Nine villagers beaten during interrogations in northern Tenasserim; two conscripted as porters and remain missing

November 24, 2008

HURFOM, Tenasserim Township

Nine villagers were recently arrested, interrogated and beaten as suspected rebel supporters in Tenasserim Township, Tenasserim Division. Two of the men were then forced to work as porters carrying supplies for the army. They remain missing.

On October 31st at 11am, forty-five troops from Column #2 of Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) No. 15, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Ko Ko Lwin, entered Pawa-Kwin-Shay village and arrested nine men. According to an eyewitness, the men were accused of hiding an AK-47 rifle belonging to the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA). KNLA Brigade No. 4 remains active along the Thai-Burma border in Tenasserim Division. According to the same eyewitness, all the men denied possessing the weapon.

The men were then bound and publicly beaten in the center of the village. “Lt. Col Ko Ko Lwin threatened them and said that according to information he had received, an AK-47 gun was hidden by one among the nine men. He said he wanted this gun. But the arrested men seemed to have no idea about the gun. They are innocent,” said the witness. “All the arrested villagers were tied up by rope in the middle of the village. The Burmese troops accused them of being linked with the KNLA troops who are in this area. But all the men denied this each time. Many people witnessed that incident. Then, Commander Ko Ko Lwin and two of his soldiers beat the men with the butt of their rifles and also kicked them on the face with their army boots. They beat them on the back and head. The faces and heads of the men were full with blood.”

Eventually, the younger brother of one of the victims brought LIB No. 15 a homemade rifle in an attempt to placate the soldiers. The rifle is a single-shot, manually loaded black powder rifle of the type commonly used by villagers for hunting in the jungle. Lt. Col Ko Ko Lwin was not satisfied at first and continued to demand the villagers admit to hiding a KNLA AK-47. “How dare you lie to me,” a second witness quoted him as saying. “I will kill you all if I again hear you are hiding a weapon like this.”

According to the villagers, seven of the nine victims were released, including Saw Paw Lu, the elder brother of man who presented the homemade rifle. Others released include Saw Waw Dee, Saw Khaw, Saw Hla Naing, U Cho, Saw Ki and A-Phoe-Luu-Suu.

Two villagers, Saw Nyein Oo and Saw Pha Ma, were forced to accompany LIB No. 15 as porters carrying supplies. “Burmese troops took these two men along with Column #2 that evening to carry army food to Mee-Hlaung-Ai village, about three kilometers to the north of Pawa-Kwin-Shay village,” said a third witness from Pawa-Kwin-Shay. “But we have not heard news from them since they were forced to go with the troops. Their families’ are very worried for them.”

Violent abuse of villagers during interrogation, as well as forced portering, was extensively documented in November 2008 report on northern Tenasserim. Other organizations, like Earth Rights International, have also reported the frequent violent interrogation and forcible conscription of porters by battalions in the area.

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