Contact: Roland Watson, firstname.lastname@example.org
UPDATE ON CRISIS IN EASTERN BURMA
January 20, 2004
The following report, from a Free Burma Rangers team leader, is an update on the internally displaced person (IDP) crisis now in progress in eastern Burma. Please also see www.dictatorwatch.org/phshows/ethniccleansing.html, which includes new photography. (Note: two of the photos are disturbing.)
Thank you for all your help, love and prayers. We could not do much without you and are grateful that you care about these people here. The following is not a standard report, it is what I feel and what we see here. I hope it is informative and I hope you feel our gratitude for all you are doing. This is a team effort and we thank God for all of you.
The attacks of the Burma
Army in this part of the Karen State have driven over 3,500 people from their
homes. These people are in hiding in the jungle with only what they could carry
on their backs. Temperatures on the 16th and 17th of January were extremely
cold with the freezing level down to 3,000 feet. Most of the IDPs are hiding
between 3,000- 4,500 feet.
Two days ago in a hiding
place at about 3,700 feet, I was surrounded by children, most of whom were wearing
nothing more than t-shirts and shaking in the cold. The night before, as we
approached a group of villagers hiding in a ravine below their village, I first
heard the sounds of babies crying and when we got closer I could see the terrified
looks on the faces of children huddled next to small fires. Mothers nursing
babies looked at us imploringly and all we could do is say, "We are sorry,
we know this is very bad, we will try. We have no power, but we will pray to
God". "God sees and God understands. Also many in the world are praying
for you and care about you".
We spent the night with this group and the next day went up to their village with some Karen soldiers and a few of the village men. The villagers wanted to know if it was safe to go back or at least if it was possible to recover some of their livestock and belongings. We knew that three Burma Army battalions were in the area and that the night before one of the battalions had shot at fleeing villagers so we approached carefully and decided to observe the village first. We climbed a hill next to the village and three Karen soldiers (KNLA), and a villager went to a higher hill to watch from there. We were observing the empty village when shooting broke out on the hill above us and one of the Burma Army battalions (we found out later it was LIB 512), attacked. They chased the 3 Karen soldiers and villager off the higher hill and attacked us with mortars, RPGs, M-79, and machine-gun fire. We had no casualties and rejoined the villagers below and led them to a safer place. The next day another battalion of the Burma Army (IB3), attacked a group of five families hiding in the jungle nearby, all escaped and are now hiding in a different place. One Karenni soldier (KNPP) who was with a group of Karen (KNLA) after being chased out of Karenni State earlier, came to assist the families and was shot and badly wounded by the Burma Army troops. He was treated by one of our medics and then sent back to a mobile clinic 4 days walk away. Note: In an earlier report this man was named as a Karen-KNLA soldier but we now know he is Karenni. The Burma Army has launched an all out offensive against the Karenni for the past three months and have relocated and displaced thousands of Karenni villagers.
They extended their offensive into northern Karen State on 30 December 2003 and this offensive now against the Karen continues. The people here are terrorized and though they are grateful to see people come to help them, they always tell us, "If you do not stay with us we can not even stay here in this hiding place, we will have to run further away from our village, so please stay with us". "When can we go home"?, they ask us. We do not have an answer but try to treat their medical problems, care for them and pray with them. Whether they are Buddhist, Christian or animist, all are human beings who know the common language of love. They give us love and even offer us food at every hiding place. We know we have no power to save them but are standing and sometimes running with them the best we can. We hope to be witnesses of God's love to them as well as another witness out to the world that these people are in trouble and they are human beings who count.
We could do none of this without you and are grateful for all of you who care, love, pray, help, report and keep us and others going.
Thanks and God Bless you,
A Free Burma Ranger Relief Team Leader