Refugee Camp Destroyed As Part of Ongoing Persecution of Ethnic Minorities in Burma

Friday, August 3, 2001

A refugee camp on the Thailand/Burma border has been overrun by troops sent by the Burmese military junta.

Heavy shellfire preceded the attack on the Ler Per Hur camp just inside the Burma border which was later torched by the soldiers on December 29.

Some 300 refugees fled across the border to a temporary camp, but will be returned to Burma when the Thai government deems the situation more stable.

At the invitation of Karen and Karenni leaders, a recent Christian Solidarity Worldwide fact-finding mission uncovered fresh evidence that forced labour and human rights violations continue unabated in Burma.

During a seven-day visit to the Thai-Burmese border, the CSW team, including Baroness Caroline Cox and released prisoner of conscience James Mawdsley, interviewed scores of survivors who had been forced to work for the army in very harsh conditions.

The treatment of those forced into labour is so severe that the two Shan convict porters interviewed by the team stated that they would far prefer prison to portering for the junta.

There is also a substantial increase in the planting of landmines in Karen occupied territory in Southeast Burma such that it is now unsafe for civilians to work in their rice paddies.

A refugee from the township of Htee Moo Hta, 20km southwest of Myawaddy, told the CSW team that on November 8 2001 his wife stepped on a landmine freshly laid that morning. She died after having her left leg and arm blown off.

In an attempt to cut all resources to guerrilla resistance groups, the military dictatorship of Burma (currently known as the State and Peace Development Council (SPDC)) adopts a systematic scorched earth policy against the country's one third minority population. Villagers are driven from their homes and then prevented from returning to their villages by extensive and indiscriminate planting of landmines. Many civilians are tortured and executed at will or used as human minesweepers and bullet shields.

Over the past ten years the military junta has conscripted more than three million people, including women and children, for slave labour. Villagers are press-ganged into portering for the army or into working on construction projects, including roads and oil pipelines, where they are treated as little more than human mules.

Karenni Prime Minister General Aung Than Ley told the CSW team that recently over 4,000 Karenni civilians had been forced to build a 30 km road which runs from Maw Chi to Toungoo. One person from each household had to work every day. Construction work is virtually all carried out by hand or using very rudimentary tools. However, on the day an International Labour Organisation delegation visited the area, all forced labour was suspended. Workers were instructed to tell the delegation that there was no forced labour in Burma, or they would be imprisoned or shot.

The extent and frequency of conscription is such that farmers no longer have time to attend their rice paddies. Famine is creeping into what should be a fertile part of the country. Almost all the 50 families who lived in one all-Christian village in Toungoo district have fled to avoid starvation.

According to conservative estimates Burmese troops slaughter some 10,000 civilians each year. Most are peasants from the ethnic minorities such as the Buddhist Shan and Mon and the predominantly Christian Karen and Karenni.

A 43-year-old refugee witnessed the murder of 18 villagers, including her two cousins. The 18 were buried up to their necks in the ground and then had their throats cut open. The soldiers also burnt the villagers' homes. Out of 100, only 30 were left standing.

Another Karen woman told of the horrific death of her husband after he was captured and tortured by the Burmese soldiers. They stabbed him in the throat and ripped open his chest. When his body was found, he was still bound and his internal abdominal organs were visible.

"Whenever I think of my husband I want to cry. They did what they wanted to us villagers. If they had any resistance from the Karen National Union soldiers (the Karen resistance) they would come to us and demand payment for the weapons they had used or lost."

She finished by saying, "Prayer is the most important thing. I pray that one day I will see my children again and we can meet happily in our village. Please pray for the Karen people, that we can live safely and peacefully. Thank you for helping us. I wish I had something to give you but I have nothing."

Tens of thousands of minorities have been driven into the jungles with little food or medical care. They often go hungry and are constantly hunted like animals as they continue to eke out a fragile and precarious existence in the jungle.

Meanwhile, the international community raises few voices in protest. Western nations continue to trade with the illegitimate military regime and China provides most of Burma's military hardware supplies. Companies and multinationals like Premier Oil, Total and Triumph International continue to invest in Burma.

CSW calls on the international community firstly to refuse to accept the legitimacy of the SPDC and secondly to broker negotiations in a neutral third country between the country's one third ethnic minorities, particularly the newly constituted Ethnic Nationalities Solidarity and Cooperation Committee, and representatives of the SPDC.

CSW is also calling for Premier Oil to pull out of the gas pipeline project. The British company is holding a 27 per cent share in a gas pipeline project which has been the scene of gross human rights violations. Villagers 20 miles north and south of the pipeline have been forced to leave their homes and to labour on the project. Many are beaten and often left on the roadside to die.

James Mawdsley who spent more than a year in solitary confinement in Burma after speaking out for democracy, visited three camps on the border and children's projects which CSW helps fund.

He said: "It is terrible to look at children in the camps who you know could not possibly be a threat to anybody, and yet be aware that the military regime in Burma regards them as enemies. Whatsoever the SPDC cannot control it wishes to destroy, and that includes the culture, communities and lives of these Karen and Karenni children. It is impossible to understand."

He will be speaking at the Prayer Day for Burma 2002 on Saturday March 9 2002 at Westminster Chapel, Buckingham Gate, London SW1 6BS. The event is co-hosted by CSW in conjunction with Tear Fund, Karen Aid, Karen Action Group, Burmese Fellowship (Friends of Burma), the Committee of Internally Displaced Karen People, Christian Aware and various other Christian Non-Government Organisations, to raise awareness and to pray for the people in Burma.