Amid Continued Fighting, Lives and Property in Danger
September 9, 2011
September 6, 2011, Kyarinnseikyi Township: Local residents in Kyarinnseikkyi Township have told HURFOM reporters that continuous armed conflict in their villages threatens their livelihoods and endangers their lives.
Interviews with local residents on September 5 have revealed that fighting between the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and government forces on September 4 caused significant loss of property and put their lives in danger.
On September 4, a military column of the KNLA battalion No.16, clashed with the government’s Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) No. 453, between Myaing Thar Yar and Kyouk Gu villages, in Three Pagodas Pass Sub-township, Kyarinnseikyi Township, Kawkareik District. The LIB No. 453 has 54 men, led by Major Phyo Thant Zaw, and they had come from Kyouk Phyu Township, Arakan State, according to a military source. The fighting took place at 3:20 pm, and about 40 mortar shells were fired by the government troops. Saw-du, a 40-year-old Kyauk Gu villager, told HURFOM by phone that most of the shells landed in and around the homes of Kyauk Gu residents, causing villagers to flee to bomb shelters:
The Burmese troops fired 13 two-inch mortar shells [the mortar canon has a 2-inch opening] into the village. About 27 shells fell outside the village. Also, during and after the battle, there were about 40 explosions from 60mm mortar shells outside the village. Because our family has experienced this before, we stayed in the security hole dug under our hut. We were safe. Two mortar shells fell in succession directly on the chicken coop adjacent to the hut. The chickens were killed. And all our kitchen accessories were destroyed. If the fighting continues like this, it’s going to be really hard for us. We can’t work for our own survival without disruption and danger. We have to carefully stay informed of when the next battle is going to take place.
During the battle, the government troops of LIB No.453 split into two columns, with one facing towards the battle outside the village while the other operated directly in Kyauk Gu Village. According to locals, soldiers fired into the walls of the residents’ homes. Naw Pha Sae Sae, a woman in her 30s with three children described the damage to HURFOM:
It was as if the Burmese soldiers did not acknowledge that there are human beings living in this village. Even though the Burmese soldiers know the result of being shot is death, they fired their guns into the houses. When the soldiers left the village after the battle, cattle were found dead when we checked. Some were wounded. The owners are Man Htut Phaung and Saw Naw Phar. The front of Saw Sein Myint’s house, a 43-year old woman who lives in the center of the village, had bullet holes. The house of Grandpa Kyaw Hlaing, 64, was shot till the entire left wall of the house fell down. Some villagers lost their chickens and ducks. There were huge losses. Although the fighting this time was short, the battle was intense. Yet, we’re lucky that there were no casualties among the villagers.
Because almost everyone who lives in Kyauk Gu Village took shelter in security holes, no one was injured. However, the locals reported that after the battle, there was some bullying, looting and further destruction by the government troops of LIB No. 453. In the morning of the battle, a watch belonging to the son of U Naing Dee, a travelling businessman from Mae Ta Ve village, was taken by a soldier of LIB No. 453, along with one thousand Thai baht from the pocket of a villager’s shirt hanging at the front of a house. Saw Nay Tin, 50, a local resident, witnessed the theft and gave this account to HURFOM:
The 1,000 Thai baht belonged to Saw Nga Bain. He had hung his shirt on the verandah of his house. And I saw the Burmese soldier take the money when they came into the village. We had taken shelter in the security hole in front of his house. And later it was known that a watch was also taken away. It’s a Casio type. The owner of the watch is a youth who came from Mae Ta Ve Village. After the battle, almost everyone was affected, more or less. For daily meals and for work, the villagers are too afraid to go outside of the village. About four families moved to Three Pagoda Pass yesterday.
All villagers interviewed after the battle expressed their disappointment and despair over the ongoing state of armed conflict in Burma that has lasted three decades. It began when many of them were children and it continues to affect the new generation of today. They say the same struggles of the past continue to into the era of their new ostensibly civilian-led government. A local Christian leader gave the following comments on the villagers’ attitudes:
As we have lived through the conflicts of the past, we have become familiar with them. Because we have grown up with so fear and worry, we have become immune to it. But the battles still take place in this region and there’s a new generation. So, they have to settle down in other countries [like Thailand] which are safer and have more opportunities. But I think the main point is that under any government, if we are free to live and there are no human rights abuses, everyone in this region would be very satisfied with their lives. The civil war has still not ended yet, even in the era of this government. When are the armed conflicts in this region going to stop?
According to HURFOM’s previous reports, since 2010 7 villagers have been killed and 23 injured amid armed clashes between the government troops and the ethnic armed groups in the southern parts of Kyarinnseikkyi Township. Without an end to the war, crimes such as robbery, illegal seizure, racial discrimination, and forcing civilians to be porters or human shields on the battlefield are likely to continue in these regions.