Category Archives: Free Burma Rangers

Burma in the News: Landmine Victims Find Solace at Mae La

The choir at Care Villa sing. (Photo: Alex Ellgee/The Irrawaddy)

According to The Irrawaddy (published April 10, 2010):

As the last rays of sun beam through the wooden wall, the choir assembles in the hut. Without delay, the men bellow out the first verse of a Karen song.

One member of the choir tilts his head back, seemingly fully engrossed in the sounds around him while another raises his amputated arm to his ear. The back row breaks off into a harmony filling the room with melancholic songs of freedom and hope for their people.

They have been brought together by a love of music, but this is not your average choir. These men have formed a bond as a result of their near-fatal encounters with landmines.

“In my village, I had never seen a blind man or a person without a limb, so when I lost my sight I felt like such an outsider and lost all hope,” said Has Ka Tarai, who at 15 years of age, is the youngest member of the choir.

When he was 12, Burmese government forces stormed his village, deep in Karen State, burning down all the homes. He and his mother fled to the jungle where they hid for days till they thought it would be safe to return.

As they walked up the hill to the village, Has Ka Tarai recalls being excited to return home. Suddenly he was knocked to the ground; he had hit a landmine with a knife he was playing with.

He says he remembers feeling a pain in his eyes, something he compares to ants eating out his eyeballs. He remembers the sound of his mother shouting and crying. He was blinded and lost much of his hearing.

It has been well documented that the Burmese army often leaves landmines outside villages they raid in order to deter people from returning to their homes. By doing so, they are able to control more territory and leave a psychological scar on the jungle communities who reject their rule.

For two months, Has Ka Tarai’s eyes went untreated until a Free Burma Ranger medic came to the village. Seeing how severe his condition was, the medic took him all the way to Chiang Mai in Thailand. Has Ka Tasrai was told he would never see again.

He didn’t want to go back to his village, fearing for his life. Instead, he was offered a chance to stay at “Care Villa,” a foundation set up in 2000 by the Karen Handicap Welfare Association to look after landmine victims at Mae La Refugee Camp in Thailand.

Not only have many of the residents at Care Villa lost limbs, but many have lost their sight as well. Basic daily activities can be extremely difficult for them. Before coming to Care Villa, many of them stayed with friends or family who were unable to help satisfactorily. Many say they fell into heavy depression.

Continue reading the article here

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Filed under Burma in the News, Free Burma Rangers, Internal Displacement, Landmine Victims, Military, Reports, The Karen, The People

Internal Displacement Report: January 17-19, 2010

This January, Karen State has seen some of recent months’ most severe attacks on civilians by Burma’s ruling military regime, the State and Peace Development Council (SPDC). According to a recent report from Free Burma Rangers, a humanitarian organization operating in the region, villagers in numerous locations have been targets of shootings, killing at least three. Others have been captured and over 2,000 people displaced. WIN has since gained news confirming that at least 30 civilian homes have been burnt to ashes.

The 2,000 homeless men, women and children have been forced to hide from the military deep in the jungle, adding to an estimated 75,400 already displaced in Karen State and nearby Pegu Division.

The Burma Army has targeted civilians in rural Burma for decades as part of a strategy to destabilize and weaken communities and thus local insurgents. Through the years, over one million have been forced to leave their homes. Many are moved by force into areas under the regime’s control, while others flee to Thailand or deep into the jungle. Those who remain almost invariably are killed, as the Burma Army uses a shoot-on-sight policy for all civilians in areas contested by rebel insurgents.

Between 17-19 January, at least three villagers were shot, one of whom was decapitated, two women and a man were captured, while many were forced to carry heavy loads of supplies for the military.

WIN spoke with Saw Steve of the local relief and monitoring organization the Committee for Internally Displaced Karen People (CIDKP) ten days after the attacks to get an update on the victims’ current situation.

“We have had little news this week. SPDC are still in the Kyauk Kyi region [Nyaunglebin District] but have left the Kya In Seigyi area [Dooplaya District]. While they are still close by, the villagers cannot return. Between the 17th-19th, at least 30 houses were burned and over ten villages displaced, with a total population of up to 2,000 people.”

He stressed a particular concern for their lack of sustenance and critical security situation.

“We are very worried because they have no food, blankets or other things. If they don’t return soon they will desperately need supplies. They are unable to make fires because any smoke will give their position away and the SPDC will kill them.”

Such incidents are all but rare in war-torn Eastern Burma. According to the Thai Burma Border Consortium (TBBC), in the 12 months proceeding November 2009, an estimated 75,000 people lost their homes. It is also estimated that a total of 395,000 other people remain displaced, 111,000 in jungle hiding communities, including some who have been unsettled for decades, continuously on the run.

Last year WIN spoke to 18 year old K’Sa Paw, who after spending the first 17 years of her life hiding in the Karen jungle now lives in a refugee camp on the Thai-Burma border.

“We had to move every month or sometimes every two. Whenever we arrived at a new site, we would build a small roof out of bamboo and leaves to sleep under. We were afraid that the military would beat or shoot us. A 16 year-old boy I know was taken to be a porter for the military, but he refused to do the work so they just killed him. We always got sick too – mainly fevers and malaria – children died every month. There were also many landmines. About every three to four months someone would get hit by one.”

Thanks to charities and community based organizations working in refugee camps, K’Sa Paw now lives with her younger brother and sister in relative safety and has begun studying.

“I want to be a good leader and a teacher and benefit the people of my country and see my brother and sister become educated.”

However, with peace looking far away, much more work needs to be done for the 111,00 plus still in hiding.

Kim, on the border
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Filed under Free Burma Rangers, Internal Displacement, Photography, Refugees, Reports, The Karen, The People

Agricultural Training Center Destroyed

Although the above is the roof of our youth leader training center in a remote region of Karen State, it’s still a perfect example of the simple structures the Burmese Army routinely destroys. Here youth are trained to help their people survive against the Burmese Army attempting to drive them off ancestral lands.

We would like to thank all of you who supported the recent initiative to establish a center for teaching agricultural and community development skills to ethnic farmers.   We just learned after several weeks of attack by the Burmese Army that the center below was destroyed before construction was completed.  This was a result of the on-going army offensive to drive ethnic peoples out of this region in Eastern Burma.  Refer to Karen Human Rights Group and Free Burma Rangers for further details about this on-going offensive.

We intend to pursue this initiative elsewhere in hopes of being able to help farmers improve crop yields and support community development.

Thank you for support of these villagers as they attempt to survive in the face of tough odds.

Sincerely,

Tim Heinemann, Founder
Worldwide Impact Now (WIN)

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Filed under Free Burma Rangers, Friends, Medical, Military, Photography, The Initiatives, The Karen, The People, Training