HURFOM: “Have you seen anyone from the Mon rebel group?” “No.” “You are Mon rebel group supporter…” “No”. These kinds of questions and accusations are the sort you hear often now in Ye township and Tanessarim Division.
The New Mon State party has maintained
the ceasefire with the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) it signed in 1995, yet villagers are still suffering from armed conflict in that area. The 14 year ceasefire had done little to dampen violence that has continued in Mon State and Tanessarim Division, where Mon and Karen rebel groups are still active. Thus, still facing resistance, The SPDC has labeled these regions as “Black Areas”
And the villagers? Some have left home to find a safer place to live, while others still live in their villages and continue to hope that peace will come.
The villagers who remain at home suffer from a variety of abuses at the hands of both Mon rebel groups and the SPDC soldiers. Villagers have had to: pay an annual tax to Mon rebel groups and SPDC forces, face accusations of support from both sides, perform unpaid labor, perform uncompensated sentry duty in the village leader’s house both night and day, work as an unpaid porter, provide free meals to military soldiers, and face restrictions on travelling and working in plantations – these are all abuses that occur regularly in the “Black Area”.
Suffering under the demands of Mon rebel forces by having to give an annual tax and provide free food, villagers face little option for resistance as any refusal can result in torture or execution. Torture has come in several forms; when caught going to work on their farms and plantations, villagers are arrested, bound, and left under the sun for several hours; they are beaten, punched in the face, and stuck on the arms with the butt or a rifle; or they are tied to the ground, and red ants are placed on their body. These are the types of abuses most villagers have had to face.
“We had no money to give them but I had to give them something, even if it meant that we had to borrow from someone else. We have to choose between money and life.” Said a villager from aleasakhen.
For one village, having been drained by filling the annual tax for the Mon rebel group, and providing them with food, SPDC forces then came and arrested people again. They were accused of being rebel supporters and tortured. With SPDC forces, the abuses are not the same; soldiers will detain villagers and punch and kick them, roll bamboo over their legs, put plastic bags over heads, perform water boarding, and cut the skin and put salt on the wound. These are the kind of abuses that come from SPDC forces. In this case, some of the villagers were executed outright, wile others were thrown in jail. For villagers who wanted to avoid jail, they could bribe the commander and were released.
There is no chance for villagers who make their lively hood through farming to go and work on plantations or cultivate their crop. It is only by the say-so of commanders that villagers are able to go and work; however when a commander orders them not to go they must stop immediately. They are unable to complain to the commander even during periods when crops must be harvested. Many villagers lose the opportunity to gain any food or income because they have to wait until commanders allow them to go and work again. When they’re given the opportunity to return to their farms and plantations, often they are too late and are only able to salvage a small portion of their crop.
“We invested our time, the whole year, on our plantation but I won’t be able to make a profit on it. We have to rely on our plantations and farms. If we cannot work, where will our income and food come from? If we make no money, how can we pay taxes and fill our stomachs?”, said another aleasakhen villager.
Nai Mon, who is 45 years old, explained soldiers had tortured him when he was under arrest. As he spoke tears came to his eyes. He cried, unable to control himself recalling how he had been bound and left in the sun, on a hot day without wind.
At the time he had just been suspected. The soldiers had been restricting villagers from working their plantations or even traveling outside the village. He was severely abused by LIB No. 282 because of he was accused of being a Mon rebel supporter. Detained for a day and night, he was tortured severely by being beaten and punched, having bamboo rolled over his legs, having a plastic bag put over his head, and continuous sleep deprivation throughout the night.
When the soldiers questioned him “Did you see Mon rebel group?” he answered “No” after which the abuses came one by one. “I always said no.”
The reality is that he did not meet with the rebel group, but the Mon rebel forces did walk across his land or one night camped out on his plantation. All of it was because soldiers simply suspected him. He was detained and tortured, just like that.
“I dreamed to die at that time because it was so painful, I could not breathe, and my whole my body was in agony.”
After Nai Mon’s wife gave 100,000 Kyat to the commander, he was released. To get the money his wife had to borrow from other villagers. Nai Mon has no idea how he can repay the money because he cannot go work on his plantation. If he could work on his plantation freely he would be able to return the borrowed amount with in a year. But nothing has changed, and Nai Mon does not know how long this will continue.
Villagers have also had to provide a workforce for soldiers to carry out tasks such as portering, unpaid manual labor, and sentry duty in the village. The following work details were reported in aleasakhen. A Commander demand that villagers clear brush around the army camp and improve the fence, which required at least seven villagers a day. Two villagers had to wait on and work at the head man’s house, collecting fire wood, carrying water, and guarding the house. Another two people had to go to the army camp and gather firewood, carry water, cook food for soldiers, post letters and buy liquor. Three villagers had to wait for a military column to work as porters.
But even more dangerous is when the military column searches for Mon and Karen rebel forces, and porters are forced to walk in a line in front of the advancing troops as mine sweepers, and to guard against ambush.
At night villagers have to perform sentry duty in the village. They are not guarding against crime from other villagers, but from potential attacks on from rebel groups. Villagers have to inform soldiers when they see strangers and any kind of abnormal situation.
“Soldiers plan for us to die first. We are their body guards that they do not have to pay for,” said one villager.
Villagers also face travel restrictions. Caught traveling after 10 pm, a villager will be punished with fines, arrested, or tortured. Or sometimes the soldier will just shoot the curfew violator. In cases were a villager is fired on, but survives, soldiers will claim it was an accident, and insist that the villager pay for the bullets. A villager wounded in such a manner will receive no treatment, and in some cases villagers have died, but the soldier will remain unpunished.
These are lives of villagers who live an area neither controlled by the rebels, nor under complete control of the military, thus they all it a “Black Area”. But other people always ask, what does “Black Area” mean? Is it for torture, killing, and abuses; or is it for the people who have guns, and ability to act at will, with impunity?