SPDC battalions demand construction supplies, non-Burmese speaker tortured

September 24, 2010

HURFOM, Hpapun Township: In recent patrols by SPDC soldiers, residents of Hpapun Township were ordered to collect bamboo and roof thatch supplies. The task is increasingly time consuming as bamboo has become scarce, and cuts time residents use to provide for their livelihood. In an instance of forced portering, a porter was tortured after it was found he could not speak Burmese.

On September 1st and 12th, residents of Hpapun Township were ordered to fabricate and collect thatch roofing tiles and bamboo poles to be used for construction at State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) Light Infantry Battalions (LIBs) No. 407 and No. 701. The area is still heavily contested by Burmese units, who conduct security patrols or joint operations with the allied the Karen splinter group, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), to gather supplies and to undermine, or guard against, locally based Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) Brigade No. 5.

On September 1st, residents from Mae Tharu Khee village received orders from a patrolling LIB No. 407 unit, to fabricate thatch-roofing tiles and deliver them to the battalion on an unknown date.  The village is within a short distance of the LIB, and 70 miles south of Hpapun town. One villager, who preferred to remain anonymous, from Mae Tharu Khee village, said:

In our [village], on September 1st, LIB No. 407 which is based in Khu Thu Chaung Wa and led by Commander Aung San Lwin [who frequently cooperates on patrols with LIB No. 701] unjustly ordered the villagers [to fabricate thatch tiles], but did not pay for their labor.  They ordered us to collect one thousand byit of roofing leaves[1].  The ordered villages are Polo Chaung Wa [300], ThaByu [300], Mae Tharu Khee [300] and Kwe Nar Day [100].

Also on September 1st, villagers in Lae War Kho were arrested and forced to work as porters.  Though the reason for portering and their destination cannot be confirmed by HURFOM, one witness described a porter being tortured after he failed to respond to demands in Burmese. The commander of LIB No. 701, Thar Naing, who led the unit, became enraged after a Karen porter was unable to speak Burmese, and beat him in front of 12 other porters. The victim of the portering and torture was Maung Chan Thar, 28, who lives in Lae War Kho village, Mae Way village-track.  The following witness to the beating preferred to remain anonymous:

The Maung Chan Thar can’t speak Burmese.  How can he answer the [Burmese] questions?  Because of that, they [LIB No. 701] accused him of having no respect for them and hit him with the gun butt in front of 12 other porters.  He had very ugly wounds on his face and now a bad feeling in [the] nape of his neck can’t move it.  He is…unable to heal [his wounds].

On September 12th, about 40 members of the SPDC Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) No. 701, led by Major Thar Naing from LIB No. 701, ordered the local civilians in 4 nearby villages to cut 300 bamboo poles for repairing of their base near Mar Htaw village, located approximately 70 miles south of Hpapun town. The villages ordered to gather bamboo were Mar Htaw (20 bamboo poles), Thawar Kho (70 bamboo poles), Ka Hnyin Taw (50 bamboo poles), Thar Makyu Chaung (70 bamboo poles), and Thar Hue Chaung (50 bamboo poles). An unnamed resident, 40, from Thar Makyu Chaung village recounted the order:

The ordered bamboo poles must be sent to them on September 23rd.  They proclaimed that if we are not dutiful, we will know about them[2]. how much they will be cruel).  I don’t know what they will do.

These instances of supply demands, portering and violence, are frequent occurrences for residents of Hpapun Township, and the surrounding area[3].  These abuses, which constitute the systematic and intentional means by which Burmese battalions are able to support their own battalion and undermine the operations of Karen insurgent forces, fall most heavily on residents.

The demands for the provision of construction supplies has become increasingly burdensome in local villages, where communities are small with at most 40 households, difficult to access, and already short on resources and supplies.  In particular, bamboo has become scarce due to frequent demands for construction materials by local residents and by military units.  Young bamboo shoots are also a key part of the local diet, supplementing residents’ sustenance crops. Residents have had to spend more and more time searching for bamboo poles and transporting them back to the village, a task that can take 2 to 3 days for an entire village.  As a result villages are unable to attend to their own often hand-to-mouth livelihoods.

Residents also frequently face instances of discrimination and subsequent violence.  In these cases, violent abuses highlight the discriminatory attitude pervasive in Burmese military units. While not every Burmese solider holds such beliefs, discrimination against Karen and other ethnic minorities appears to be a systemic policy of the regime.   In relation to recent charges leveled against the regime by international bodies, these residents, being targeted for being Karen or not speaking Burmese, are violations of portions of the Rome Statute, which is used by the International Criminal Court to identify crimes against humanity.
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[1] A byit is a Burmese term referring to one full thatch roof tile.

[2] The apparent original threat was non-specific, instead implying to residents that they would know of the battalion through the cruelty of their punishment.

[3] For additional accounts of SPDC and DKBA abuse in the Hpapun area, please see the Karen Human Rights Group’s (KHRG’s) report “Central Papun District: Abuse and the maintenance of military control”.

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