PHOTOGRAPHY FROM INSIDE BURMA
The following photographs were taken inside Burma and date from late 2001 into early 2002, with two recent additions from October 2002. The description of the plight of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) pictured at the end of the exhibit has also been updated as new information has become available.
The people who took the photos risked their lives. They would have been killed, or at a minimum imprisoned and tortured, had they been caught. The photos are from locations in Karen State near the Unocal/TotalFinaElf pipeline. Most Karen villages near the pipeline were forceably depopulated and then destroyed, which constitutes nothing less than ethnic cleansing. The residents were ordered to move to centralized relocation villages, where they could then be robbed of their produce, forced to work on the pipeline and military projects, etc. Some of the people from the destroyed villages did relocate. Others chose instead to become IDPs, to try to carve out small new settlements in the forest or to flee to Thailand as refugees
As a proviso,
some sceptics may comment that the following images could be from anywhere,
even Thailand, and that they are not what they are said to be. You have the
right to choose what you believe. If you went to these locations, though, this
is what you would see.
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This is the village of Ah Mo, on the Tenasserim River. It was depopulated in 1997 and is now being reclaimed by the forest. At least six villages on the Tenasserim were destroyed.
A house in Ah Mo, now overgrown.
This photo is from October 2002, on one of the trails leading to Ah Mo. It shows a Burmese MM1, or Corncob, anti-personnel landmine. The trail has been mined by the SPDC to prevent the villagers from returning home. (Note: we originally identified the mine as a Chinese-made PMOZ-2. The MM1 is a copy of that mine. The Chinese set up a factory in Burma so the Burmese army could manufacture their own landmines.)
This is the relocation village of Mae Tah, which houses people formerly from the villages of Sha Mu Taw, Sein Koo, and others.
Villagers working on a forced labor project (at Kler Pu). Note that there are no guards or chains. There is no need, since the villagers must do as they are told, unless they are willing to flee and become IDPs.
Since the ethnic cleansing, the SPDC has moved in to deforest the pristine natural habitats left behind.
These are internally displaced persons. They are still living in the forest, years after having lost their home. They are part of the larger group described below. (This photo is from October 2002.)
These individuals were part of a group of sixty-three people that were turned back at the border in November 2001 by the Thais at Thong Pha Phum, close to where the pipeline crosses. The group included members of fifteen families, from a number of villages, and was comprised mainly of women and children.
The IDPs fled for five days from two columns of SPDC soldiers that were hunting them (approxiamtely 300 soldiers). This was in the rainy season, one elderly woman died along the way, and they arrived at the border covered in leeches.
The Thais have an agreement with the SPDC, that conflict and repression will be kept away from the border. They also have a policy that new refugees will not be admitted unless they are fleeing for their lives. Therefore, since the Thai border guards cannot hear the sounds of battle and slaughter, the refugees do not have to be let in.
In the Bangkok Post of 7 November 2001, a Thai general stated that the IDPs were refused entry because they were illegal immigrants attempting to escape poverty. Further, he said that the IDPs were relocated to the village of Htee Wah Doh, an established Karen village, which he reported was safe and war-free.
This was not true.
The IDPs were told that they would be admitted to a refugee camp in Thailand. Instead, they were put on trucks and transported to a Mon refugee camp in Burma. The Mons were unhappy with this, fearing that the presence of the Karen could lead to an SPDC attack. This is one consequence of the SPDC's policy of divide and conquer. Groups which have lived peacefully as neighbors for centuries are now afraid to help each other, fearing repercussions from the Burmese Army.
The IDPs moved to Htee Wah Doh, but fearing attack fled to a nearby Mon village. On 20 November 2001, the SPDC attacked Htee Wah Doh and burned it to the ground, including churches and schools. At this time one villager was killed and an IDP was shot and subsequently had to have a leg amputated. Some of the IDPs were captured by the SPDC and were then used as porters. The remainder of the group fled to the border again, this time at another crossing, but were again refused entry. Since then they have continued to live in the forest.
Among the group were the family of the wounded farmer in our war crimes photo series, who was admitted and is now in a refugee camp. This is the situation - you need to be a battlefield casualty to be let into Thailand. In addition, this forced separation compounds their suffering.
Did she live, or die?
Will the people responsible for this, including Unocal, TotalFinaElf, the SPDC and the Thai government, ever be held accountable?