Reports from Karen State in eastern Burma say that the army’s annual dry season offensive against the Karen National Union is under way.The KNU has been fighting for independence from the military government for almost 60 years.
In the past two years, the Burmese army has intensified a scorched earth campaign in Karen State, resulting in a growing humanitarian crisis.
Human rights groups say that the army often uses captured civilians as forced labor.
They work as porters carrying ammunition and supplies for the troops.Many have died from assault, exhaustion, and sickness.
King Kong Janoi spoke with one man who was seriously beaten when he worked as a hired porter ffor Infantry Battalion no. 18 in the Karen state.
Ko San Win walks slowly towards me; every bone in his body hurts.
He has a kind face that’s framed by curly black hair but his eyes reveal the suffering he has been through.
Ko San rarely leaves this simple bamboo home.
“My wife works as a cleaner and my daughter in a shoe factory. I can’t work because my whole body aches. Our family is struggling to survive.”
He’s tiny body now aches because of the torture he was subjected to while working as a porter for the Burmese military in the Karen State.
Human rights groups say that the army often uses captured civilians as slave labour.
They are forced to work as porters carrying ammunition and supplies for the troops. However Ko San Win is different.
He chose to become a porter out of economic hardship.
“I was on the brink of selling my farm in the Mon state. I though I could kill two birds with one stone, I could travel and make some money. I thought the trip would go smoothly.”
But he says the journey turned into a nightmare.
Kon San Win says for five days he trekked with the military through the jungle covered mountains of the Karen State
It rained night and day and they had to sleep out in the open.
He claims he was subject to beatings along the way.
“I asked a soldier who was walking behind me for some water. Instead of giving me water, he insulted me and kicked me in the waist. The kick was so strong that I fell to the ground. I had to carry about 35 kilograms of food and supplies. I said to them, you can kill me but I am unable to move without water.”
Ko San Win says the soldiers treated all the porters very cruelly.
Due to physical exhaustion on the four day he had a serious fall.
“I was dehydrated and had not eaten because the army did not give me enough food and water. So I fell from the top of the mountain. My face, my head and body was full of blood. I was unconscious for a while and then I heard a loud thump next to me. A solider had thrown down baggage next to me and told me to carry it.�?
After the fall, a fellow porter offered to carry some of his bags.
But a sergeant stopped them and beat them with the butt of his gun, he says.
Ko San Win lifts up his shirt and shows me bruises and cuts still on his body, two months after the beatings.
Ko San was only able to leave when his wife paid 2,000 baht or 64 USD to the army.
When he arrived home, a member of the New Mon State Party paid for his treatment in hospital.
Nai Aue Mon from the Human Rights group ‘Mon-Lan’ says Kon San is very lucky to have come home alive.
“Many people have been killed when they could no longer carry things and were weak. The soldiers just shot them in the field. Some of the porters are pay but it’s not just because they are some times forced to work until they die of exhaustion. We have recorded many cases like this in our database.�?
Ko San Win earned 1,000 baht or 32 US dollars for five days with the military.
But he says he will never do it again.
He is paying for it with pain for the rest of his life.
I called the Southeast military officer in Moulmein to check Kon San Win’s story.
However the military officers refused to answer questions and then disconnected the line.
Kon San win doesn’t want to fight for justice.
For now he just happy to be home alive.
“I didn’t think that I would survive. I really thank those people who have helped me. When I came home I could barely walk, eat or go to the toilet. All of my body was seriously injured and full of abscesses. You can imagine injuries that went without treatment for days.�?