Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Colonel accuses villagers of supporting KNU

HURFOM (Rehmonnya): Villagers in Tenasserim Division have been accused of supporting the armed Karen National Union (KNU) and been denied access to their land by a Burmese military Colonel who also refused to let Christian villagers hold meetings about improving their churches.

Colonel Zaw Than Nine, who leads Tactical Command No. 2, was approached on March 9th by the Christian residents of Nyaung Tone and Myae Khan Baw villages in Tavoy District, Mitta Sub-township who asked permission to hold the meetings with a local district church leader. He refused on the grounds of security, citing the KNU.

The church leader said, “I wanted to discuss with the Christian villagers how to maintain our religion in the villages and also I wanted to improve the churches and maybe build a new one. But the Colonel would not let us meet. I felt so up sad about it”.

Villagers say the Colonel frequently uses the same security excuse to deny permission for many other activities, accusing them of providing support and information to the KNU. Recently villagers were denied permission to leave their villages to work on their plantations and hillside cultivation which left them facing hardship as they need to build firebreaks in the forest to protect their plantations and clear land for planting new crops.

A female villager from Myae Khan Baw village said, “we were not allowed to work in our plantations for nearly a month. It was the time for clearing the forest for growing crops. If I cannot clear the land now, I face having no food to eat next year.”

However, Colonel Zaw Than Nine insisted that if villagers went to work outside the villages they could pass information to the KNU regarding his soldiers’ positions and they could be ambushed as has happened in the past.

A villager quoted the Colonel as saying, “all of you support the KUN rebel group and all of you give information to them about my soldiers who have been ambushed at least fifteen times in a month.”

While villagers deny helping the KNU, it is known that the group has been active in the local area and soldiers stationed in the two villages have been ambushed many times. Landmines have also been planted by both sides in the area and have killed livestock belonging to the villagers although fortunately no villagers have yet been hurt.

A villager said “I’m afraid of the landmines around here. I don’t dare to look for produce in the forest or even go into there in case I step on a mine.”

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