thousands of villagers and internally displaced people (IDPs) continueto pursue life hiding in areas not under State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) control.These villagers report that they are targeted by the Burma Army, which works to create livingconditions so untenable that villagers are forced to move to villages under SPDC control. Conditions for villagers evading SPDC control This photo, taken on September 19 th 2009 in Ler Mu Lah Township, shows the injured arm of SawE---, who was shot by an Burma Army patrol inApril 2009. Though nearly seven months after theincident, his arm had yet to heal. Saw E--- toldKHRG he would like to help his parents on their hillside paddy field, but is prevented from doing so by the injury. [Photo: KHRG]  This photo, taken during the 2007 rainy season inTenasserim Division, shows a child as he goes intoshock from a high fever. Malaria and dengue fever are endemic in the area. IDPs and villagers in hidingoften have access only to irregular health services provided by mobile health teams that launchoperations from Thailand. [Photo: KHRG]   Tenasserim Division is home to relatively fewer displaced villagers in hiding when comparedwith other Karen areas, such as the northern districts of Toungoo, Nyaunglebin and Papun.More than 3,900 people remain in hiding, 5 however, and villagers continue to report abusessimilar to those suffered by IDPs hiding elsewhere in Karen State. SPDC Army soldiers patrolnon-SPDC controlled areas for IDPs, destroying plantations, hill fields, homes and food stores.Patrols in Tenasserim Division also operate on a shoot-on-sight policy, and villagers reportbeing shot at by the Burma Army while working at their farms and plantations, while walking andstaying inside their villages. The SPDC also continues to make extensive use of unmarkedlandmines, as does the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA, the armed wing of the KNU),though to a lesser degree.On September 2 nd 2009, for instance, a group of 11 IDP villagers were attacked as theyreturned from their hill fields near Ht--- village, Ler Mu Lah Township, Tenasserim Division. At4:00 pm, the group, along with a KNLA escort, encountered 100 soldiers from SPDC LightInfantry Battalion (LIB) #557, which opened fire upon sighting them. All but one of the villagerswere able to safely flee. The 11 th , Saw G---, was wounded in the leg, but was able to escape 4 The SLORC changed its name to the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) in 1997, but the changes weremostly cosmetic; in Karen areas, trends in abuse continued much as before. 5    Internal Displacement and International Law in Eastern Burma, Thailand Burma Border Consortium, October 2008. It is important to note that the numbers in this report are, in October 2009, more than a year old.   3 after the KNLA soldier stayed behind to fire on and delay LIB #557. Villagers told KHRG thatthey found the dead body of the KNLA soldier the next day.Like IDPs elsewhere in Karen areas, villagers hiding in Tenasserim Division continue to employa variety of strategies to resist abuse by the SPDC army, including using flight to avoid SPDC-control and advanced preparation of hiding sites and food storage to make this evasion moreeffective. 6 Below is an extended quote from Naw R---, who lives in N--- village, Te Naw Th’riTownship, in which she describes her experience fleeing from Burma Army patrols and themeasures she and her husband have since taken to prepare for future flight. The interview tookplace during May 2007; it has not previously been published by KHRG: “Because of the operation of SPDC soldiers we dare not to live in our own village. Wealways have to move to another new place. We’re afraid of them [SPDC soldiers] because if they see us they might use us as porters or shoot us. I came to escape hereat N--- village last year… We had to swim and cross the river from N--- village to Ht---village because our boat was broken. We slept in Ht--- village for one night; we were introuble, and there were no places to sleep… [The next day] SPDC soldiers came to thisvillage [Ht---] and started to shoot at the villagers. We were very worried and had to[leave and] find our own safe place. I couldn’t carry my children and bags. It was raining a lot so we couldn’t run very far. Pa Ht--- [her neighbour] could carry just one blanket.We had to run as fast as we could. We almost lost our way. There were five familiesaltogether. One of my neighbours lost his child because he had to carry things and histhree children also. After that we became separated in groups and couldn’t find eachother… We ran without stopping until we reached a safe place. It was beside thestream. There was no food this time. Mosquitoes kept biting us. I felt very sad for my children. A leech bit my husband. We stayed hiding ourselves here until we knew that the SPDC soldiers had gone away from us… Regarding the issues [described above],we decided to build a secret hut for our family deep in the jungle. If the soldiers come,then we run immediately to our own hut.”  This photo, taken during August 2007 inTenasserim Division, shows a shelter prepared byvillagers to keep paddy and other food stores from being destroyed by Burma Army patrols. [Photo: KHRG]  This photo, taken during June 2007 in Ler Mu LahTownship, shows boats belonging to villagersattending a memorial service for five people whohad recently been killed by landmines. Villagers inthe area travel primarily by boat because landminesmake overland travel too dangerous. [Photo: KHRG]   6 For more on the strategies villagers use to resist abuse, see Village Agency: Rural rights and resistance in amilitarized Karen State , KHRG, November 2008.   4 In spite of the difficult conditions in which they live, villagers have also described attempts tomaintain their sense of community. In the quote below, Saw B--- describes how he and other villagers from the T--- village area responded to 5 villagers being killed by landmines by holdinga memorial service, in spite of danger from SPDC activity in their area. The interview took placein June 2007; it has not previously been published by KHRG: “The situation here is very bad and unstable. SPDC soldiers put landmines around our  paddy fields and betel nut plantations. Very recently, five villagers accidentally stepped on landmines and died. We did not even dare to go and carry them to the village. Wewere very upset by this, so we held a memorial service for them… The SPDC soldiershave lots of movement in this area. They never leave the villagers alive; they just shoot us when they see us. Even if we are not their enemies they shoot at us. Last year they came to our village many times. We had to flee and find our own safe places. But after they left we went back to our village. They [the SPDC soldiers] destroyed and burnt our  paddy fields.”    Life in SPDC-controlled villages and relocation sites In September 1996, concurrent with an offensive against Karen National Liberation Army(KNLA, the armed wing of the KNU) positions in Tenasserim Division and Dooplaya District, theSLORC forcibly relocated thousands of villagers to government controlled relocation sites.Affected areas included more than 40 densely populated villages between the Andaman coastand Tenasserim River, from Palauk in northern Ler Mu Lah Township to Tenasserim Town in TeNaw Th’ri Township. Another 20 villages were forcibly located form areas south of TenasserimTown. Villagers were ordered to relocate to sites near the north-south Tavoy-Mergui motor road, or near majority ethnic-Burman villages near the southern end of the Tenasserim River. 7  More than ten years later, villagers in these relocation sites as well as other villages in SPDCcontrolled parts of Tenasserim Division report exploitative abuse and movement restrictions thatmake meeting livelihood needs intensely difficult. In the area around the Le Nya SPDC Armycamp in Te Naw Th’ri Township, for instance, villagers report abuses including forced labour and cash payments for building army facilities. On September 5 th 2009, SPDC soldiers from LIB#559 based in Le Nya under the command of officer Aung Myint Lin ordered the head of nearbyM--- village to send them two porters to carry army equipment. The village head told KHRGafter his village provided the porters that he had no knowledge of where they had gone.Elsewhere in Te Naw Th’ri Township, on September 20 th 2009 LIB #561 based at Tone Dawordered villagers from T---, N--- and B--- village tracts to provide 40 porters. These village tractsare made up of a total of 20 villages, each of which was ordered to send two people. Before theporters were actually sent to Tone Daw, however, the villagers were informed that they shouldsend cash payment for the hire of porters in lieu of sending actual people. The villages wereinstructed to collect a total of 1.6 million kyat (approx. US $1,516) and deliver it to the armycamp at Ler Ker, Te Naw Th’ri Township. Villagers subsequently told KHRG researchers thatthey do not believe the money will be used for hiring porters. These villagers said that this kindof incident happens at least twice a year; they are required to both make payments allegedly for hiring porters, and work as unpaid porters themselves.Residents of relocation sites have also complained of exploitative abuses, which weighespecially heavy because villagers at these sites live under restricted conditions that drasticallylimit their ability to support themselves, let alone meet SPDC demands for forced labour and 7 For more on this forced relocation, see “Free-fire zones in southern Tenasserim,” KHRG, August 1997.
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