November 23, 2011
The areas of northern Yebyu Township and southern Ye Township are home to several armed insurgent groups and are the areas of operation for at least four Burmese Army battalions, the Light Infantry Battalions’ (LIB) No.282, No.273, No.401, and Infantry Battalion (IB) No.31. This potent mix of hostile groups has led to frequent clashes between government troops and insurgent forces. For local residents, the security situation is perilous. Human rights abuses, such as arbitrary taxation, travel restrictions, forced labor, abduction, and extortion are being committed by both sides. All of this has strained the local economy, threatening the very livelihoods of the people in the region.
On 25th, September, 2011, four villagers were kidnapped by an unknown Mon rebel group and taken to Lort Taing village, where soldiers from columns No. 1 and 2 of the government LIB No.282 attacked in a surprise ambush. As a result of the sudden attack, two of the kidnapped villagers were killed, and one rebel and another villager were seriously wounded.
Lort Taing village is located near Kyauk Ka Din, Kyauk Ta Lin, and Alae Sakhan villages, in Yebyu Township, Tenasserim Division; and each village has over 300 households. The majority of villagers from those villages are dependent on the income gained from producing betel nut and rubber, along with crop cultivation. Others work in Thailand or as local merchants, trading cattle. Those villages are under largely within the zones of control of the LIB No.282 and LIB No.273, though there is frequent interference from insurgent groups as well.
According to locals who were interviewed for this story, three or four villagers were abducted by three unknown Mon rebels and taken behind the primary school of Lort Taing, in Lort Taing village, Yebyu Township. There, gunfire erupted without warning from columns No. 1 and No. 2 of LIB No.282, who were notified by local informants that the kidnapped villagers were being held at the back of the primary school by unidentified Mon rebels. The attack resulted in two villagers killed; one was killed immediately, while the other died on a truck carrying him to his home. Another surviving villager was seriously wounded and one of the Mon rebels was wounded. The two unwounded rebels were able to escape, while the injured kidnapper was arrested by the troops. At least one remaining kidnapped villager survived unscathed.
On Sept.26, 2011, Daw Mya Cho (not real name), an owner of a small shop in Kyauk Ka Din village, gave this account of the events:
Yesterday around 7 PM four villagers were taken away by three unnamed Mon rebels and kept at the back of a primary school in Lort Taing village. Of the four villagers, two villagers were Nai Kyaw Wai [not real name], 65, and his son Nai Oung Rot [not real name] from Han Gan village, Ye Township. And another one was a resident of Kyauk Ka Tin village, while the last one was from Lort Taing village. Nai Kyaw Wai and his son Nai Oung Rot, as well as the Kyauk Ka Tin resident, have their own betel nut and rubber plantations in the west of Lort Taing village, and they were in their plantations when they were taken away.
Because they found out from their informants, the Burmese troops from LIB No.282 headed straight to the place where the rebel group and four villagers were hiding and they fired right away when they saw them. So, right on the site, a villager, who is Karen and unmarried, from Lort Taing village, was shot and killed. And, two other villagers, one from Han Gan village and another one from our village, as well as a rebel, were wounded. But, Nai Oung Rot and other two rebels did not get shot or wounded, and the two other rebels fled the scene. The wounded rebel was caught by the LIB No.282’s troops.
A villager from Kyauk Talin reported on the fate of the other two wounded villagers;
After getting wounded, Nai Kyaw Wai was taken on a truck headed to his village. But, when they arrived at the entrance village of Kalaw, he died. And, another kidnapped villager, the Kyauk Ka Din villager, was wounded and taken to Ye hospital.
Because of this incident, many local residents are worried that they will be prohibited from traveling to their farms and betel and rubber plantations outside the villages soon. This is because the local residents usually face harsh 24-hour restrictions on travel outside of their villages. These orders come from the government battalions’ commanders, citing the presence of insurgent groups in the area.
A villager from Kyauk Ka Din explained the travel restrictions were a common occurrence when rebel groups were operating in the area:
Now, we are very worried that we’ll not be allowed to go to our farms and plantations to work. This is because we have been forbidden from traveling outside of our villages to our farm and plantations many times before. It’s the order from the Burmese soldiers not to go outside the villages. This happens when there is a group of rebels gathering outside the village and Burmese troops get information that the rebel groups are gathering in plantations – or after they the rebels have passed by the villages or do like this [kidnap locals].
In shock over the incident and regretful for the deaths, a Kyauk Ka Din villager added that it was wrong to inform the government soldiers of the kidnapping by the rebels:
The informants should have not reported about this to LIB No.282 because, as we heard, the bad people [rebels] did not get killed but the good people [innocent villagers] were killed. And it should not be like this. Also, this occurrence may cause us to be prevented from traveling to our farms and plantations. And maybe we’ll be too afraid to travel, as well.
It’s quite clear that these villagers’ troubles stem not just from the government troops, but from rebel groups as well. And due the constant state of conflict, the fighting puts enormous hardship on farmers who cannot travel to their fields and plantations. Cultivators in this region depend on their crops and produce for their livelihoods, which will disappear as their crops over ripen or die.
Due to the presence of various Mon, Karen, and Tavoy insurgent groups, the Burmese Army has designated Lort Taing village, along with many other villages under the administration of northern Yebyu Township and southern Ye Township, as a free fire zone – otherwise known as a “black area”. As a result, the outbreaks of violence between the government’s troops and insurgent forces take place frequently in the region, and several human rights abuses have been reported in the ongoing conflict.