FBR REPORT: The Enemy on the Road — Life in Northern Karen State

FBR REPORT: The Enemy on the Road — Life in Northern Karen State
Karen State, Burma
29 January, 2009
Dear friends,

Thanks for your love and prayers. Thanks too for all of your support and your encouragement. It means a lot to us here and lifts us up. We cannot do this work alone and are grateful to be on the same team.

Burma Army Car Roads
Here in Northern Karen State, the Burma Army continues to shoot and kill people, to rape and to destroy, to dominate and to hold on to other people’s land. In the past two months its main focus has been to move supplies and troops to its camps. The Burma Army has not launched any major offensives here in the north since its attacks in Mone Township, Nyaunglebin District between September and November 2008. However, because of where the new roads have been placed and the troops and camps on these roads, many villagers who fled during the height of the offensive (which displaced 30,000 people) in 2006 and 2007 still cannot go home. The roads not only enable the Burma Army to stock their camps and project their power more rapidly through the area, they also serve as formidable barriers to people trying to cross them. The roads cut through farms and villages, displacing all people along their axis, and separating communities from each other. The roads are patrolled and mined by the Burma Army, and thus act as barriers to travel, trade and the sending of relief. During this mission we have had to cross two of these roads to bring humanitarian assistance to people in need. With the help of the Karen Resistance (Karen National Union pro-democracy ethnic resistance group) we were able to cross the first road without incident. However, three days before we planned to cross the second road a Burma Army patrol shot and killed one Karen soldier and wounded another as they were trying to help villagers cross the same road. Again, with the help of the local resistance, we and IDPs who also needed to go were able to cross the second road, and to avoid the Burma Army.
The Enemy on the Road
Before we actually crossed this second road, we went to do a reconnaissance of a Burma Army camp and a road they had built in 2007. We sent most of our relief team to a nearby IDP site to give medical treatment and do a Good Life Club (GLC) program for women and children and then took a small team to photograph the Burma Army camps and road. This is a road that connects the town of Toungoo in the plains to the northwest to the Kyauk Kyi — Hsaw Hta road (please see map) that runs west to east and cuts through the middle of northern Karen State. The valley we went to is called Ler Mu Plaw and was once a major rice producing area for this region.

Map of area showing new Burma Army car roads (FBR)

From the side of a ridge we looked out over the now empty valley with charred remains of houses dotted across abandoned rice fields. One end of the valley was guarded by a Burma Army camp on a hill, and a road ran from the camp both ways. The southern extension ran south to connect to another road and camp network, and on to the Kyauk Kyi-Hsaw Hta road. To the north the road runs through the mountains and to the plains and the city of Toungoo. As we watched, a Burma Army column of about 100 troops marched north from a camp that dominates the Ler Mu Pla valley. At the northern end of the valley, and also on the road, was another column waiting to meet them. The Burma Army troops moved in a long column and trooped up the road though the valley cleared of all Karen villages. It was an empty valley, save for them.

Burma Army column moves on new road through Ler Mu Plaw valley (FBR)
Burma Army column moves on new road through Ler Mu Plaw valley (FBR)

Burma Army on road near burned house in Ler Mu Plaw (Partners)
Burma Army on road near burned house in Ler Mu Plaw (Partners)

This was the same road that we would have to cross later and, unbeknownst to us, at this time families were trying to cross this very road eight miles to the north. Two Karen soldiers went ahead to check the road and to provide security for the families and were attacked by Burma Army troops who were hiding on the edge of the road. When we got back to the Karen IDP site where we had started that morning we heard that the Burma Army had killed one Karen soldier and wounded another. Both soldiers were shot in the road while checking to see if it was safe for the villagers to cross. When the shooting started the villagers trying to cross the road ran back and escaped. After the recon, and on the way to link up with the GLC/medical treatment team, we met the wounded soldier who had been trying to help people across the road when his fellow soldier was killed and he was shot. He was being treated by one of our medics and the local staff of the mobile clinic in this area. He said the Burma Army was waiting on the road, but he did not see them. He and his friend were standing on the road, radioing ahead. They were getting ready to bring the IDPs across when the Burma Army opened fire, shooting his friend to the ground and shooting at him. He tried to return fire but his ageing weapon jammed after the first shot. He ran to help his friend, grabbed him by the shoulder and tried to drag him off the road. His friend was hit again and killed and at the same time he himself was hit twice causing him to drop his radio. He let go of his now dead friend and ran off the road. He was helped by other Karen soldiers who were protecting the IDP sites and villages nearby. He was carried to where our team was doing the program for IDPs. One of our medics treated him and he was carried to a clinic.
On the way back to the clinic, we met a family with all their belongings. We knew each other as I had stayed in the village and they had seen us and our teams many times throughout the years. They said that because of the attacks of the Burma Army they could not stay in their homes any more. They were now fleeing further south where they hoped would be a safer place and where they could continue farming. We gave them some help for their journey and prayed with them. And, even though we were all unhappy that they were leaving their homes, it was good to see each other on the way.

We then continued on to the clinic where the soldier was being treated. He was in stable condition and while the medics cared for him we prayed for him and his wife, who was also there.
He was in pain but only asked us for a new radio and new uniform as his pants were ruined by the gunshots. The medics said they would leave both bullets in his leg as they had missed any vital organs and that he would make a full recovery. (As of this report he is steadily improving). We then went on and re-united with the GLC/medical treatment team. This team was just finishing up the treatment of patients and had handed out relief supplies.

Karen, Karenni, Shan, PaO, Kachin, Arakan and Chin medics give medical and dental treatment for IDPs (FBR)
Karen, Karenni, Shan, PaO, Kachin, Arakan and Chin medics give medical and dental treatment for IDPs (FBR)

Mary Wah: The Human Cost

We played a soccer game with the people from the village and then, after that, one of the families came asking for a medic. They said that there was a lady named Mary Wah who was very sick, and that she apparently had overdosed on the anti-malarial drug quinine. It looked like she had tried to kill herself and was now in very bad condition. We were told her husband had stepped on a landmine two months earlier and died, and that she was in despair. (This was on the same road we had just looked at and the same one on which the Karen soldier had been wounded and his friend killed). We were told that two months ago in November 2008, the husband was crossing the road and stepped on a landmine which blew his leg off. In his agony he killed himself with his hunting rifle. His wife, Mary Wah, had now tried to kill herself. Even though she had a seven month-old son, she did not want to live. One of our team members from Partners who was part of the team that went to help her wrote the whole story down and this is his report:

“Mary Wah is from Htee Po Lo, the oldest of 9 children. On November 11, 2006, at 11:10 am, Burma Army troops came to their village. They burned down 12-18 homes, shot and wounded one villager, and destroyed all their rice barns. Mary Wah, her family, and all the other villagers escaped unharmed but lost all of their possessions and homes. Mary Wah and her friends finished the school year in the jungle.
Her husband is from De Mee Hkee. They got married when she was 15 on May 24, 2007. Because of Burma Army activities they moved to their current hide site to try and survive. 7 months ago Mary Wah gave birth to a healthy baby boy.

Two months ago, Her husband Mo Chi Wah went to a nearby village for supplies. While on his way back home he stepped on a Burma Army landmine and died. The following day his body was found by other villagers.

On 13 January 2009, Mary Wah ate 50 quinine pills, 20 aspirin, and 30 antibiotic capsules. She was found on the floor of her bamboo hut by her neighbor. When our team arrived [where?] Eliya, Doh Say, and Tha U Wa A Pa were asked to come and help her. Our head medic, Eliya, arrived at her house around 10pm. She was in shock with low blood pressure. He administered medicine and got her on an IV. Tha U Wa A Pa and Doh Say prayed that God would heal her and minister to her. Her life was saved.

Doh Say and I went to pray for her the next morning. Later that day Tha U Wa A Pa and Tha Ka Paw Doh also went to pray with her and encourage her that God loved her, that many people, like her family and our team loved her, that God had special things for her to do, and that she was needed.

The night before we left, Doh Say and I went to pray with her again. I had a lot of things to do that day and was tired. I didn’t feel like going back across the river to meet her. Then Doh Say turned to me and said “You gave your word.” I felt convicted that I must do my duty, ashamed that I almost didn’t, and grateful that we did.

We brought her sweet cakes and milk. I talked to her mother who was there to help her and then bring her home when she recovered. Her mother said: “after her husband died she became helpless. She could not care for or feed her son.” Mary said “I felt very confused. I could not cope. I decided to kill myself.” Now as we talked and prayed she smiled and seemed encouraged.

I made her a bracelet with colors that symbolized God’s love . We gave her some help to take care of her son and I told her I would remember and pray for her. I prayed with her and Doh Say affirmed the value of her life as a child of God, a mother, and a woman with a future. As we left her parents told us, “Thank you so much and please come back when you can”.

The next day we and our teams crossed this same road to continue the relief mission in northwestern Nyaunglebin District and southern Toungoo District, also known as K2. To reach the crossing point, we had to go through the Baw Kaw Pla Valley, that once held four Karen villages and high yield rice fields. On our last visit here, in 2006, we had visited these villages and the village schools and seen the local boarding school with over of 75 children from outlying areas in attendance. Even then, however, the Burma Army had established two camps that are on ridges overlooking the valley and had begun shelling the villages, especially targeting the school. After a year of constant shelling and casualties (including the boarding school headmaster), the villagers gave up and evacuated. Now the villages and schools are gone, along with almost all of the houses. The jungle is rapidly claiming the rice fields, gardens and orchards. A covered bridge at the entrance to what was the village still bears the sign “Gate of Hope”.

Gate of Hopeat abandoned school site (FBR)
'Gate of Hope'at abandoned school site (FBR)

Because crossings of the car roads are so difficult, villagers must often wait for days, or even months, to successfully cross the roads. On the day we crossed, many villagers from both the north and south sides of the road crossed with us, carrying the children too young to walk, along with loads of belongings or things to sell in the neighboring regions. The KNU provides security, clearing for landmines before the crossing and securing both sides of the road as the people cross.

Families run across the road during car road crossing (FBR)
Families run across the road during car road crossing (FBR)

In the area we visited here there are over 9,000 people in hiding. We split the teams into three groups to try to cover most of this area. We went from village to village and hide site to hide site to provide medical and other care. The teams treated over 2,000 patients and gave out blankets, mosquito nets, clothes, and Good Life Club-mother and child packs. continue http://www.freeburmarangers.org/Reports/2009/20090128.html

KNU overrules local officials, halts logging after SPDC general harvests 2,500 tons

Wed 28 Jan 2009, IMNA
District level authorities from the Karen National Union (KNU) have ordered Htay Company, owned by Major General Hla Htay Win, to halt logging in the Makate Forest near Three Pagodas Pass. The halt order overrules local officials and military officers, who had permitted Htay Company to harvest over 2,500 tons of ironwood.

The 50,000 acre Makate Forest, one of the largest remaining large-timber forests in Burma’s southeastern border area, stands inside KNU Dooplaya District. The KNU and Brigade 6 of its armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), have strictly controlled the forest with local villagers reporting that they are not allowed to log or even hunt within its reaches.

At the advent of the 2008 rainy season, however, Htay Company purchased logging rights from officials from Kyainnseikyi township administrative offices, the Dooplaya District Forestry Department and Battalion No. 17 of Brigade 6. The company began logging after the rains subsided in November, harvesting over 2,500 tons of timber in just two months.

The logging distressed local villagers, who felt that a forest they had been watching over for generations was being destroyed. In December, 5 representatives from 20 villages in the area drafted a complaint letter to the Dooplaya District Committee, which overseas the area.

According to Saw Liston, Dooplaya District Secretary, the villagers timed their letter to arrive on December 29th, immediately before a regularly scheduled forestry meeting involving district and township level officials. “Local villagers wrote a letter because they have protected this forest since before their grandmothers and grandfathers were alive,” Saw Liston told IMNA. “They said ‘the KNU is trading our heritage for money from the Htay company. Later, will the KNU also eat our rice?’”

Before receiving the letter, district level KNU authorities had not been aware of the logging by Htay Company, Saw Liston said, and in the subsequent meeting the Dooplaya District Committee ordered the logging to be halted. “Htay Company had an agreement with lower level district officials, but of this we did not know. When the villagers reported to us, we found out and then we discussed it in our meeting.”

Though the logging has halted, the Htay Company is being permitted to remove trees that have already been cut. “As our lower officers already made an agreement with the Htay Company, we will allow them to remove the trees they already cut,” Saw Liston told IMNA. “But we will not give them permission to cut any more trees. They have until May to remove their trees. This information has been informed to the Htay Company.”

In spite of the premature end to the timber project, Htay Company stands to make significant income. According to Htay Company sources, the large trees – each at least 15 feet in circumference and weighing 2 to 3 tons – fetch 30,000 baht per ton. Timber from the Makate forest, however, is likely destined to fetch an even higher price. According to a truck driver who is transporting timber for Htay Company, the trees are being transported to Abit village in Mudon Township, Mon State, where it is transferred and continues on for export from Rangoon.

According to an IMNA source in the Three Pagodas Pass Special Branch Police, Htay Company is owned by Major General Hla Htay Win, the former Rangoon Commander who was recently named Chief of Military Training.

With 10,000 acres and 2,500 tons of timber harvested – one fifth of the Makate forestland – local villagers left with the short end of the stick described the cultural and environmental impacts of the logging. “When the Htay Company cuts even one ironwood tree, it is very big and it destroys all the small trees around when it falls,” said one area resident. “And they [Htay loggers] leave all the branches from the trees they cut. They just leave the branches and there will fires in the hot season.”

Danish Development Minister Ulla Toraes was in Burma last week—the highest ranking member of the European Union to visit military-ruled Burma in two decades.

Ulla Toraes and her delegation visited for two days, from January 21-22, accompanied by a Norwegian minister, Erik Solheim, the minister for environment and development.

Burma’s state-run-newspaper, The New Light of Myanmar, reported on January 22 that the two ministers held a meeting with the Myanmar Red Cross Society, led by its president Prof Thar Hla Shwe.

Officials from the International Committee of the Red Cross, International Federation of Red Cross and Denmark Red Cross Society also attended the meeting, the newspaper reported. continue http://www.irrawaddy.org/article.php?art_id=15022

Tensions Between Wa, Junta Continue to Rise

Tensions between the Burmese military and the United Wa State Army (UWSA) have been mounting since a 30-member Burmese delegation led by Lt-Gen Ye Myint, the chief of Military Affairs Security, was forced to disarm during a visit to Wa-held territory in Shan State on January 19, according to sources in the area.

Aung Kyaw Zaw, a Burmese analyst based on the Sino-Burmese border, said that the visiting Burmese military officials and accompanying soldiers were told to disarm as they entered Wa-controlled territory to attend a meeting with the UWSA at their headquarters of Panghsang.

According to Mai Aik Phone, who observes Wa affairs, the purpose of the visit was to allow Burmese military leaders to learn how to launch an effective election campaign in the area in 2010. However, sources said that discussions were limited to plans to develop the local economy.

Since last year’s referendum on a military-drafted constitution, the Burmese regime has been sending delegations to different parts of the country to drum up support for an election slated to be held in 2010. The regime claimed to have won overwhelming approval for its new charter, despite charges that the referendum was rigged. continue

Artillery Battalion Shifter to Northern Arakan from Burma Proper

Buthidaung: An artillery battalion was recently moved to northern Arakan from Burma proper to provide reinforcement of military forces on the western Burmese border, said a military source.
Artillery Battalion 378 was re-stationed in the Tet Min Chaung area, a few miles from downtown Buthidaung in northern Arakan.

The battalion was reportedly shifted along with heavy arms and tanks from Rangoon Division last month. Local sources confirmed that the artillery battalion arrived at Buthidaung from Rangoon last month along with heavy artillery, including several cannons that have been placed on army vehicles.

The army authority confiscated a plot of land for the battalion about one mile square from local farmers. A witness said that many buildings have been constructed on the land and many heavy arms are being placed there.

The military authority is currently building the strength of the military in the area of western Burma with army battalions and other government forces.

According to an army source, 13 battalions, including LIBs 551, 552, 345, 352,353, 535, 536,565,564 and 537, are already stationed in Buthidaung Township along with the No. 15 Military Operation Planning Bureau and No. 3 Military Tactical Planning Bureau. The military authority is also constructing a military airbase in the area.

The military analyst said that the Burmese military government has extended troops along the western border recently despite that there are no strong insurgent groups in the area. It is believe that the reinforcements are intended to balance the scale of power with neighboring Bangladesh.

UN envoy should push junta for free and fair polls in 2010: KIO

Written by KNG
Tuesday, 27 January 2009 18:52
A senior leader of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) said, the United Nations (UN) envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari should push the ruling junta to hold free and fair elections in 2010, during his visit to the country soon.

Gambari’s visit to Burma is aimed at discussing political reconciliation in the Southeast Asian nation and was announced on January 26 by the UN office in New York. During his earlier visit in August, 2008, he was denied a meeting with the junta supremo Senior General Than Shwe while democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi who is under house-arrest in Rangoon, spurned his efforts to meet her.
Dr. Manam Tu Ja, Vice-president No. II of KIO and Chairman of Kachin State Interim Committee (KSIC) which was formed in preparation for the 2010 elections by forming a Kachin state political party, told KNG today, “Gambari can advise the ruling junta to obey the wishes of the majority of the Burmese people while it is implementing the seven-step roadmap. He should not only suggest to the junta to hold free and fair elections in 2010 but also that the election rules should be accepted by the public.” continue

Japan pilots Mekong development plan

By Hiroshi Yamazaki
UPI Correspondent
Tokyo, Japan — Japan is looking toward five countries along the Mekong River as potential partners and investment opportunities amid the shifting economic and political dynamics of the region and the world. Japanese Foreign Minister Hirobumi Nakasone visited Cambodia and Laos earlier this month to deliver development assistance and strengthen ties with these two countries.
In Cambodia Nakasone handed over Japan-made demining machines, used to locate and destroy anti-personnel landmines, and offered assistance to fight infectious diseases and renovate irrigation facilities. In Laos, he offered financial aid of 1.2 billion yen (US$13.5 million) for clearing unexploded landmines and helping flood disaster victims.

It was former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who decided to prioritize the Mekong region for Japanese assistance for three years starting in 2007. This will be the final year of that program.

In addition to Laos and Cambodia, the other three countries are Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand.

Apart from Thailand, these countries are less developed and politically less democratic than the other members of the Association for Southeast Asian Nations, to which they all belong.

Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam, though showing high annual growth rates ranging from 8 to 13 percent, remain the least developed among ASEAN states in terms of per capita gross domestic product. Top of the four, Vietnam’s US$836 per capita GDP is roughly half that of the Philippines, according to ASEAN statistics.

Vietnam tops the four in other indexes as well: annual GDP is US$71 billion, more than five times higher than the second, Myanmar; Vietnam’s total trade volume of US$110 billion was ten times higher than Myanmar’s. continue http://www.upiasia.com/Economics/2009/01/27/japan_pilots_mekong_development_plan/1288/