Bago Division and Karen State, Burma
“Anyone seen on the road, civilian or otherwise, would be shot immediately. Additional restrictions included a 6 p.m. curfew on the road between Kyaukkyi to Pa Kaw Hta and a shoot-on-sight command for anyone traveling from Pa Kaw Hta to Maw Law, regardless of what time they are seen.”
– Statement by Burma Army in Kyaukkyi area of Karen State, Burma, on 9 Dec. 2019
Additional restrictions included a 6 p.m. curfew on the road between Kyaukkyi to Pa Kaw Hta and a shoot-on-sight command for anyone traveling from Pa Kaw Hta to Maw Law, regardless of what time they are seen.
Burma Army Imposes Curfew and Restricts Movement for Villagers with Shoot-on-Sight Orders in Kyaukkyi Township, Bago Division, Burma
On Dec. 9, Col. Aung Soe Mein met with Muthe’s village leaders and told them that villagers were not allowed to transport rice between Muthe and Maw Law or travel along the road. Anyone seen on the road, civilian or otherwise, would be shot immediately. Additional restrictions included a 6 p.m. curfew on the road between Kyaukkyi to Pa Kaw Hta and a shoot-on-sight command for anyone traveling from Pa Kaw Hta to Maw Law, regardless of what time they are seen.
Then, on Dec. 14, the Burma Army posted a statement restricting local movement on the road from Kyaukkyi, in Bago Division, east along the road to where it meets the Karen State border. It was Infantry Battalion (IB) 39, led by Lt. Col. Htun Win Soe, that posted signs along the road. Lt. Col. Htun Win Soe had received the statement and instructions to post from Col. Aung Soe Mein, who is the operation commander in the area from Kyaukkyi to the Bago Division/Karen State border (TOC 2).
The last section of the poster was the most troubling for local villagers as it claimed that the Burma Army was following the National Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) and that it was the Karen National Union (KNU) who was violating the NCA because they had blown up Burma Army bulldozers and staged ambushes against the Burma Army. Because of that, the Burma Army said that they wanted the villagers to know the KNU was not sympathetic to them and that the villagers should instead work with the Burma Army to improve area development.
The Burma Army statement also included the following points all of which violate the ceasefire agreements :
- “The road was originally built to manage and resupply camps in the frontline and needs to be rebuilt every year. It will go from Kyaukkyi to Muthe and then on to Maw Law, which is a hill on the border between Bago Division and Karen State. At Maw Law, the road splits as it heads into Karen State, leading to the Salween River (the border between Karen State and Thailand) in one direction and to Ler Mu Plaw/Saw Mu Plaw in the other direction. The rebuilding is to improve development in the area and make the road accessible in the summer (Jan. to May) for villagers.”
- “The rebuilding of the road was not intended to reinforce Burma Army camps or build new camps. The Burma Army wanted to make transportation easier to maintain frontline camps and in the meantime the road would make travel easier for villagers.“
Despite the Burma Army’s statement justifying the construction, these actions violate the NCA and villagers in the area remain on high alert. Road construction has always been one of the ways the Burma Army launches its attacks, projects its power, and tries to control an area.
Earlier this year, the Burma Army built five new camps between Muthe and Kler Soe. The new camps, along with the pre-existing Ee Tha Plaw Burma Army camp make for six Burma Army camps in a seven-kilometer stretch of the road. The building of these camps is also a direct violation of the NCA.
Villagers Protest the National Ceasefire Agreement Violations
On Nov. 18, villagers from five village tracks posted signs at the new Burma Army camps highlighting NCA violations and protested the construction. Specifically, the signs highlighted Chapter 3, Sections 9p and 9q which state that NCA signatories are to “ensure the security and development of civilians living in ceasefire ares” and “permit civilians to move freely inside ceasefire areas.” Villagers believe the road construction and new camp construction violate these points. Additional concerns included how the villagers were no longer free to farm, hunt or fish, or practice their religious beliefs due to the proximity of Burma Army camps and soldiers.
The villagers had five goals:
- To get back the rights of the people in the area
- For no new Burma Army camp construction to happen
- For the Burma Army camps and soldiers to withdraw from the villagers’ land so that the villagers could return home.
- For villagers to travel around the area and work in their land freely
- For the new generation to be able to live in peace and free from fear
Under the NCA, a liaison office was established between the Burma Army and the Karen National Union. The Burma Army sent a letter to the liaison office saying they were going to rebuild the road. On Nov. 25, the KNU sent a letter back to the office saying both sides needed to meet and discuss the construction first. However, the Burma Army had already moved a bulldozer from Hsaw Mee Lu (Ka Pe in Burmese) to Muthe. Since 2018, the Burma Army has kept three backhoes and at least two bulldozers in Hsaw Mee Lu.
Timeline of Additional Events
Dec. 2: Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) 57 arrived at Muthe with two bulldozers and established full security coverage from Muthe to Pa Kaw Hta in order to rebuild the road from Muthe to Maw Law.
Dec. 5: Karen soldiers blew up a Burma Army bulldozer near Pa Kaw Hta because the Burma Army did not respect the voice of the villagers or the KNU leaders who said to stop construction. A clash broke out between Burma Army soldiers and Karen soldiers and continued into the next day.
Dec. 8: KNU leaders met with Burma Army officials in Naypyidaw. During the meetings, the KNLA stopped their actions to wait for the outcome of the meetings. While the Karen soldiers waited for the results of the meeting before taking further action, the Burma Army continued road construction.
Dec. 11: The Burma Army burned down two farm huts near Wa Mee Poe Soe.
Dec. 12: LIB 590 arrived at Muthe and began providing security for the bulldozer as it made its way to Kler Soe and Maw Law.
Road Construction Status
The road in conflict is divided into sections and, since 2017, the Burma Army has been extending the road eastward from Kyaukkyi.
Between Kyaukkyi to Hsaw Mee Lu, the road is paved, allowing for two-way traffic during all seasons. Beyond Hsaw Mee Lu, the road becomes harder to travel. Between Muthe and Kler Soe, the road allows for only motorbike travel during rainy season. From January to April, the Burma Army rebuilt that section of road and a bridge but construction was slowed down because of the opposition of local villagers. Past Kler Soe, the road only fits one truck at a time.
Burma Army Units and Leaders Stationed Between Muthe and Maw Law (as of Dec. 20)
TOC 2 Commander: Col. Aung Soe Mein
LIB 589 Battalion Commander: Lt. Col. Htin Lin Aung
LIB 590 Battalion Commander: Thein Win Kyaw
IB 39 Battalion Commander: Lt. Col. Htun Win Soe
IB 53 Battalion Commander: Lt. Col. San Lin Aung
IB 57 Battalion Commander: Sha Lay; Deputy Battalion Commander: Win Myint
New Camps Between Muthe and Kler Soe
Wa Mee Poe Soe – located 250m from the road
Thwe Boe Soe
Thwe Boe Plaw
Pa Kaw Hta
Existing Camps Along the Kyaukki/Maw Law Road
Bo Bye: Between KK and HML
Ko Pla Lay Koh: Between HML and Muthe
Ko Thein Soe: located on a hill above the road between HML and Muthe
Ee Tha Plaw