An interview with Japanese Well internally displaced persons (IDPs)

December 4, 2019

HURFOM: Human Rights Foundation of Monland (HURFOM) conducted a short interview with internally displaced people (IDP) who fled their homes in Japanese Well due to armed conflicts that began on November 28th, between the New Mon State Party (NMSP) , the Burmese military (Tatmadaw) and the Karen Border Guard Force (BGF). Many of these internally displaced people have taken shelter at a Mon monastery in Sangkhlaburi, Kanchanaburi, Thailand.

Q: How is the current situation?

A: We are at this monastery and the soldiers have occupied our village. We came from the Japanese Well village.

Q: We’ve heard the Burmese military called you all to come back. Is that correct?

A: Yes, it is. We had to go to the village head and put our names on the list (of those who will come back to Japanese Well). We told the village head that we truly lived in the village and fled from home as we were afraid of the gunshots. The village head will submit a report to the Burmese army. Those who have not been listed yet can put their names on the list, tomorrow. The Burmese military is allowing us to return to our homes but we dare not to do so. We are worried that our children will be harmed.

Q: So you dare not go back home?

A: We dare not go back home yet. We are worried about our children’s safety. If I had not gone to the school yesterday (November 27), all of our children would be in trouble. I ran to the school and told the school teachers what was happening. I said the Burmese soldiers were invading (our village) and the situation is getting worse. So I urged the teachers to send the students back home. They sent back the students and kept some students whose home was very far from the school in the classroom.

Q: What caused the fighting?  

A: The armed clashes will be due to the territory dispute. They (the Burmese army and the Karen BGF) attacked the Mon base (in Japanese Well) and so many bullets were found scattered in the village. The houses were not attacked. But a heavy weapon exploded near my house and the explosion made an umbrella-size hole in the roof. All our housing materials were destroyed. We were at home when the heavy weapon exploded. I did not hear that any villagers were shot. They did break into houses that had Mon flags and robbed those home of their valuables. 

Q: Is the situation getting stable now?

A: The Burmese army has been calling us to return but we dare not. We aren’t afraid of them, but their guns. Schools were also closed.

Q: Who told you to go back to the village?

A: The village head came and said — now, the Burmese army has control of the village and if we don’t return to the village now, the army will not be responsible if our houses are destroyed. They will do nothing (to protect our properties). If we go back to the village and stay at home, the army is unable to occupy our houses. The village head explained this to us. (Because) the Burmese army is still in the village, the villagers don’t want to go back.

Now, (the Burmese army) has been collecting a list of all households. After collecting the list, there must be people in every house. The Burmese army said they won’t be responsible for houses that are empty. We asked the village head what can we do if the armed clashes between the New Mon State Party (NMSP) and the Burmese army breaks out again after our return, and the village head is unable to guarantee anything. Even the village head does not know if the armed clashes will (reoccur) so we dare not go back to our homes. We don’t go back. None of the villagers go back.

Q: Are there any villager who has returned?

A: Some went back home to collect things they left and gave the household list (to the Burmese army). After that, they came back to this monastery again.

Q: How have villagers prepared the household list?

A: We have to make our household on the list (collected by the Burmese army). (Our village) has 250 houses. All houses are empty. No one stays there. Every one fled from the village. If we go back, the Burmese army will (officially) acknowledge that we are villagers who really stay at that village. For those who don’t go back, if something bad happens to their houses or if others have occupied their houses, the Burmese army won’t take any responsibility.

Q: So it looks like the Burmese army controls everything, right?

A: Sure, they do. They have controlled everything. Now, the Burmese army governs the village and they will do as they like. It is impossible for us to go back home (at the moment).

As of November 30, 2019, approximately 700 internally displaced people (IDP) are at Gok Cha Mon monastery on the Thai side of the border and there another 170 IDPs in another Mon monastery. In addition some villagers have taken shelter in nearby plantations.

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