A Karen Human Right Groups report released on March 2nd accuses the Burma Army of targeting villagers with artillery shells in Northern Karen State. KHRG allege the government’s military directed its artillery bombardment on villagers in Papun Township.
The KHRG report said that Burma Army indiscriminately fired artillery shells towards where villagers in the Saw Muh Plaw village tract were clearing their land on February 17 and again in the Hkay Hpoo village tract on February 22.
Saw Albert, the KHRG field director spoke to Karen News about the shelling.
“The artillery shelling scared them [villagers] as it fell close to the area where they were clearing their land for cultivation. Firing artillery shells created insecurity for the villagers.”
The KHRG report indicated that the Burma Army Light Infantry Battalions (LIB) #543 and #410 are based close to the area where the shelling took place. Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) #543 is under the control of Military Operations Command (MOC) #5 that is based at Khaw Thaw Hkoh military camp and LIB #410, led by Battalion Commander Win Min Oo, is under the control of MOC #8 and is based at Wah Klay Lu camp.
The KHRG report noted that villagers are not certain which troops are responsible, but as both camps are located near Saw Muh Plaw and Hkay Hpoo village tracts, villagers suspect that it was one of the battalions.
Padoh Lweh Gay, joint secretary the Karen National Union in Mu Traw [Papun] District spoke to Karen News about the incident.
“We have heard that they [Burma Army] claimed they were giving practical training to new soldiers to shoot artillery weapons, but we know that this is not true. They [Burma Army] keep on telling us that we should not fight each other as our leaders are having peace talks, but they are launching artillery shells into our areas. This mean they are not doing what their words say.”
The KHRG report said that hill field farming is one of the key livelihood activities for villagers in Papun Township and every year, villagers clear the vegetation, such as trees and bamboo, in forest areas in order to create space for their hill field farms.
Saw Albert is concerned that if the Burma Army continues to fire artillery shells towards villagers’ hill field farms it could result in food shortages.
“The shelling does not only frighten the villagers and disturb their preparation of their lands for cultivation, but as the dry season is approaching, the shelling could cause fires to the cleared land before they are ready to be burned. If that happens, this will stop villagers from growing enough food for the following year.”
Saw Albert said that during the current peace talks and the ceasefire period is not the time to be creating more insecurity for villagers, but should be a time that they can improve their lives.
“Now is the time to build trust. The conflicting parties should not create more worries for villagers, but should create opportunities for villagers to work more freely in order to live a better life. The ceasefire and peace talks need to deliver better conditions for villagers, otherwise they are confused and become doubtful about the merit of the peace process.”