V. OPPOSITION FORCES
From Burma's first year of independence in 1948, there have been armed insurgent and resistance groups fighting the central regimes in Rangoon. Most of these groups have formed along ethnic rather than ideological lines, the main exceptions to this rule being the Communist Party of Burma, and pro-democracy forces such as the All-Burma Students' Democratic Front and the People's Democratic Front. Over the decades dozens of new groups have formed and dissolved, factionalized and merged, creating a confusing array of present day armed groups. During the research for this report Human Rights Watch was able to obtain information regarding nineteen of them. This information is presented below, followed by a list of an additional fourteen for which no direct information was available. The text refers to them as armed opposition groups or opposition armies because all of them were formed in some form of opposition to the central regime in Rangoon. Since 1988 the majority of them have made ceasefire agreements with the SLORC and SPDC regimes, but over ten of them are still fighting against the Burma army. Of those which have ceasefire agreements, some work very closely under the wing of the SPDC and the Burma army, while others still consider the regime as their enemy and have a very delicate and strained relationship with it.
Though the groups listed below operate in different parts of the country and vary greatly in their history and makeup, most of them have certain things in common. Firstly, none of them individually poses an immediate military threat to the rule of the SPDC junta; the United Wa State Army with its estimated 20,000 soldiers is the only force large enough to do so, but it has been in a ceasefire agreement since 1989 and expresses no desire to overthrow the ruling regime. Of the other armed groups, only the Shan State Army (South), the Kachin Independence Army, the Karen National Liberation Army, and possibly the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, number over 3,000 troops. The ethnic-based armed groups which exist today are all focused on defending their home regions and seeking regional autonomy rather than overthrowing the Rangoon regime, and they are therefore referred to below as resistance forces rather than insurgents.
Most of the opposition groups rely extensively on the material support of the local civilian population, so their relations with civilians tend to be much better than those of the Burma army. Representatives of opposition armies who are still fighting claim that many civilians are now voluntarily enlisting to seek revenge for human rights abuses committed against their families or because they have been displaced by the destruction of their villages by the Burma army, and these claims are generally supported by interviews conducted with opposition soldiers. Many of the opposition groups also have a history of forcibly conscripting civilians, including children, into their armies, albeit those that have continued to fight rather than enter into ceasefires have been greatly weakened by Burmese military offensives, causing their forces to shrink and lessening their ability to conscript. Of the nineteen groups researched by Human Rights Watch, the evidence indicates that the United Wa State Army, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, the Shan State Army (South), the Kachin Independence Army, the Kachin Democratic Army, and occasionally the Karen National Liberation Army, are conscripting soldiers at present.
Though some groups have no policy on minimum recruitment age, every group directly contacted by Human Rights Watch claimed to have a policy against recruiting children under eighteen. None except the smallest of the groups, however, appear to adhere to these policies. The Karen National Union and the Karenni National Progressive Party were both open in admitting that despite their policies setting the minimum age as eighteen, they accept younger volunteers if they are particularly insistent on enlisting. Though other groups flatly deny accepting any child recruits, other evidence suggests that they actually follow a similar practice.
The United Wa State Army (UWSA) probably has the most child soldiers of any opposition army in Burma, with possibly as many as 2,000 soldiers under eighteen, six to eight hundred of whom are under fifteen. Most of the other large opposition armies have between one hundred and five hundred child soldiers, while the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army and the Kachin Independence Army may have between 500 and 1,000. Based on the best estimates available for the nineteen groups researched by Human Rights Watch, and allowing for a possible 1,000 additional child soldiers with the fourteen smaller groups not investigated, we estimate a total of just over 6,700 child soldiers in the combined armed opposition groups.
While the research was unable to cover all armed opposition groups, the sections below examine in detail the child recruitment practices of several of the main groups which can be viewed as representative examples. Those examined in the most detail include ceasefire and non-ceasefire groups, and illustrate a variety of approaches to the issue of child soldiers, ranging from armies that forcibly conscript children with no apparent restraint, through those that recruit children on a small scale but deny doing so, to those who openly recognize child recruitment as a problem in their army and appear to be seeking solutions. The sequence in which these groups are presented and the length of each section should not be seen as indicative of which groups are the most serious offenders; to the contrary, the groups for which the most information is presented are those which were the most willing to give Human Rights Watch researchers access to their troops, officers, camps and representatives.
United Wa State Army (UWSA)
Most analysts believe that the United Wa State Army is the largest armed opposition force in Burma today. No official data is available regarding its strength, but the UWSA reportedly claims to have 20,000 soldiers under arms. One independent observer estimated that the UWSA has no more than 6,000 soldiers, but most outside estimates range between 15,000 and 25,000. Most of the Wa people are native to northeastern Shan State, where they number no more than 500,000. In 1968 forces of the Communist Party of Burma (CPB) came into this area and began recruiting the Wa and other nationalities to their People's Army. By the late 1980s, Wa and Kokang soldiers made up the vast majority of the CPB's army in Shan State, which was Burma's largest armed opposition force. In 1989 the Kokang mutinied against the CPB leadership, which was dominated by ethnic Chinese, and broke away to form their own small army. The much larger Wa contingent mutinied a month later, causing the CPB to disintegrate. Wa leaders emerged and formed the Burma National Solidarity Party, which was then renamed the United Wa State Party (UWSP), while the army took on its present name. Just a month after its formation, the UWSP reached a ceasefire agreement with the SLORC regime in Rangoon.25
Under the terms of the ceasefire the UWSA retains its arms and controls a large area of northeastern Shan State. It is possibly the best equipped opposition army in Burma because it is reportedly financed by the proceeds of large-scale opium, heroin, and methamphetamine production. Since the ceasefire the UWSA has fought their traditional Shan enemies in southern Shan State on behalf of the SLORC/SPDC regime; first from 1989 to 1996 against the Mong Tai army (MTA), a Shan group led by Khun Sa, and from 1997 to the present against the Shan State Army (South). As a result the UWSA has managed to take over some territory in southern Shan State, and in January 2000 its leaders announced that they were relocating 50,000 Wa villagers to these southern territories with the authorization of the SPDC. Since that time, some observers estimate that over 100,000 Wa villagers have been relocated, displacing many Shan, Lahu, Akha and other villagers from areas of southern Shan State.26
Human Rights Watch was unable to obtain any information on official UWSA policy with regard to child soldiers. According to outside observers who have had access to Wa areas and Shan soldiers who have fought the UWSA, the Wa army has a large number of children in its ranks, possibly 2,000 or more. This is consistent with the testimony of Aung Kyaw, a recent deserter from the UWSA, who told Human Rights Watch that in his training camp, his training group, and his battalion, about 10 percent of the boys were under eighteen and 3 to 4 percent were under fifteen.27 His estimates imply that the UWSA has 2,000 soldiers under eighteen and six to eight hundred under fifteen. Human Rights Watch has received unconfirmed information that on December 20, 2001, a group of 700 recruits completed six months of UWSA training at a training camp near Murng Hsat, and that of this group 80 trainees were aged between nine and thirteen, and twenty-five were aged fourteen to fifteen.
In Burma the Wa are viewed as a very tough and militaristic people, a nation of warriors. A foreign observer who visited one UWSA camp described his impression as follows:
Every Wa is considered as militia, and every household is given a weapon. The Wa order every family to give up one son. They stay in barracks with racks of M16s on the opposite wall. They're taught in school and train with weapons starting at age eight. I saw it in 1999 or 2000. There were 400 or more students at the school. I don't know at what age they're deployed, but I met many very young Wa soldiers. At least 10 percent of them are child soldiers, more than the Shan. There were many who were around sixteen. The Wa may have as many as 30,000 troops. They're very tough. It's said that "The Wa are good at dying." Most families probably give a son willingly, because the boy gets food and an education. The kids at the school seemed fairly happy.28
A representative of a local relief and human rights organization who has done research on the Wa estimated a higher proportion of child soldiers, possibly as many as one in three. According to his experience,
They keep a list of all Wa families, and if you have two boys then you must give one. If a Wa family has only one boy then they take him as a militia volunteer. They have two lists: one is militia volunteers, the other is those who get training and a salary of ten [Chinese] yuan per month but they can call him whenever they need him. Sometimes when they're only four years old they give the boy a rock and pretend it's a grenade; if he can throw it up the hillside he gets food. At age eight or nine they give real military training with real guns. Once they're over ten they're sent to the front line. . . . The Wa also control areas where Akha, Lahu, Palaung and other groups live. These people have to give a tax, and if they can't pay it they have to give a boy. I don't know about the north, but south of Kengtung the tax is 250 [Thai] baht per family per year.29
Though unable to obtain access to UWSA areas, Human Rights Watch was able to interview Aung Kyaw, a nineteen-year-old Lahu man who was forcibly recruited to the UWSA at age twelve and fled in September 2001. When he was a Fourth Standard student in his village,
Some Lahu people who worked for the Wa army came early in the morning. They said, "We are calling you to study, not to be a soldier. When you study we'll give you a salary of 500 [Thai] baht per month, and in the school holidays you can come back to visit your family. Then when you finish school you don't have to become a soldier unless you want to." My parents said, "If you'll allow him to come home once a year then we'll let him go." I didn't want to go but I had no choice. I didn't want to be a soldier. . . . They took two boys, me and another boy aged twelve. They had a list of how many boys were in each house. They also went to other houses, but the others ran away so they wouldn't have to go.30
The two Lahu men who came into the village were in civilian clothes, but a group of Wa soldiers were waiting just outside the village. "Later almost thirty people from the Wa army came, and when they took us back with them there were about thirty children, sixty people altogether. The children were ten to fifteen years old. I didn't know most of them, they weren't from my village. Some were Lahu, some Wa, some Shan. They guarded us very well. We went on foot, there is no road or cars. It is one day on foot to Sah Lu Yan. We had to travel by night." Sah Lu Yan, which means "361," is a Wa army base. When the group arrived there, he saw about 1,000 boys undergoing training; about a hundred were under eighteen, including his own group of thirty, and twenty were under fifteen. "There were twelve, thirteen, fourteen and fifteen-year-olds. No younger than that. When we arrived they ordered us to attend military training. I told the adults, `I don't want to join the army. I came to study.' They said, `Never mind. Joining the army and going to school are the same.'" When they asked him his age, "I said I'm twelve. They said, `No, I don't believe you. You look younger than that, maybe eleven.'" They then registered him. Ten of his group of thirty were allowed to attend the school at the camp, but Aung Kyaw was not allowed to go with them, even though some of them were older than he. He says that those in the school could study until Twelfth Standard and are then given jobs with the UWSP or UWSA.
Instead, Aung Kyaw himself was forced directly into military training. He says that his group of trainees were Akha, Wa and Lahu boys, and that some of the other groups also included Shan and Chinese. "Each day we got up, folded our beds, then started with twelve kinds of exercise, Chinese style. We got breakfast at nine, then we started military training at ten. Carrying guns, M16 and M22 [assault rifles]. In the afternoon we practiced songs, like Wa national songs. It was all done in Wa. Some Lahu understood Wa and explained it to us." The training was extensive: "They said the training would last six months but we had to attend for one year, because they ordered us to do work like building houses and cutting bamboo. We had to do soldier work and other work at the same time." In training "we were treated like soldiers," meaning that they were punished with physical work or beatings. Aung Kyaw himself was beaten four times during training because he could not understand commands. As the training progressed, "I wasn't allowed to write to my family. I missed them and I cried. The others too. Some of the older ones ran away, and some of them were caught. They were put in jail with sentences of one year, three years or five years."
After the training Aung Kyaw spent six years as a Wa soldier based at Loi Kham and Mae Yo. Before the Mong Tai army surrendered in 1996, he was often involved in heavy fighting with them. The first time, "[t]he Shan army came to a Lahu village and sent us a message: `We're here. If you want to fight come here.' There was a lot of shooting but no Wa soldiers were hurt. I was scared. I went to the NCO and stayed close to him. I fired my gun, about 200 rounds. We shot at them but they got away." After 1996 his unit never saw combat, but spent most of their time farming around their base. He was involved in providing security for drug caravans, but it was the older soldiers who actually carried the drugs and the use of drugs was strictly forbidden to all of the rank and file soldiers. According to another source from outside the UWSA, the officers can get away with using methamphetamines, but for the rank and file caught using drugs the first offence is punished with a jail term, the second offence with execution.
Though his officers usually were not brutal to him, "[w]hen I was a soldier I was too young and I couldn't do all the things I was told to do. I couldn't do some of the heavy work and they beat me once or twice, very badly with sticks." He did not see any serious problems between Wa soldiers and villagers but thinks that the Wa army is not a benefit to local villagers, particularly non-Wa villagers. As part of the recent forced relocations of Wa villagers from the north to the south he noted that "[m]any Wa soldiers from Mong Yawn were sent up to Murng Hsat, they took the land from the Lahu villagers and told them that if they want to stay in their villages they must join the Wa army. . . . I think it's not good, because some people don't want to join but they're forced, and now that they are forcing Lahu people out of their villages they sometimes take the Lahu children to be soldiers."
Once in the UWSA, Aung Kyaw says that no one is ever let out. Forty or fifty of his battalion of 300 had already run away, and those who were caught were beaten and then sent to jail for three years. Despite the risk, he felt that he had to run away or he would end up in the army until he died: "I had to run away, because I told my officer, `There is no fighting and nothing to do, so I want to go and visit my family' and he refused. No one was allowed to go to see their families. I haven't seen my family since I was taken [seven years ago]. I've had no contact with them at all. There was no one who could take a letter to them, and I wasn't allowed to go and see them. I want to go back now, but I have no documents or money so I can't. If I go back to my family I'll be arrested, or they'll give my family problems." Early one morning he left his UWSA camp in civilian clothing without any particular plan, climbed on a passing passenger truck and never returned. In his opinion, most of the soldiers in the UWSA would flee if they had the chance.
In his testimony Aung Kyaw corroborated the observations of outside observers cited earlier that the UWSA arms and trains every Wa family. There are no indications that the UWSA has altered its policy of taking one of every two sons from Wa families, in addition to one son of every non-Wa family who cannot pay a heavy tax in cash. While it may be true that the Wa are a tough and even warlike people, their population has been decimated by war to the point where the Lahu National Development Organization estimates that women outnumber men three to one and children under fifteen make up a third of the total population in the Wa home area.31 The mass forced relocation of over 100,000 people has made things even worse, killing as many as several thousand Wa villagers through illness and hunger.32 The expansion of UWSA territory which accompanies the relocations is likely to result in even more pressure on both Wa and non-Wa families to hand over their young sons to the UWSA.
Shan State Army - South (SSA-South)
Prior to 1996 the Mong Tai army led by Khun Sa was probably the second strongest opposition army in Burma, operating in southern Shan State with an estimated strength of well over 10,000 troops. When Khun Sa suddenly surrendered his army to the SLORC regime in 1996 many of his soldiers were caught by surprise, but had little choice except to surrender or disperse to their home villages. MTA Colonel Yawd Serk broke away with 500 to 1,000 soldiers and continued to fight, eventually naming his new army the Shan State Army - South. The designation `South' differentiates this group from the Shan State Army, which is based in northern Shan State and made a ceasefire pact with the SLORC in 1989. To undermine the SSA-South, the SLORC/SPDC began forcibly relocating Shan villages in southern and central Shan State, a campaign which is still continuing and has already uprooted an estimated 1,500 villages and 300,000 people.33 The SSA-South has grown since then, largely with recruits from among the displaced civilian population, and continues to fight the Burma army and sometimes the United Wa State Army. The SSA-South refuses to release information on its troop strength, but most estimates now place it at 4,000-6,000 soldiers under arms. In 1998 a political wing was formed and named the Restoration Council of the Shan State (RCSS).
According to Sao Ood Kesi, a member of the central executive committee of the RCSS, "Most [SSA soldiers] are volunteers. Some are from ceasefire groups, and some are from the MTA. We forced more than 500 from the MTA in Kunhing township to come with us. They were ready to surrender [in 1996] but we forced them to come and stay with us. The MTA had about 2,000 child soldiers, but none of the 500 we forced were children because they were front line soldiers. Khun Sa's child soldiers were all posted along the border."34 This differs somewhat from the account of Sai Lone, who was forced to join the MTA at age sixteen but fled to Thailand after the MTA surrendered the following year:
When the SSA formed they said "Don't be afraid, we'll still fight the Burmese." Some volunteered to go but others didn't. Some boys had no choice so they went to join against their will. When Khun Sa surrendered many child soldiers wanted to go home but they didn't know the way and were afraid, so they went to the SSA. There were 700 soldiers in my [MTA] group, and about 200 of them joined the SSA. Most went home instead. In my group of 700, about 120 were under eighteen. About thirty of the 200 who joined SSA were under eighteen. Now some of the SSA are children, but not many.35
In separate interviews with RCSS central executive committee member Sao Ood Kesi and RCSS General Secretary Sai Tern Sarng, both informed Human Rights Watch that prior to 2001 SSA policy was that "every able bodied man between sixteen and forty-five must serve his country," meaning that he must join the SSA-South.36 In February 2001 the RCSS and SSA-South convened their annual People's Seminar with over 200 delegates from various parts of Shan State and the Thai border area, and the seminar delegates recommended changing the minimum age in the policy to eighteen. This recommendation was reportedly accepted by the RCSS and was then printed in an RCSS Statement dated February 7, 2001, a copy of which has been obtained by Human Rights Watch. This document lists seven "main decisions" of the People's Seminar, one of which states, "To have a strong and disciplined army every able man between the age of 18 to 45 must serve in the army for one 5-year term."37 Afterwards, according to Sao Ood Kesi, "The order was sent out to all commanders that they cannot recruit under eighteen. They have to obey the order. If not we have the Army Act, military law. We already sent out the order, and we've had no problems on this matter."38
General Secretary Sai Tern Sarng stated that "[i]f anyone under eighteen tries to volunteer they're rejected for training, by order of Colonel Yawd Serk," and that if there is any uncertainty about a volunteer's age they are either tested with physical training or sent to school. He claimed that if a displaced orphan under eighteen attaches himself to an SSA-South guerrilla unit in a combat zone, he is taken by the unit to one of the schools run by the SSA-South near the Thai border.39 Independent witnesses confirmed that these schools exist at Loi Tai Leng, Loi Kaw Wan and possibly one or two other smaller locations, with a total of over 500 students. Seventy to 80 percent of these are boys, some of whom are former child soldiers. According to one independent witness, the students do some physical training and marching drills, but receive no military training. Students sometimes run away to find work in Thailand, and if caught they are brought back and detained in a jail for a short time before resuming their studies. According to RCSS spokesman Sai Tern Sarng, boys are not forced to join the army upon finishing their studies at these schools, but other witnesses indicated that when boys at the school reach age eighteen they are either compelled or pressured to join the army.
The officially stated term of service in the SSA-South is five years for both volunteers and conscripts, after which they can decide whether to remain or be discharged. While admitting that the SSA-South policy specifies mandatory conscription, the RCSS spokesmen asserted that this is rarely exercised and that the majority of recruits to the SSA-South are volunteers. The reason given was that conscripts are unreliable and "dangerous" in the field, an opinion that was supported by an SSA-South brigade commander interviewed by Human Rights Watch who stated that "in my battalion there is no conscription, they are all volunteers. Conscripts desert." The same commander expressed similar feelings about soldiers under eighteen, stating that he does not want them because they are "dangerous, and can't control themselves in combat."40
According to the RCSS spokesmen, when the new policy came into effect in February 2001 all active soldiers under eighteen were demobilized and sent to school, and since that time no boys under eighteen have been recruited and there are no child soldiers now in the SSA-South. Human Rights Watch was unable to interview SSA-South soldiers or visit Shan areas to verify this claim, and the accounts of independent witnesses who have visited SSA-South bases and areas of operation are inconclusive on this subject. Most witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch who had been in southern Shan State since early 2001 stated that they saw uniformed SSA-South soldiers who appeared to be under eighteen years old, primarily manning guard posts away from combat areas; one observer stated that in mid-2001 he saw close to 200 soldiers under eighteen manning hilltop guard posts, but none with combat units. Several of these witnesses added that the number of child soldiers has noticeably decreased in the past two years and that there seemed to be few or no child soldiers with operational combat units any longer. Another observer, however, believed that the SSA-South is "just following others, because the whole world says that soldiers must be over eighteen. It's just a policy, but they take everyone they can."41 An independent observer whose close relative joined the SSA-South at age sixteen in 1999 pointed out that in the areas where thousands of villagers have been displaced by the Burma army, "[m]ost boys want to fight for revenge. If the children want to join and if the parents want them to, then it's hard to refuse them. . . . The SSA's foremost concern is their image so they have issued these directions not to recruit anyone under eighteen, but I doubt they're being strictly enforced in these circumstances."42
Case stories of former child soldiers with the SSA-South given to Human Rights Watch by nongovernmental organizations indicate that in the early days of its formation boys under eighteen were actively recruited and conscripted. Since the formal change in policy of February 2001 or possibly earlier, it appears that boys under eighteen are no longer being conscripted or actively recruited and some of those who come forward to volunteer are being sent to schools. However, the evidence available suggests that some boys under eighteen are still being accepted into the SSA-South and that there may still be as many as several hundred child soldiers, most of whom are not being used in direct combat roles.
Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA)
The Karen revolution began in January 1949, just a year after Burmese independence. In the early days it took various names and forms, which eventually grew into the Karen National Union (KNU) and its armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA). At its peak in the 1970s and 80s, the KNU/KNLA had over 10,000 men under arms and controlled large areas of Karen State and Tenasserim Division and part of eastern Pegu Division. After the SLORC military junta was formed in 1988, the Burma army began mounting large-scale offensives aimed at KNU territory and trading gateways, and this gradually weakened the KNLA. In late 1994 disgruntlement with the leadership caused a large proportion of KNLA rank and file soldiers to break away and form the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), which immediately began helping the Burma army to attack the KNLA. This resulted in the fall of the KNU headquarters at Manerplaw and several other KNU stronghold areas. The Burma army followed up in early 1997 with major offensives against KNU territory in southern Karen State and Tenasserim Division, effectively capturing the last large areas of KNU control. The KNLA reorganized into a much smaller force of guerrilla units which now no longer attempt to firmly control territory, though they still exert de facto control over some of the Papun hills of northern Karen State and small areas of Tenasserim Division. The KNLA is still actively fighting the Burma army and the DKBA. Various attempts at ceasefire talks with the SLORC/SPDC have always foundered when the junta refuses to include human rights or political issues on the agenda, and at present the SPDC is refusing to negotiate with the KNU unless the latter surrenders first. KNU representatives claim that the KNLA now has 10,000 soldiers backed up by an additional 5,000 trained village militiamen, but most independent estimates place the current armed strength of the KNLA at between 3,000 and 5,000 armed soldiers.
The KNLA before 1995
Prior to 1995, when the KNLA was a large army controlling significant territory, many volunteers under eighteen were accepted into the army. According to KNU General Secretary Pado Mahn Sha, in the late 1980s the KNLA even formed a "boys' company" of about one hundred soldiers aged fifteen to seventeen, but disbanded it after two years because it was deemed not useful; most child soldiers after that were sent into regular units.43 Until 1995, villages under KNU control were forced to provide recruits on a quota system; most families with several sons were forced to provide at least one of them to the army. Saw Wah was a nine-year-old boy in one such area in the mid-1980s: "I had one brother, so one of us would have had to become a soldier in the KNLA. Before, the KNLA policy was that if there were two or more brothers, one must become a soldier. Whether that was an official policy or not, it was the order from the local KNU leaders so we had to obey it. Now the KNLA can't force people to be soldiers anymore because they're weak, and if they did the people wouldn't support them." Saw Wah's father had been a soldier himself and didn't want either of his sons to be taken, so the family fled to Thailand before the boys reached recruiting age.44 At that time, boys as young as thirteen or fourteen were often taken in the village quotas. Some were also captured by KNLA columns, including Saw Lah Ghay who was taken in 1993: "I was thirteen. I was arrested. Seven of us were arrested together. When we were tending cattle twelve soldiers came and arrested us, blindfolded us, took us back to Manerplaw and put us in jail. They said, `You must become soldiers. If you don't we'll kill you.' I ran away twice, so they fined my mother two pairs of bullocks . . . . Then my parents came to see me at Naw Hta and talked with the officers about releasing me. I had no choice, because if I went back they'd be fined two more bullocks but if I stayed they wouldn't, so I decided to remain a soldier."45
He was then given three months of commando training, though on the first day of the course he fell while climbing a rope and broke his arm. At the end of the training, now fourteen years old, he was sent directly to the trenches atop Twee Pa Wih Kyo mountain and Min Yaw Kee ridge, where some of the heaviest fighting in the history of the Karen resistance was going on. The Burma army saw the ridge as the key to capturing the KNU headquarters at Manerplaw, and sent thousands of troops up the steep slopes to be mowed down by the Karen machine-gunners dug in on the ridgetops. When the Karen ran out of ammunition their trenches were temporarily overrun, only to be recaptured in more close-quarters fighting; it took the Burma army two offensives spread over three years to capture the position. Saw Lah Ghay says sometimes he cried during the shooting. "I was fourteen by then. None were younger than me. When the Burmese came I shot at them. I was shooting at soldiers. I killed many, maybe ten, twenty, thirty, I don't know exactly. They were just enemy, I wasn't scared. They shot at me and I shot back. I was wounded down here [the lower right leg]. There is steel in there now."46
The KNLA after 1995
After the formation of the DKBA and the subsequent fall of Manerplaw in February 1995 the KNLA was profoundly weakened, and many unwilling soldiers took the opportunity to flee the army back to civilian life. When the KNLA abandoned the policy of holding territory and reorganized into small guerrilla units in 1997 this process continued, and the KNLA did little to stop it; short of money, ammunition, weapons and food, the army shrank to a fraction of its former size. The KNU claims that after 1995 all conscription stopped; KNU spokesmen informed Human Rights Watch that they see no point in conscription any longer because they do not have the arms or other materials to fully support even the volunteers who approach them.47 This is generally corroborated by independent witnesses, most of whom state that they have not witnessed any forced conscription to the KNLA since 1997. There are exceptions to this, however, and some KNLA brigades still occasionally issue recruiting quotas to villages. One such example occurred in 2001 in Papun District of Karen State, when the KNLA Fifth Brigade commander obtained approval from the district KNU authorities to order thirty-five village tracts (a group of five or six villages) in the area to provide one recruit each. According to a source within the region, the order specified that the recruits must be at least eighteen years old and physically fit with no handicaps. At first the village tracts failed to comply because some of them were having difficulty finding families who would surrender a son, but they were then reminded and eventually thirty village tracts each sent one recruit. Despite the age specification in the order, four of the thirty recruits were under eighteen, including one fourteen-year-old and three who were aged fifteen or sixteen. The training officers then discussed whether to accept these four, and a decision was made to train them as soldiers but to post them initially to a headquarters unit until they grow older.48
Evidence indicates that at least some of the children who volunteer are still accepted into the KNLA. Human Rights Watch interviewed several soldiers who had been accepted into the KNLA when under eighteen, as well as one child soldier who recently deserted the Burma army and was accepted to the KNLA at age sixteen. Though the KNU appears to discourage the active recruitment of children, local and regional commanders sometimes accept whomever they can get; one source within the KNU system explained to Human Rights Watch that if a boy under eighteen volunteers, "If he wants to join they'll accept him, because there are usually no questions about his age. If the officers really followed the army rules they would have to check first with the brigade commander, but they don't, they just accept them. Some officers adjust their ages upwards."49
KNU General Secretary Pado Mahn Sha told Human Rights Watch that the KNLA now has 140 to 150 child soldiers, with twenty to twenty-five of them in each of the KNLA's seven brigades, but claimed that they were limited to performing non-combatant support roles. Independent observers believe the actual total may be closer to 500 child soldiers, and that many of these are in fact used in combat roles. A military officer with another opposition group who sometimes goes on joint operations with KNLA columns told Human Rights Watch, "Sometimes KNLA soldiers combine with our column, and from what I've seen, out of 60 KNLA soldiers about five or six are under eighteen. Maybe they have a policy on paper, but some of their officers don't follow it."50 Another witness who lives in the KNLA's First Brigade area, which is very much a combat zone, told Human Rights Watch that out of about 500 soldiers in the First Brigade he has seen forty or fifty who are under eighteen, twenty of whom are under fifteen. He stated that all of these boys are in uniform and carry weapons, even the youngest, who is thirteen years old. In the KNLA's Fifth Brigade, which has two or three times as many soldiers, he estimated that there are one hundred soldiers under eighteen years old, fifty of whom are under fifteen.51
Another interviewee from an independent NGO encountered several KNLA checkpoints while traveling along a road in Karen State in April 2002, and thought that several of the soldiers at each checkpoint were under eighteen; "[a]t their checkpoint about four out of twenty of them were fifteen or sixteen. One was only ten or twelve, he checks every truck and taxes the things in the truck. The ten and twelve-year-olds are usually kept at their checkpoints and offices. If they wanted to run away, all they'd have to do would be to change into civilian clothes."52 The KNU asserts that the child soldiers they have are kept in rear area camps and are not sent into combat. Independent witnesses tend to agree that most of those under sixteen are used at checkpoints and in rear areas, but many soldiers aged sixteen and seventeen and a few soldiers under sixteen have been seen with front-line combat units.
The KNU states that the KNLA constitution forbids the recruiting of anyone under eighteen years old, and that this document is read out to all soldiers. If an officer disobeyed this rule, he would be instructed to stop recruiting children in accordance with the constitution as adopted in 1992, which dictates that the first offence should be punished by reprimand and the second offence by a stronger reprimand or discharge.53 The KNU informed Human Rights Watch that they have not dealt with any such cases as yet, in spite of their admission that there are child soldiers in the KNLA. A copy of the constitution was not made available to Human Rights Watch as it is a confidential document. KNLA soldiers who were asked in interviews confirmed that the constitution or parts of it had been read out to them, but could not recall hearing anything in it about the minimum age of recruits.
When approached by volunteers under eighteen, officially stated KNU policy is to send them to school, providing material support for this if necessary. If the boy then decides at age eighteen not to join the army, this is allowed provided he submits a "resignation" and works for the KNU or KNLA for some time as a clerk or in a similar function as a way of paying back the material stipend.54 A KNLA battalion adjutant interviewed by Human Rights Watch stated that he was not fully aware of what the constitution states, but "[t]he policy is that the minimum age is eighteen. Those who are sixteen, seventeen or nearly eighteen should go to school, but in some cases we have to accept seventeen-year-olds, and if you go to the front line you can see why. They have been mistreated, so many young boys really want to join. If they really want to we accept them, but we won't accept fifteen or sixteen-year-olds because they're too young." If confronted with a fifteen-year-old boy who desperately wants to enlist, "I tell them, `You shouldn't be a soldier. You are too young. You can't carry a gun. Combat will be very difficult for you, you won't be able to fight.'" He was then asked whether this would still be the case if the boy's parents had been killed and he had no food or place to stay: "This case has happened. If they ask because they have many problems like that then we usually let them stay in the camp and look after them. We explain why they can't be a soldier and try to send them to their relatives. If he wouldn't go, we'd let him stay and do things around the camp but we wouldn't send him to the front line."55
Another source within the KNU system asserted that the youngest boys who try to volunteer are pressed to attend school and given material support to do so, particularly if they are fifteen or younger, but that boys already in their early teens who have never been to school are unwilling to sit among kindergarten students and often run away from school. He said that the KNLA has little idea of how to deal with these boys, so they often end up working as helpers around army camps; before long, they start going out with combat units.56
Recruitment and Treatment of Soldiers
The volunteers applying to join the KNLA do so for a variety of reasons. For most, there is a sense that they need to avenge abuses committed by the Burma army against their family or against their people. For the internally displaced who are constantly on the run from Burma army columns, life in the KNLA is often seen as safer than life as an unarmed villager, as well as being a secure source of food. Boys who have grown up in refugee camps in Thailand also volunteer, because they know the lack of opportunity in the refugee camps and want to do something constructive for their situation as refugees. Brought up on glorified views of the Karen struggle, many of them have never directly experienced the actual hardships of the soldiers and the villagers. Saw Ko Doh was a Fifth Standard student in a refugee camp when he decided to join in 1999: "I was sixteen. I heard that the Burmese and DKBA had killed my uncle, so I decided to join the army. They shot him, cut off his arms and legs and threw him in a hole without covering him. My aunt in Thay Baw Bo wrote a letter to my father about it."57
Saw Ler Wah's story is also not uncommon:
My mother was killed by the Burmese army. I saw it. I was six years old. The Burmese army demanded porters from the village, and then they came to the village. My father ran away, and the soldiers came to the house and ordered my mother to be a porter. But she had a problem with her leg, so they kicked her down out of the house and she fell to the ground, and then they shot her. All three of us were there [he and his sister and brother]. We were inside the house. We all cried and the Burmese soldiers left. My father hid in the forest and then came back to take care of us later. We stayed in the village for about one year. Then we lived in the hills and gullies, because the Burmese army ordered us to leave the village. We lived in the hills for four years, then my father went to the refugee camp but I didn't go. My brother and sister went. I didn't go because the Burmese had killed my mother, so I wanted to join the army. I was about fourteen.58
Saw Tha Si's urge to join the KNLA also came from his earliest childhood: "My uncle was forced to be a porter but he couldn't carry the basket, so they kicked him down and then shot him. My aunt told me. I was over six at the time. When I was ten I told my mother I wanted to be a soldier. She said I should wait until I'm twelve or thirteen. They knew I was going to join when I went in 2000. They didn't say anything. They think it's okay."59 He was fourteen when he tried to join, but was sent to school instead. An observer who lives in one of the KNLA's areas of operation told Human Rights Watch, "Some children want to be soldiers so they lie about their age, because their parents are suffering so they want to fight the SPDC. You can see from their faces that they're young but they say they're nineteen or twenty. They accept them, because if they don't then these children might go and join the DKBA."60
When confronted with underage volunteers who are so clearly eager to join the army, KNU officials admitted that it is difficult to refuse them. Two such soldiers interviewed by Human Rights Watch were accepted into the KNLA at age sixteen, while several others who tried to volunteer at younger ages, including Saw Tha Si and Saw Ler Wah who are quoted above, were sent to school in refugee camps with the support of the KNU but were later given military training. Now they spend their school holidays doing odd jobs at their KNLA camp, and intend to become full-fledged soldiers when they finish school. There are also some parents who are unable to send their sons to school because they are internally displaced or cannot afford school fees, so they sign an agreement with the KNU that in return for caring for the boy and sending him to school he will later have to serve the KNU, whether as a soldier or in a civilian capacity. When fifteen-year-old Saw Ler Wah approached the KNLA on his own in 2001, "I was about fourteen. I went to stay with the army in Seventh Brigade at Dta Kaw Bee Kwee [KNLA Seventh Brigade headquarters]. My father agreed, because I wanted to be a soldier. I told an officer. He said they would send me to school, `Then when you're twenty I'll accept you as a soldier.' I told the officer I'd go to school. Then I went to school and I also became a soldier. I held weapons."61
Though not sent to the front line, these "soldier students" are given some training in weapons maintenance. During the school holiday in 2001, thirteen-year-old Saw Plah Htoo came from a refugee camp to go through this training. Though reluctant to admit it at first, he acknowledged that he had learned to maintain small arms and had once test fired an assault rifle. He said that of the 200 soldiers at the base camp about five were under eighteen; the only one younger than him was a twelve-year-old who was also maintaining weapons. When Human Rights Watch asked whether he would go to the front line if his officer requested it, he answered, "I won't go because I'm too young. They also wouldn't let me go."62 While at the camp, the fifteen-year-old trainees were given a uniform and a gun to keep with them, but these were not given to Saw Plah Htoo. Fifteen-year-old Saw Tha Si says that while he has been at the camp the soldiers from his unit have gone to the front line to fight, but even though he has a uniform and a gun, "[t]hey wouldn't let me, because I'm too young." When he heard that some of them had been wounded and killed, "I felt unhappy. I was scared."63
Volunteers aged sixteen and seventeen seem to have a much easier time being accepted to the KNLA. When Saw Htoo Po went to a KNLA camp to enlist in early 2001 he spoke to the adjutant, who asked him his age; "I said a little over seventeen. He didn't say anything. He let me join . . . . I got my uniform one or two days later and started the training right away."64 Saw Ko Doh was allowed to join at age sixteen: "They [his parents] didn't like it because I was young, but when I came here to join they didn't know. I joined on 31 January 2000. When I first arrived I saw some soldiers and asked if I could be a soldier. They said I could and took me to the office. There were officers there. They asked me, `Do you dare to be a soldier?' I said yes. They asked my age and I said sixteen. They asked my parents' names and who would be my beneficiary [if he dies]. I said my father. They measured my height and size."65 Both boys were asked whether they were attending school, and both of them lied and said they were not, but no checks were made. When they asked Saw Ko Doh, "I said, `I don't want to go to school. I've left school.' They said, `You should go to school, then you can join medical training,' but I said I didn't want to go to school. They noted down my identifying marks and gave me a uniform and a gun."
The training did not begin until two months after Saw Ko Doh enlisted, and in the meantime his unit took him on front line patrols three times, even though he was only sixteen years old and completely untrained. On his first patrol his unit laid landmines and spied on a Burma army camp, and on his second patrol he experienced his first firefight:
We were waiting for the Burmese and the NCOs and older soldiers set up claymores. When the Burmese came they pulled the tripwires and the claymores exploded. When the claymores exploded it shocked me. Then my friends stood and started firing, so I followed them and fired too. When the explosions went off I was afraid, but not after. I was angry and shouted at the Burmese. I fired two magazines, sixty bullets. We fired for half an hour and then ran away, because we were only nine soldiers and three NCOs and there were over 200 Burmese.
When his training eventually commenced over a month later,
[t]he trainers acted like they didn't know us, very hard-faced. Sometimes if we made mistakes they kicked our hips. Twice I was beaten with a bamboo and once with a split bamboo. The first time was because I used the wrong position doing pushups. The second time was because I shouldered the gun the wrong way and the magazine fell out. The third time was because I laughed when the trainer made a joke. They hit me twice the first time, five times the second, and three times the third. Recruits were beaten almost every day. When it happened we weren't allowed to look, we had to keep our eyes straight forward or they would easily hit your face. . . . Sometimes it was easy, sometimes hard. We couldn't run as fast as the older ones, and we couldn't see things as well in the forest. The older trainees sometimes mistreated me.
Training generally lasts one month, consisting of basic military skills and tactics and little else. Afterwards the soldiers are assigned to units that regularly go out on patrols to ambush Burmese military columns, reconnoiter and attack Burmese outposts, lay landmines, and protect internally displaced villagers. Those interviewed by Human Rights Watch appeared highly motivated. Saw Htoo Po, who joined at sixteen and is now eighteen, said that he enjoys life as a soldier and that the best part is "[g]oing to the front line, because you can go around the villages and sometimes you see girls there." Though one of his friends has already been wounded by a landmine, he says that "I'm not afraid. As a soldier, you shouldn't let fear enter your mind."66 Saw Ko Doh, whose first firefight happened before he was even trained (see above), is now nineteen years old and "I've been to the front line many many times now, I can't count them all. I've been in fighting three times. Once there were nine of us and six DKBA, and we killed all six of them. They were drunk inside a small hut, and we shot them. After that we went to L--- village and had a good curry. The DKBA killed my uncle. They are with the Burmese. Shooting Burmese makes me very happy."67
Relations between KNLA units and local Karen villagers are generally good, and the soldiers generally place fewer demands on villages now than they did before 1995. The soldiers receive no salary and are not allowed to marry during their first seven years in the army. They are allowed up to one week of leave per month, and the KNLA soldiers interviewed by Human Rights Watch confirmed that they had been able to visit their families on a regular basis. Saw Htoo Po testified that he sees his family "from time to time. If my parents are sick or other things happen I go. I went and stayed with them for a month one time. My father also visited me."68
Once in the KNLA, the term of service is for life and there is no option of discharge except in cases of incapacity. Witnesses stated that since 1995 the KNLA has made little effort to recapture soldiers who desert, probably because they see this as a waste of limited resources and a possible cause of friction with the local population. Exceptions do occur, however, as related by one witness from a KNLA area: "In Fifth Brigade I was with some soldiers, and one was very young so I asked why he'd joined. He said, `I didn't want to join, but my elder brother became a monk so I had to become a soldier or pay money.' It was . . . in October 2001, and he'd already been with the army for five months." The young boy's brother had run away from the KNLA to become a monk, and shortly thereafter a group of KNLA soldiers arrived at the family's house and demanded that this boy be given as a replacement unless the family could pay a fine of 50,000 kyat.69 By contrast, KNLA soldier Saw Ko Doh described an occasion in 2001 when one soldier ran away from his unit but no effort was made to recapture him. He believes that if he were to ask for a discharge, "[t]hey wouldn't allow it. If you give someone permission to go, others will ask. But if I ran away nothing would happen." He says, however, that this is not an issue for him because he intends to remain in the KNLA "until I die."70
The KNDO Militia
The Karen National Defense Organization (KNDO) is supposed to be a part-time militia force of village volunteers, trained and armed to defend their villages against Burma army troops. However, several witnesses testified that the KNDO in most areas now operates as an arm of the KNLA, that KNDO members are acting as full-time soldiers and operating together with KNLA units. Each of the KNLA's seven brigade areas is supposed to have one battalion of 130 to 150 trained KNDO troops. The KNDO reportedly follows the same recruiting procedures and policies as the KNLA, and as a result one witness estimated that twenty out of every 130 KNDO members are under eighteen years old, with about ten of these being under fifteen.71 These figures suggest a total KNDO strength of 910 to 1,050 members, with 140 child soldiers including seventy soldiers under fifteen years old. These figures may be high, however, because some areas may be operating without the full complement of KNDO troops.
Addressing the Problem
In 1992 the KNU informed the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) that it would observe the Geneva Conventions and its additional protocols, including the prohibition on recruitment under age fifteen. In 2001 over twenty KNLA officers attended a training given by the ICRC on the rules of war, including the issues of child soldiers, avoiding civilian casualties, and treatment of prisoners. The KNU's admission that there are child soldiers in the KNLA and their expressed willingness to address this problem are constructive steps, but need to be taken much further. If, as several witnesses testified to Human Rights Watch, child soldiers are being used in combat roles by the KNLA, then the KNU should seek to end this practice rather than continue to deny it. As a first step, the KNU could be more open in allowing outside groups access to KNLA child soldiers to assess their situation. It is true that the KNLA faces a dilemma because it has few other options to offer the many boys under eighteen who are eager to enlist. As one independent NGO observer noted, "For example, after Tee Wah Doh [a camp of over 1,000 internally displaced villagers] was burned, there were a lot of villagers, no school, and a lot of fourteen to sixteen-year-olds who were very keen to join. That's very hard to control."72 At the same time, however, it was clear in the interviews conducted by Human Rights Watch that for many of these boys the option of school does exist, particularly for those who come from the refugee camps. Some boys aged sixteen and seventeen are clearly accepted with no serious attempt being made to send them back to school. As one Karen refugee told Human Rights Watch, "I think that if the KNU tried to convince them not to join they wouldn't, but otherwise they only know farming and soldiering, they don't know there are any other options. They only see that soldiers are very tough, and that they look good with a gun and uniform."73
Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA)
In 1994 a Buddhist monk named U Thuzana traveled through Karen areas encouraging villagers and soldiers to stop supporting the KNU and to come to stay at his refuge at Khaw Taw (also known as Myaing Gyi Ngu), where they would not have to work for either the KNU or the SLORC. His call appealed to many villagers who were frustrated after facing two decades of the Burmese regime's scorched earth policies, and many went to Khaw Taw. It also appealed to many rank and file Karen soldiers who were tired of defending territory for a leadership they felt did not represent them, and consequently a large part of the KNLA mutinied. Though it has often been stated that this was a split along Buddhist-Christian religious lines, it was actually a rebellion against the lack of accountability of the leadership; many Christians and Animists joined in the mutiny, while most of those who remained with the KNLA were Buddhist and Animist. Unable to resolve their differences with the KNU, the mutineers went on to form the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) and a political wing, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Organization (DKBO). The SLORC gave full support and promised that if the DKBA helped to eradicate the KNU, they would be given control of Karen State and the Burma army would withdraw. The DKBA then helped the Burma army to capture the KNU headquarters at Manerplaw and other positions, but the promise to give them authority over Karen State was never honored.
The population who had voluntarily moved to Khaw Taw was augmented by forcing several thousand more villagers to move there, and this population was used as a source of recruits for the DKBA. The residents were forced to be vegetarian and were not allowed to farm, making them completely dependent on the rations provided by the SLORC. As these rations and the other material support were gradually cut off between 1996 and 1998 many fled Khaw Taw, and only a small population remains there now. The DKBA now has units throughout many parts of Karen State which operate in an uneasy alliance with the Burma army, neither side trusting the other. Originally supplied by the SLORC, the DKBA now has to survive by its own means, and many DKBA units are involved in extorting money from villages and at road checkpoints, logging, mining, running passenger vehicles, and possibly methamphetamine trafficking to Thailand. DKBA soldiers often work in conjunction with Burma army columns or fight the KNLA on their own, but the DKBA leadership no longer appears to have clear political objectives.74
Current DKBA strength is difficult to estimate, but probably includes at least 2,000 to 3,000 men under arms, organized into four brigades. Most of the KNLA soldiers who originally formed the DKBA later fled, and have been replaced by recruits from among the villagers at Khaw Taw and other locations. In addition, whenever the DKBA captures KNLA soldiers they force them to join the DKBA. This usually occurs when KNLA soldiers are on leave in their home villages. As a result, many young Karen men tell of having gone back and forth between the KNLA and the DKBA as many as three or four times by the time they reach the age of eighteen or twenty. Saw Lah Ghay is one such case: in 1993 he was forced into the KNLA at age thirteen, then the next year his officer forced him to join the DKBA mutiny. After the mutiny he rejoined the KNLA for four more years, then when he was eighteen "[m]y officer surrendered to the DKBA with his whole group. That was three years ago. I didn't want to go. I didn't want to be a DKBA soldier." When interviewed by Human Rights Watch, he had just fled the DKBA and rejoined the KNLA; he is now twenty-two years old.75 Saw Eh G'Lu has also spent time in both armies: an orphaned only child, he was already working in Rangoon at age fifteen, "[t]hen when I came home to visit my father I was arrested by the DKBA to be a soldier, but after a week I ran away to the KNLA." He was then with the KNLA for about two years, went and joined the DKBA for a short time but fled back to the KNLA, "[t]hen two months later I went back to visit my village and was arrested again by the DKBA. That was last year." In March 2002, he fled the DKBA again and is now back with the KNLA.76
According to Saw Eh G'Lu, "I was arrested. Many were arrested. But most of the new recruits were volunteers. The youngest were thirteen, maybe even twelve. Some join because they hate the KNU. Some are persuaded, some because they're poor, and some just want to be soldiers . . . . They have a plan to recruit new soldiers and take any volunteers. I don't know how they persuade them. None of us get salaries now. There's not enough rice, and maybe only two tins of milk per month." Other independent observers interviewed by Human Rights Watch believe that many recruits are drawn by the attractions of making a living from the DKBA's business projects, exerting power over other villagers, or making their families exempt from taxation and forced labor.
It is unclear whether the DKBA has a specific policy on the minimum age for recruitment to the army. Saw Lah Ghay believes that 40 to 50 percent of new recruits to the DKBA are under eighteen, and that "[i]f a young boy wants to be a soldier they recruit him." He added that the youngest new recruit he saw was fourteen years old, and that "[s]ome came to join at eleven or thirteen, but they sent them to school."77 Saw Eh G'Lu also saw child soldiers, and says he never saw the DKBA send anyone to school: "About nineteen or twenty is the best age to accept soldiers. But some they take are very small. They'd accept anyone, but if they're very young they ask them to stay at a barracks and maintain the barracks, and do things like that. They don't mistreat them, they usually encourage them."78 Saw Eh G'Lu believes that forty to fifty of every hundred DKBA soldiers are under eighteen years old, and about 5 percent are under fifteen. Estimates from two other sources who live near DKBA areas of operation agreed with Saw Eh G'Lu's figures.79
Human Rights Watch has obtained copies of a letter that was reportedly sent out to many villages in Pa'an District of eastern Karen State by the DKBA on February 19, 2002. The cover letter bears a DKBA stamp and the signature of an officer of DKBA #999 Brigade, and attached to this are the complete minutes of a meeting held on February 18, 2002, between DKBA #999 Brigade commander Colonel Saw Chit Thu, thirteen senior DKBA officers, and village leaders from twenty different villages. According to the minutes, the main purpose of the meeting was to demand recruits from the villages. Colonel Saw Chit Thu announced that "we will meet once a year to discuss increasing the military because the DKBA is the military that was born from the civilians. To increase the military we need the assistance of civilian volunteers." One of the deputy battalion commanders then added that "when sending the new privates [you] need to send people who have a little education. Uneducated soldiers act against the civilians when they arrive in the villages." The officers then provided a list of nineteen villages showing how many recruits each village must provide. The numbers range from one recruit per village up to twelve, giving a total of fourty-four recruits. This was immediately followed by the statement, "Send the new privates on 18-3-2002, do not send children." No indication is given of the age to be used in determining who are "children."80 In the past, villages that have failed to comply with recruitment orders such as this one have been forced to pay heavy fines.
KNLA soldiers who are captured and forced into the DKBA are given no new training. No reliable information is available on the training given to civilian recruits, but the indirect accounts available suggest that it is informal and somewhat sporadic. According to the former DKBA soldiers interviewed, some DKBA groups are considered "fighting units" while others are "non-fighting"; the former seek out and attack the KNLA or form joint columns with Burma army troops, while the latter guard DKBA offices, man checkpoints, and run the DKBA's business interests. One of the fundamental principles of the DKBA is vegetarianism, but most former DKBA soldiers report that the enforcement of this varies between units. In many cases, officers eat meat while enforcing vegetarianism on their troops. Saw Eh G'Lu complained that, "I didn't want to stay with the DKBA. I couldn't just eat vegetarian food any longer. My friends also criticized and blamed me a lot. If I was sick they said `It is because you broke the rules of being vegetarian.'" Saw Lah Ghay, however, had more political reasons for leaving the DKBA: "I love my [Karen] nationality, and it seemed that this other group [DKBA] was dividing and destroying our nationality. It is different now. They're different now because now they don't think of their nationality. Their eyes are being covered by the SPDC's money. If we stay there, the Burmese will `kick our necks.'"
Karen Peace Army (KPA)
In 1997 one of the Karen National Liberation Army's battalion commanders in southern Karen State surrendered to the SLORC and tried to take many of his troops with him. In return for Thu Mu Heh's surrender, the SLORC appears to have assisted him in setting up his group, the Nyein Chan Yay A'Pweh, which translates as Peace Group but is more commonly known as the Karen Peace Army (KPA). In an official ceremony, Thu Mu Heh and his group were then handed control over part of southern Karen State by general Maung Aye, now vice chairman of the SPDC. Thu Mu Heh then tried to attract recruits by offering Karen families an exemption from forced labor if they would send a son to the KPA, and some communities were pressed to provide quotas of recruits. However, most communities did not cooperate and the KPA never grew to more than an estimated 300 soldiers, some of whom may be children. The KPA has now been politically marginalized and its soldiers spend much of their time trying to make money by running checkpoints on roads and through other activities.
Karenni Army (KnA)
Karenni armed resistance against rule by Rangoon broke out in 1948 and has been ongoing ever since in what is now Kayah State. The main Karenni resistance group is the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) with its armed wing, the Karenni Army (KnA). In early 1995 the KNPP reached a ceasefire agreement with the SLORC, but the regime broke the ceasefire just three months later by attacking several key KNPP areas and fighting has been ongoing ever since. To undermine the KnA further, in 1996 the SLORC began a campaign of forcibly relocating and destroying Karenni villages throughout the State. Approximately 200 villages have been destroyed by this campaign, displacing an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 villagers into the hills while just over 20,000 Karenni refugees are now in camps in Thailand.81 The KnA is still fighting the Burma army in small units, using the lack of roads in the densely forested hills of much of Kayah State as an advantage to its guerrilla tactics. According to General Aung Mya, second in command of the Karenni Army, at present the KnA has over 3,000 names on its enlistment rolls but due to a lack of resources there are only 1,200 armed and active soldiers. Other estimates place KnA strength at approximately 1,000 soldiers, with possibly an additional 500 trained militiamen.
KNPP and KnA representatives state that all of their soldiers and militia are volunteers; Human Rights Watch was informed that "[e]ven before it was all volunteers. There is no point in conscripting, especially now because we don't have enough weapons even for those who volunteer. It takes a lot of resources to supply a soldier."82 While KnA policy specifies the minimum recruitment age as eighteen, the KNPP and KnA both openly admit that this policy is often broken. KnA General Aung Mya explained, "Twenty years ago we set the minimum age as eighteen. When young people under eighteen come to join we encourage them to go to school. They have a low level of education so it is hard to get them to go to school, but we keep explaining. If they won't go, we allow them to join the military but we keep them in the army camp cooking, raising pigs, delivering messages and things like that." However, some of these boys insist on going to the front line; "There are many like that in the army, so we let them finish military training and then let them go to the front line for the experience. Most only go once and they get very frightened at the front line, so after they get back they don't want to go again and they prefer to go to school."83 While admitting that many boys still choose to continue fighting at the front line, General Aung Mya and other spokesmen insisted that boys under eighteen are never forced to go to the front line. General Aung Mya estimates that 20 percent of the soldiers in his army are under eighteen years old, which implies 200 to 250 child soldiers in total. Estimates by other observers also fall close to these figures.
The KNPP says that it also gives some weapons and training to internally displaced Karenni villagers to defend themselves against the Burma army, and that children may sometimes fight as part of these local militias. As KNPP spokesman Khu Oo Reh explains, "The local militias are organized by the township authorities. They get a very basic three months training and they get weapons from the Karenni Army, but not enough weapons. There are some children in the militia. Every villager is a potential militia member. If the Burmese army comes then children often fight alongside their fathers, so some have already fought before they are trained. They are supposed to be eighteen before getting militia training."84 Human Rights Watch was unable to obtain any direct information regarding these militias.
Recruitment, Training and Deployment
All of the KnA soldiers interviewed by Human Rights Watch testified that they had volunteered for service. Thu Reh enlisted at age thirteen in 1999 because "I have no house. My house has been burned, so I fight those who burned my house. My parents have no house, so they already came to the refugee camp and I come to visit them there."85 Meh Reh was also displaced when the Burma army burned his village, so he joined the KnA in 2001 at age fifteen: "At first I was afraid of the Burmese when they burned our village, but later I decided to fight the Burmese soldiers because they'd burned and destroyed our village. I hate the Burmese soldiers."86 The destruction of villages throughout Kayah State has led many boys to join for revenge, but there are also orphans and displaced children who join because they have nowhere else to go. When Doo Reh was fourteen, "I was in the village. Our house was burned by the Burmese. We had no food, so my only choice was to join the soldiers. I followed the soldiers. Then a training started one month later, and I went there."87 When interviewed, he had already been a soldier for four years.
Some children start following a KnA unit without much of an idea of what they are seeking. Klaw Reh decided to follow a KnA unit when he was twelve years old:
When my mother died I stayed with my father. Only one of my brothers and I [out of seven children] went to school, because my parents were too poor and we had to try hard to make a living. I got to Third Standard and my brother to Second Standard. Then we couldn't go to school because of the SPDC operation. When they came into the village we had to run into the forest because they were collecting porters. We all ran away. . . . When we were hiding in the jungle there wasn't enough food, so many people from our village came to the refugee camp. I heard there was a school in the refugee camp so I came with five friends. The youngest was nine. One of my uncles was with us and led the way. We wanted to join the Karenni Army and fight the Burmese, but for me education was more important. I wanted to go to school first and then join the Karenni Army, and some of my friends felt the same. When we arrived I spoke to the KNPP and told them I wanted to go to school, then when I finished I would join the Karenni Army and fight the Burmese. The KNPP leaders said, "It is best to go to school and then join the army later."88
Others told very similar stories. On arrival near the Thai border, some are sent to one of two special schools which have been set up by the KNPP. Between them these two schools have close to 200 students, almost all of whom are boys and most of whom are under eighteen. According to two students from one of these schools, they follow a regular curriculum with no political or military component, and summer holidays are spent doing special courses such as painting or computer basics. Dee Reh was eleven years old when he followed a KnA column because the soldiers promised to send him to school; "I followed, and if they'd asked me to join the army I would have, it was up to them. They were patrolling and I just followed, me, my friend, and one other boy about twelve. That other boy wanted to join the army. . . . I came with the Karenni Army soldiers and was staying in their camp. I wasn't well. One night a truck came into the camp and the commander said to get on the truck. I didn't know where we were going, but the next thing I remember I was in school." The other boy who was determined to join the army was put on the same truck and sent to school with him. Now seventeen years old, Dee Reh says he wants to stay in school "[a]s long as I can. I want to be more educated so I can do more for my people. I'm in Tenth Standard now. I want to be a soldier, because of the bitter things I faced in the village. . . . I think it's not good to be a soldier when you're young. I didn't think like that before."89
At these boarding schools, students are told that they must pay back their education by working for the KNPP afterwards, whether as a soldier, medic, teacher, or in some other role. Peer pressure leads many of the boys to lean toward soldiering. After several years in one of the schools, Klaw Reh is keen to fight: "First I want to finish school. I'm in Ninth Standard, and I want to finish Tenth Standard and do two years post-secondary. Then I will join the army to organize my people and fight the SPDC. I want to fight. If they want me to be a teacher or something I'd do it for three or four years and then become a soldier."90 Once in these schools, most boys remain there until they are over eighteen years old.
However, many young boys who follow KnA units to camps near the Thai border have never been to school, and one Karenni spokesman admitted that this can cause problems: "Some fourteen-year-olds have never been to school. The army sends them to school, but they don't want to sit among the small boys, so they run away and end up at the military camp."91 Boys aged fifteen and above who make clear that they do not want to attend school are generally accepted into the army without much hesitation. As Klaw Reh described: "Some didn't go to school and joined the Karenni Army. They were fifteen or sixteen, three of them. The KNPP leader said that it is best to go to school first, then army, but some didn't want to go to school and they didn't press them. I haven't seen them since they joined four or five years ago. I heard from my friends that they'd had training and then were sent to the front line near our village. They said that sometimes they were happy at the front line, but sometimes they had big problems and difficulties and life was very hard for them."92 When fourteen-year-old Bu Reh left his village to join with a KnA column in 2001, he approached the commander of the column. "He asked, `How old are you?' That was his only question. I said fourteen. Then they told me, `You're too young. Don't come.' But I went." He is now at a KnA camp awaiting training.
Several of the soldiers interviewed by Human Rights Watch joined in 2001 when they were fourteen or fifteen years old, and all of these boys say that if their commanders told them to go to school they would; one even said that though it depends on the order of his commander, "I'd rather go to school."93 Mu Reh was fifteen when he joined with six friends in 2001, "[a]ll my age, from the same school. At first they asked us many questions, then they accepted us. Questions like `Why have you come?' I said, `I can't bear the Burmese oppression anymore, so I came to join you.' They asked our ages and we told them. They didn't say we were too young, they just accepted us." They told the truth that they were all in school but were accepted regardless. Now Mu Reh is in an army camp waiting for training to begin, even though he told Human Rights Watch that "if someone asks me to go to school I will go."94
Newly enlisted soldiers usually have to wait some time for training. When he first joined in 2001, fifteen-year-old Meh Reh had to wait five or six months before training started, just "gathering firewood, carrying water, cooking and cleaning" around the army camp. Of the ten or twenty other boys waiting with him, he believes that three or four were under fifteen years old, the youngest being thirteen. He says that some of the KnA soldiers were constantly suggesting to these boys that they leave and go back to school, and in the end four of them did. Some child soldiers, however, join in combat zones and then spend months with the guerrilla column in these areas before reaching a camp where they can await training. Fifteen-year-old Mu Reh joined in 2001 and was with an operating combat column for over four months before being taken to their base camp to await training; when interviewed in March 2002 he had still not been trained.
As soon as I joined them they gave me a uniform, but not a weapon. I just followed them, and my duties were to carry water, find firewood, and cook. After I joined I had to carry a weapon for one month, but now I'm not carrying a weapon. Since joining we haven't had training or been given our own weapons, but we've been allowed to handle them sometimes. I know how to shoot it and maintain it. I can use it if I have to. During that time there was fighting two or three times, but I didn't have to fight. I just hid. While we were in a village fighting broke out and I tried to hide with the soldiers. The first time there was shooting I was afraid, but after some time I got used to it and wasn't afraid.95
Training generally lasts fourty-five days, during which "[w]e learned marching, climbing ropes, crawling on the ground, how to cross obstacles, how to patrol and how to fight the enemy. . . . They took more care of the youngest ones. We were in sections, and each section made sure the youngest ones didn't carry the heavier loads. There were nine in my section, some had as many as twelve."96 The trainees usually use bamboo sticks instead of guns, and seldom get a chance to practice firing because of the lack of ammunition. When Meh Reh was trained in 2001 at age fifteen, the trainers were generally good but "sometimes they got angry. Sometimes they shouted at us, and sometimes they punished us by making us dive on the ground ten or fifteen times in a row. I had to do it many times. They punished us when we made mistakes in the exercises. Many were beaten. I was beaten twice by the trainers because I made a mistake in left, right, left [marching]. They hit me painfully with a stick. Some complained but nobody ran away." He added that the youngest boys in training were not forced to do some of the hardest exercises.97
After training is completed the youngest soldiers are encouraged by their officers not to go to the front line. When he was interviewed it had been five months since his training, but for sixteen-year-old Meh Reh,"I have nothing to do, just stay in the camp gathering firewood, carrying water, and sometimes I have to cook. The commander said I'll have to go to the front line, but not yet. The commander told me `You're not strong enough yet to go to the front line.' Some who are younger than me go to the front line but not because the commander asks them, it is because they say they want to go. I haven't, because I listen to the commander, but some of my friends don't listen."98 Kyaw Reh, also sixteen, says that his officer is keeping him in a rear camp as well because of his age. He has a gun but has only been allowed to fire it once for practice. According to KNPP spokesman Saw Doh Say, "The Karenni Army doesn't really want child soldiers in the front line because child soldiers may panic the first time. I was in the Karenni Army in 1991-92 and I saw two cases when child soldiers who were in their first heavy fighting just put their guns on auto and fired without looking, wasting ammunition."99 Thu Reh, who enlisted at age thirteen and is now sixteen, chose to go to the front line and in the past three years "I've been in battle many times, too many to remember them all. With me I have to carry some rice, my clothes and belongings, and my gun. I have to carry a half tin of rice, about ten kilos. At first I had lighter loads, but now I have to carry that much." He says that his first time in battle he was afraid, but now he is very used to it.100
KnA soldiers can get up to a week in each month as leave to visit their families, but many of their families are displaced and scattered. Life as a soldier among the displaced and the hungry, in the destroyed villages, rugged hills and forests of Kayah State is anything but easy. General Aung Mya explained some of the hardships: "We try to capture weapons from the Burmese army in fighting. In the front line, our soldiers have to rely on the local villagers for food, and many of the villagers are arrested, tortured and imprisoned for supporting us. We don't want to bring trouble on them and we're very unhappy about this. When we go home, our relatives don't dare see us, and if the Burmese hear that they have come to visit their relatives in the KnA they're arrested. That's why when someone from the north joins we send him to the south, and vice versa."101 Thu Reh says of his three years in the Karenni Army, "[s]ometimes I'm happy, sometimes not so happy. Because there's not enough food, and I'd like to smoke sometimes but I have no money. No salary. Even the officers don't get any money. We eat the same. The supplies come to our camp. I don't know from where."102
Once they are enlisted, soldiers are not allowed to leave the Karenni Army, even if they enlisted as children. General Aung Mya explains that even in the case of a fifteen-year-old, "[w]hen they come to join we explain, `We are not forcing you, you are volunteering.' Then before we allow them to join we let them consider it for a few weeks, and once they make the decision we let them join military training. At the end of the training they take an oath that `I am a Karenni soldier, I will serve my people and country,' and so on. After that they cannot leave the army. There is no fixed term of service, but they must serve the army as long as they can. They can only leave if they have health or family problems. We also let people retire at forty-five or fifty. But when your problems are over or whenever we need you, we recall you and you must come back."103
Addressing the Problem
Of all the opposition groups contacted, the KNPP/KnA was the most open in admitting the existence and the numbers of child soldiers among their forces, and appeared the most sincere in their desire to confront this problem. KNPP and KnA spokesmen openly discussed their desire to provide alternatives for boys who want to join the army. KnA General Aung Mya explained some of the difficulties from his perspective:
We'd like to abide by the international protocol [on children in armed conflict] and have these rules within our KnA too, but it is hard to get support because no one recognizes us as a legal organization. We have some ideas for projects for some of our young boys in the army, but we can't get any support from outside organizations. Some of our army commanders are angry about that. No resources means no skills. Not only for our boy soldiers, but also for the young [Burma army] deserters. The only option for child soldiers is if we can have a special school for them, not only for reading and writing but also for vocational skills like carpentry or auto mechanics. We can't send fourteen- and fifteen-year-olds to ordinary kindergarten. The most important thing for these young people is education, and we'd like to see them go back to school. Now I have two boarding schools for boys who wanted to join the army. It is not only boys from inside Karenni; every year twenty or thirty boys under eighteen from the refugee camps also come and want to join the army. We don't want them, but this is a problem for us. We refuse them but some of them refuse to go home, so I order my commanders to stop feeding them. This happens especially in the school holidays. Because of the current Karenni situation, many boys see no option but the army. If we want to insist that they should finish Eighth or Tenth Standard before joining then we have to provide schools everywhere. Many have no access to schools.104
At the same time, several of the young KnA soldiers interviewed by Human Rights Watch would clearly have been willing to go back to schools if the army officers had been more insistent when or after they joined. Educating KnA officers to adhere more strongly to the policy of sending boys under eighteen to school would in itself probably greatly reduce the number of child soldiers in the KnA, as would allowing child soldiers already in the KnA to leave despite their oath of lifelong service.
Karenni Nationalities People's Liberation Front (KNPLF)
The KNPLF, often referred to by its Burmese acronym Ka La La Ta, was formed in 1978 when some KNPP members who were sympathetic to the Communists broke away and formed their own group because of the anti-Communist policies of the KNPP. Much smaller than the KNPP/KnA, its armed wing operated primarily in northern Kayah State until it made a ceasefire agreement with the SLORC in 1994. The group retained arms and some estimates place its present strength at about 500 soldiers. Human Rights Watch was unable to obtain any direct information on the use of child soldiers by the KNPLF, but one Karenni observer suggested that the size of the KNPLF army may be growing in the Kayan area of northwestern Kayah State, where the KNPLF controls many villages. The same source believed that the main activities of the KNPLF in these areas are now business-related, that the group is probably accepting child recruits, and that soldiers are not allowed to leave after they join the KNPLF army.105
Mon National Liberation Army (MNLA)
The New Mon State Party (NMSP) and its armed wing, the Mon National Liberation Army (MNLA), were first formed in 1958. Operating primarily in southern Mon State, northern Tenasserim Division and the southernmost tip of Karen State, the MNLA continued fighting until reaching a ceasefire agreement with the SLORC in 1995. Under the terms of the ceasefire the MNLA is restricted to a few small zones within their former area, though their soldiers and NMSP officials can travel in SPDC-controlled areas by prior arrangement. The agreement also specified that the Burma army would stop its human rights abuses against Mon villagers, but the continuation of these abuses, particularly the use of Mon villagers for forced labor and the prohibitions on teaching of Mon language and culture, have on two or three occasions caused groups to break away from the NMSP and resume fighting against the SPDC. The latest and possibly most significant of these breakaways began in September 2001, when MNLA Colonel Pan Nyunt defected with over one hundred soldiers and formed the Monland Restoration Army (see below), which is now fighting the Burma army.
Independent estimates place the present strength of the MNLA between 1,000 and 2,000 soldiers. The NMSP claims that the MNLA has two battalions of regulars with about 700 soldiers each and three battalions of non-regulars with about 400 soldiers each, totaling 2,600 men under arms.106 The breakaway of factions who want to resume fighting the SPDC has weakened the MNLA, and some observers believe that the numbers of new recruits have decreased at the same time: "Since the ceasefire the MNLA gets fewer recruits. Most young Mon people are more interested in working in Thailand or elsewhere rather than the army. If they join the MNLA they just have to boil water and serve their commander, and they're not interested in this. Also, the young people don't trust the NMSP because of the ceasefire."107 Though some informants believe that the MNLA is trying to expand its numbers, they did not believe that the MNLA is conducting any forced conscription. One independent source stated that some MNLA commanders want to begin conscription to make up for the army's depleted numbers, but that this is firmly opposed by General Htaw Mon, commander in chief of the MNLA.
NMSP representatives claim that there is no conscription to the MNLA, and that there are no soldiers under age eighteen in the MNLA. A senior NMSP spokesman who prefers not to be named stated to Human Rights Watch that "[o]ur policy is that if they are eighteen we accept them as soldiers. If under eighteen, we give them training in school as students. The MNLA arranges for them to go to school and supports them with food and things. We have 280 schools-three high schools, eight or ten middle schools, and the rest are primary. The policy is that he should then come to work for the NMSP when he finishes school, but it's a loose policy."108 The spokesman went on to say that there have been a few cases where MNLA officers have accepted boys under eighteen, and these have been resolved by informing the officer of the official policy and removing the recruit from the army.
However, several independent witnesses who have encountered or spent time with MNLA units were unanimous in stating that there are in fact child soldiers within the MNLA. After passing through seven MNLA checkpoints on one occasion in early 2001, one witness believed that at least two of the five to seven soldiers at each checkpoint were children; while the uniformed children inspected the vehicles and worked the barricade, the older soldiers relaxed in the background.109 Another observer added,
Before the NMSP ceasefire I didn't see many child soldiers in the MNLA but after the ceasefire I saw many, because the MNLA is trying to increase its number of soldiers. . . . Mainly they join because they can wear the uniform, visit their hometown, and there are no battles now. I think the policy is that they must be over eighteen, but the officers don't follow it. . . . I think neither the KNLA nor the MNLA should use child soldiers in their organizations, but this problem stems from the civil war and the military regime. I've met with their military leaders and raised this issue and they agree that they shouldn't use them. They say that most of them aren't used in the front line, they are used at checkpoints and rear camps.110
A former soldier who was in the MNLA before the ceasefire explained what sometimes happened in front line areas when the MNLA was still fighting: "For example, from my experience in the MNLA, when a boy joins in the front line the headquarters aren't notified. Then later if the unit goes back for training they follow along. But some have been with the unit for two or three years by that time, so they don't want to go. Some quit if their unit goes back to headquarters, because they don't want to do training or because they think there's a lot of malaria at headquarters. Then sometimes they join again when their unit arrives back at the front line."111
The NMSP informed Human Rights Watch that the MNLA has four training schools in different districts, each of which is opened twice per year for a three-month military training course. Numbers of trainees were not provided. The official term of duty in the MNLA is two years, after which a soldier is free to leave, though if he chooses to leave he is informed that he may be called back if needed, particularly if the ceasefire is broken. Soldiers are not allowed to marry during their first two years of service. If a soldier runs away during those two years he is supposed to be captured and brought back, but independent observers told Human Rights Watch that in practice the MNLA often makes little or no effort to recapture runaways.
Monland Restoration Army (MRA)
In early September 2001, Colonel Pan Nyunt of the Mon National Liberation Army (MNLA) broke away with approximately 150 soldiers under his command and declared that he would resume fighting against SPDC forces because six years of ceasefire had led to no improvement in the lives of Mon civilians, who were still suffering human rights abuses at the hands of the Burma army. Also citing a desire to resurrect the glory of former Mon-Khmer kingdoms, he formed the Monland Restoration Army (MRA), the name of which is sometimes translated as Monland Defense Army, and an associated political wing, the Hongsawatoi Restoration Party (HRP). The SPDC responded by sending many more troops into the Three Pagodas Pass region, and fighting between the two armies is still continuing.
Since its formation the MRA has attracted many MNLA soldiers and former soldiers who want to fight the Burma army, as well as villagers who want revenge for the human rights abuses suffered by their families during and before the Mon ceasefire. Several estimates now place the strength of the MRA at 800 to 1,000 armed soldiers. Reports from independent witnesses suggest that the MRA has been relying on volunteers rather than conducting forced conscription. While it is likely that most of the MNLA soldiers and former MNLA soldiers who have joined the MRA are over eighteen years old, no clear information is available on the average ages of recruits from among the civilian population. Most observers from within the Mon situation believe that the new organization probably has no policy as yet on recruitment age, and that boys under eighteen who volunteer are being accepted. This likelihood is strengthened by the reality that HRP/MRA as yet exists only as an army, with no health, education or other departments and no schools which could provide an alternative for young volunteers.112
Kachin Independence Army (KIA)
The Panglong Agreement of 1947 granted regional autonomy to Kachin State and stipulated that the Kachin could secede from Burma if these commitments were not realized within ten years. The Panglong Agreement was never honored, and when after ten years the Kachin leadership expressed a desire to secede it was rejected by the government in Rangoon. In response the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and its armed wing, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), were formed and the Kachin revolution began in February 1962. By the 1980s the KIO and KIA were seen as one of the best organized and most effective resistance movements; the KIO controlled large areas of the state and had operational health, education and other systems, while the KIA was able to operate even in the outskirts of the state capital, Myitkyina. In the late 1980s and early 1990s most estimates placed the armed strength of the KIA between 7,000 and 10,000. In 1993-94 the KIO negotiated and then formalized a ceasefire agreement with the SLORC with allowed them to retain their arms and limited control over some parts of the state. Since that time the size of the KIA has reportedly decreased to approximately 5,000. Kachin witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported also that since that time the use of forced labor and other human rights abuses by both the KIO and the SPDC have continued, and that civilians are also unhappy with the lack of development in Kachin State despite the heavy exploitation of its timber and mineral resources by Burmese and Chinese businessmen. In 2001 the top three leaders of the KIO/KIA were overthrown in a bloodless coup by a group of younger officers who claim to want to reform the KIO to make it less hierarchical and more democratic.
Human Rights Watch did not gather information in Kachin State but was able to interview two Kachin witnesses, both of whom testified that the KIA has always used conscription to obtain some of its recruits and continues to do so. One of the witnesses, Brang Mai, was rounded up in a sweep for recruits when he was twelve years old in 1992:
They have no rules, no discipline. They arrive in a village and just arrest whomever they can. I was arrested by the KIA when I was in Ninth Standard. It was a Sunday in 1992. We'd just finished the opening ceremony of our new church, and we put on a stage show in the evening that finished at about 10 o'clock. That night five of us young boys were sleeping in the new church to watch over the sound equipment. At about midnight or 1 a.m. the KIA came to the church and arrested the five of us. One of them pointed a gun at me and said, `Don't run away or I'll shoot you.' He tied me with rope. At the same time they went to our house, broke down the door and captured my sister. She was about fourteen. They also took others by breaking into their houses. They took about fifty of us. We were all tied with rope, and some KIA soldiers guarded us. All of us were under eighteen, and about two thirds were girls. One girl was very young, I think she was about eleven. She was crying all the time when we got to the KIA camp. They were all very upset. Most of the girls were crying, and one very young boy was crying too. I think he was ten years old."113
He testified that about ten of the fifty children were under fifteen; most were high school students, but some were primary and middle school students. First they were taken to a mobile KIA camp where "they registered us. They asked name, family name, education, age, etc. I told them whatever they asked. When they asked my education I said `I'm in Ninth Standard and want to study further,' but they said `Your education doesn't matter to us.' They said we would have to serve our country, some as soldiers and some as nurses. They said, `You don't need to study, you need to fight our enemy.' My sister was very willing to be a KIA soldier, I was surprised. I didn't want to be a KIA soldier, I hated them because they came to our church and our house like that - they didn't respect our religion or our house. Before that night I liked the KIA soldiers, but after that I always felt that something is wrong with them." The soldiers cut the hair of all the boys, and early the next morning the column left for their battalion camp. At the last moment, the sergeant major decided to release Brang Mai as well as the ten-year-old boy and one other. Several boys younger than Brang Mai were taken, but he believes he was released because his sister had lied to the sergeant major that he was the only son of the family. All of those who were taken away were then recruited to the KIA, including his sister who went on to serve as a soldier for six years before being discharged.
The witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch indicated that in the first two decades of the revolution many civilians volunteered for the KIA, but after that the number of volunteers decreased and conscription began. Since the ceasefire in 1994 the numbers of volunteers have decreased further, and even though the KIA is no longer involved in any fighting it reportedly still conducts regular conscription throughout much of Kachin State. According to Brang Mai, the KIA is still conducting similar raids on villages and jade mines to round up recruits and cares little whether those taken are under or over eighteen. He estimates that at present as many as 40 percent of the KIA's approximately 5,000 soldiers may be under eighteen, though other estimates are considerably lower, closer to 10 percent. The KIA still reportedly has significant numbers of girl soldiers, possibly the only army in Burma to do so, and a significant percentage of these girls may also be under eighteen. Another witness testified that the KIA still conscripts by demanding quotas of recruits from villages, and he saw five or six children under eighteen among a batch of fifty or sixty new recruits being inducted into the KIA in 2001. Neither witness was aware of whether the KIA has any formal policy on minimum recruitment age.
Once in the KIA soldiers receive one or more months' training. According to Brang Mai, those who try to run away from training are executed if caught, though Human Rights Watch was unable to obtain any other confirmation of this. Once at a battalion somewhere in Kachin State, the KIA soldiers spend much of their time farming, building roads and bridges, and doing various other work depending on the region. They receive no salary and treatment by their officers is sometimes bad, but they do not have to face combat because there is no fighting in Kachin State now. Girl soldiers are included in regular units and are not segregated, though the witnesses testified that prior to the ceasefire they were assigned mainly to guard military posts rather than go into combat.
The term of service for KIA soldiers generally can range from ten years to life, depending on circumstances. According to the witnesses, it was previously not difficult to obtain discharges after ten years of service, but now it is becoming very difficult to get a discharge and most of those who apply are rejected. Brang Mai told Human Rights Watch, "When the KIA started people joined because they wanted to, but sometime after 1980 it changed and now most people are unwilling. None of the KIA soldiers are willing now. I've met many, and none of them want to be soldiers. They want to run away, but if they do they can be killed because the punishment is the death penalty. Soldiers who run away are not usually killed if they're caught, but most of the soldiers are afraid to die so they stay."114 The other witness added, "Many don't know where the leadership is taking them and there is no fighting, so they would rather go to find work in the towns. Starting a few years after the ceasefire many KIA soldiers and officers asked for discharges but a clear majority were rejected because the KIA is afraid of a mass exodus; only some of the older soldiers get discharged. So some run away and some take `long leave' of up to one or two years, but it is usually only the officers who can do that."115
The new leadership of the KIO/KIA is reportedly reform-minded and more open to the desires of the Kachin people, though it is not yet clear whether this will have a strong effect on KIA recruiting practices. The second witness quoted above believes that the new leaders want to rebuild the KIA to its former strength, and if this is the case then conscription of children will probably continue or even increase.
Kachin Democratic Army (KDA)
Though the Kachin Independence Army is based in Kachin State, it previously had a Fourth Brigade of several hundred soldiers in northwestern Shan State. In 1991 this unit broke away and formed the Kachin Democratic Army (KDA), which shortly thereafter agreed to a ceasefire with the SLORC regime. According to Kachin witnesses, the KDA has grown since its formation and may now have anywhere between 1,000 and 3,000 soldiers, some of whom have volunteered but many of whom have been forcibly conscripted.116 Many of these are reportedly children, though numbers are unavailable. The KDA is not involved in any fighting or political work, instead directing most of its efforts into business ventures which allegedly include the opium trade.
New Democratic Army - Kachinland (NDA-K)
The New Democratic Army - Kachinland (NDA-K) was initially formed in 1968 by members of the Kachin resistance who broke away to ally themselves with the Communist Party of Burma. The NDA-K has a ceasefire agreement with the SPDC and presently operates in a strip of eastern Kachin State adjacent to the China border. The NDA-K is reportedly well armed but rather than fighting it is primarily involved in the timber business and has investments in China. Kachin witnesses estimate that the present armed strength of the NDA-K may be as many as 3,000 soldiers. One witness told Human Rights Watch that "the Kachin people believe that the NDA-K has a lot of money, and that if they join the NDA-K they will make a lot of money. They don't understand anything, they just destroy natural resources for money. I don't think the future is very bright for the NDA-K."117 Witnesses believe that all of the NDA-K soldiers are volunteers who joined for the good salary they receive, and that the NDA-K probably has at least 500 child soldiers including some under age fifteen.
All-Burma Students' Democratic Front (ABSDF)
After the 1988 pro-democracy uprisings were crushed by the newly-formed SLORC junta, several thousand dissidents and activists fled to areas under control of resistance forces, particularly the Karen National Union and the Kachin Independence Organization. Many of them were university students, with a smaller number of high school students. In the resistance areas they formed several political organizations and a few armies, the most significant of which was the All-Burma Students' Democratic Front (ABSDF). At its peak in the early 1990s the ABSDF had several thousand members, of whom an estimated 2,000 were armed soldiers. However, many of the urban activists found life as jungle guerrillas too demanding or were laid low by malaria and other diseases, so they returned home or left for neighboring countries. As the 1990s progressed the ABSDF military was further undermined because the Karen National Union was less able to supply the ABSDF with weapons and other support, while the Kachin Independence Organization, after entering into a ceasefire with the SLORC, ordered ABSDF units out of their territory. In the late 1990s the ABSDF briefly renounced armed struggle, but later reversed this decision. At present most observers estimate that they have fewer than 500 soldiers under arms, though they still have a significant political organization. The ABSDF itself claims a total of approximately 500 soldiers under arms at present, 400 of whom are based along the Burma-Thailand border while the rest are in parts of northern Burma.118
The ABSDF claims that it has never conscripted soldiers, and most observers believe this claim. The present chairman of the ABSDF, U Than Khe, admits that in the early years of the organization many of those who joined were high school students and others under eighteen, and they were accepted into the army.119 A former ABSDF military officer who was based in Kachin State until 1996 told Human Rights Watch that "[t]here was no conscription. All were volunteers. Some were sixteen to eighteen, from Eighth or Ninth Standard. They were kept in the rear areas."120 Another former ABSDF soldier who fought in southern Karen State until 1993 and has since maintained contact with the ABSDF stated that prior to 1990 many boys under eighteen were accepted into the ABSDF as soldiers, but then a policy was implemented setting a minimum age of eighteen. Since that time, "when you apply they ask your age. If you are under eighteen you become an `organizing member,' not a full member, and you become part of the health or education department. Then when you become eighteen you can join the army if you want."121 All of those who joined the ABSDF in its early years are now well over eighteen years old, and several independent witnesses told Human Rights Watch that they have not seen any child soldiers in ABSDF units in recent years. The chairman of ABSDF claims that there are no child soldiers at present in the ABSDF, and that those under eighteen who wish to join are not accepted even as `organizing members' or as clerks in the health or education departments, but are offered the opportunity of going to one of the ABSDF's schools.
Representatives of both the Karen National Liberation army and the Shan State Army - South told Human Rights Watch that when Burma army deserters surrender to their forces and express an interest in fighting against their former comrades, they often send these deserters to the ABSDF. U Than Khe admits that this is a problem for his organization, which is already struggling just to feed its own people:
There are deserters now every day, and many come to us from among the SPDC troops. Most of them are under eighteen, and some are even under fifteen. Some arrive at our base camps and ask our organization to help them to resettle or get an education. Now we have two children in ---- area who were forcibly conscripted by the SPDC army, and both of them are under fifteen. They want to join ABSDF but we didn't accept them. We're looking after them and they're going to school.122
ABSDF units run small schools for their own family members, and at some camps they have built dormitories so that young would-be volunteers and deserters from the Burma army can go to these schools. Some internally displaced villagers also send their children to the ABSDF schools. According to U Than Khe, the largest of these schools now has close to 400 students, most of them aged thirteen to nineteen. He insists that these schools are not focused on politics and that the students have no obligation to serve the ABSDF upon completion of their education.
People's Democratic Front (PDF)
The People's Democratic Front (PDF) was formed in 1989 by Colonel Sein Mya, a Burma army officer who defected to the opposition. In its first years many former Burma army soldiers and officers joined the PDF, but many left after Sein Mya's death from malaria in 1993. At present the PDF only has fifty to one hundred soldiers, all of them working in cooperation with units of the Karen National Liberation army and All-Burma Students' Democratic Front in southern Karen State. Most PDF soldiers are former Burma army soldiers or Burman political activists. According to PDF General Secretary U Maung Maung Nyay, "None of our soldiers are under eighteen, because our policy is that none can enter the armed forces under eighteen. This is formal policy according to the PDF policy handbook."123 The PDF has offices and a small education and health project, and volunteers under eighteen are assigned to one of these; once they become eighteen they are allowed to join as soldiers if they wish. Burma army deserters are sometimes handed to the PDF by the Karen National Union or other groups. The PDF has a camp where these deserters are given six months of agricultural, political and human rights training, after which they can choose whether to join the organization. If they are still under eighteen, the PDF claims that they cannot be accepted as soldiers.124
Burma Patriotic Army (BPA)
As noted above, desertion rates in the Burma army have rapidly increased in recent years. After surrendering to resistance forces, many deserters cross into Thailand to seek employment because they are afraid of being caught if they attempt to return home. In 2001 the Thai government began a process to register foreigners, primarily Burmese, working illegally in Thai border provinces; only those with steady employment who can pay a heavy registration fee can qualify, while all others are to be deported to Burma. Unable to register and afraid to be handed over to Burmese authorities, some former deserters returned to the border areas. On the Kayah State border those who returned joined with others who had deserted more recently, and in November 2001 they decided to form an armed group called the Myanmar Myochit Tatmadaw, which translates as Burma Patriotic Armed Forces, or Burma Patriotic Army (BPA). General Aung Mya, second in command of the Karenni Army, explained it as follows:
Now there are about fifty deserters in our area and it is too many for the KnA, so we let them form the BPA to fight the SPDC. Many of them wanted to fight but we didn't want them in our army, so they had this idea and they asked our help. Most of them are still quite young and don't have a lot of soldiering experience, so for now we just provide them with some food and a few weapons to guard their camp. We won't let them operate in the KnA, KNLA or SSA areas, only in their own area further inside. There are fifty or sixty now registered in the BPA. If more deserters come and want to fight now, we will send them to the BPA. We hope more deserters will come. We will suggest they join the BPA, and if they don't want to they can go elsewhere. But if they go and they can't find work they will commit crimes, and this is bad for both the Thais and us.125
Many of those who formed the BPA were child soldiers when they deserted but had already been in the border area or in Thailand for several years and are now no longer children. Some of the more recent deserters, however, are well under eighteen years old. One of the soldiers from the BPA camp who was interviewed by Human Rights Watch is now fifteen years old, and says that four or five others at the camp are also under eighteen. After he and a friend fled the Burma army in Kayah State in 2001, "[o]ne of us joined the Karenni Army and is now in the front line. I'm in the Burma Patriotic Army. I went to school [at a Karenni area school] and was studying Seventh Standard. Now it's the summer holiday, so I'm going to the BPA camp and the front line as a volunteer. When school starts I'll go back to school."126 If the Karenni Army follows General Aung Mya's Statement that the BPA will not be allowed to fight in the areas of operation of the existing resistance armies, then it is unlikely that BPA soldiers will have the opportunity to do much more than guard their camp; however, if they are sent to fight "further inside" as he stated, this would mean entering strongly SPDC-controlled regions, which would be virtual suicide for a small band such as the BPA.
Myeik-Dawei United Front (MDUF)
After the Communist Party of Burma (CPB) dissolved in 1989, the remnants of the CPB in Tenasserim Division formed the Myeik-Dawei United Front (MDUF), or Mergui-Tavoy United Front. Before 2001 the group had an estimated 200 to 300 soldiers, most of whom were ethnic Tavoyan, and operated principally in the remote area east of the southern Tenasserim River near the Thai border. This made it difficult for them to recruit, as most Tavoyans live along the Andaman Sea coast to the west, where the SPDC is strongly in control. MDUF members were reputed to live and fight in family units, probably including the use of children as soldiers. However, the SPDC wanted very much to destroy this group because the junta still considers it to be CPB. In 2001 the Burma army launched an offensive against the MDUF, causing the group to disperse. At present the MDUF is no longer functional, though its leader U Shein is trying to regroup its forces.127
The Anti-Insurgent Group (AIG)
The Anti-Insurgent Group, usually known by its acronym Tha Ka Sa Pa, was formed in the 1970s from a group of Karen resistance soldiers who surrendered. Since then it has acted as a support group to the Burma army in the Pa'an, Thaton, and Kyaikto areas of Mon State and eastern Karen State, and there are now reports that it may be expanding into southern Mon State. The estimated strength of the AIG is no more than 200 or 300 troops. The AIG usually only recruits from among former KNLA and KNDO soldiers who have surrendered to the SLORC/SPDC, so it is unlikely that there are child soldiers in this group. Most of their activities involve intelligence gathering for the SPDC, guiding Burma army troops, and running small businesses for their own profit.
Mong Tai Army (MTA)
The Mong Tai Army grew out of a local drug trafficking militia to become one of the largest opposition armies in Burma, with a strength of over 10,000 troops armed with modern weaponry. Operating from bases in southern Shan State, the MTA was led by Zhang Chifu, also known as Khun Sa. Though the MTA often fought the Burmese regime and many of its soldiers and officers were Shan nationalists, Khun Sa himself appeared to consider it his personal army and focused his efforts on the drug trade. The MTA was accused of committing widespread human rights abuses in its areas of control, one of which was the large-scale forced conscription of young boys. Many of these boys were sent to a quasi-military school known as Tiger Camp at the MTA headquarters of Ho Murng near the Thai border, where they were reportedly given both schooling and some military training and were later conscripted into the army. Sai Lone was one of these boys. He told Human Rights Watch that in 1995 at age sixteen "I was forced. Many other boys had also been forced. When I was a soldier, if you were sixteen or seventeen you had to go to the front line but if you were fifteen or younger you had to stay in Ho Murng. The youngest boys were about ten, but they had to stay and study in Ho Murng."128 According to Sao Ood Kesi, a member of the Restoration Council of the Shan State (RCSS) who was formerly associated with the MTA, in the mid-1990s the MTA had approximately 2,000 child soldiers, but most of them were posted near the Thai border rather than in the heaviest combat areas.129
In early 1996 Khun Sa secretly negotiated a surrender deal with the SLORC regime. Most of his soldiers were caught by surprise when the surrender occurred, and had little option but to cooperate. Those who surrendered were demobilized, and most tried to return to their home areas. The MTA ceased to exist, but 500 to 1,000 soldiers were taken to form a new army, which later became the Shan State Army - South (see the related section above).130
When the Burma army launched a major offensive against Karen National Union territory in Tenasserim Division in early 1997, the Karen National Liberation Army did little to resist except to fight delaying actions. Thousands of villagers were trapped by advancing Burma army troops who burned their villages and pressed many of them into forced labor. Many villagers and some KNLA soldiers were angry at the KNLA for failing to fight back. At this time two twin brothers aged nine or ten who were among the displaced villagers suddenly announced that they were the reincarnations of famed Karen fighters Saw Johnny Htoo and Saw Luther. Led by their uncle, the two boys announced that they had mystical powers; they rallied some villagers and KNLA soldiers and in a surprise attack virtually wiped out a Burma army company. With this apparent confirmation of their powers, other villagers and KNLA soldiers rallied around them and the God's Army was formed. The group grew to a total of no more than 300 soldiers, a significant percentage of whom were reportedly children. With material support from the KNLA, God's Army continued its small scale guerrilla operations against the Burma army until late 1999.
In October 1999 a radical group of about ten former ABSDF members calling themselves the Vigorous Burmese Student Warriors (VBSW) besieged the Burmese embassy in Bangkok and held hostages briefly before fleeing to the border and crossing to a God's Army camp. The God's Army gave them shelter, even though the SPDC used this as an excuse to launch another offensive in the area. To protest the Burmese shelling, a group of VBSW members re-entered Thailand in January 2000 and besieged Ratchburi Hospital, where they were then shot dead by Thai commandos. Though God's Army was not responsible for the attack they were assigned most of the blame, and they immediately came under heavy military pressure from both sides of the border. In January 2001 "Saw Johnny Htoo," "Saw Luther," and about fifteen other God's Army members, most of whom were children, surrendered to Thai authorities. Most God's Army members dispersed into the forests, some (including "Saw Johnny Htoo" and "Saw Luther") ended up in refugee camps in Thailand, and some are presently trying to survive in Bangkok by working illegally. God's Army ceased to exist.
Most of the main armed groups not already discussed are included in the list below. Though Human Rights Watch was not able to obtain any direct information regarding these groups, it is likely that most of them have at least some children within their ranks. Many of these groups are very difficult to access and secretive in their operations, and further research is required to establish their status and policies with regard to child soldiers.
Most of the information below is drawn from data compiled by Bertil Lintner.131 Human Rights Watch has augmented this with background information from other sources on some armies such as the SSA-North and SSNA, and with estimates of armed strength where these are not given by Lintner.
Shan State Army (SSA), also known as SSA-North: Estimated armed strength 1,000-1,500 operating in northern Shan State, made a ceasefire agreement in 1991 which still holds. In 1997 the SSA-North reached an agreement on objectives with the Shan State National Army (SSNA), a ceasefire group, and the SSA-South, which is still fighting the SPDC. Under pressure from the SPDC, the agreement was never acted upon and now "exists only on paper" according to SSA-South spokesmen.132 SSA-North and SSNA also formed the Shan State Peace Council (SSPC).
Shan State National Army (SSNA): A breakaway group formed by former Mong Tai army officer Garn Yod after the MTA surrendered in 1996, but made a ceasefire agreement shortly thereafter. Estimated armed strength fewer than 1,000.
Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA): Estimated armed strength 1,000-2,000, operating in northeastern Shan State, has a ceasefire agreement since 1989.
Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army - East (MNDAA-East): Estimated armed strength 2,000-3,000, operating in eastern Shan State, has a ceasefire agreement since 1989.
Pa'O National Army (PNA): Estimated armed strength 300-400, operating in southwestern Shan State, made a ceasefire agreement in 1991.
Palaung State Liberation Army (PSLA): Estimated armed strength 400-500, operating in northern Shan State, made a ceasefire agreement in 1991.
Shan State Nationalities People's Liberation Organization (SSNPLO): Estimated armed strength 600-700, operating in southwestern Shan State, made a ceasefire agreement in 1994.
Mongko Region Defense Army (MDA): A group which broke away from the MNDAA in 1995 but which is not fighting, despite the lack of a formal ceasefire agreement. No estimates on armed strength are available.
Kayan New Land Party (KNLP): A small Kayan armed group operating in northern Kayah State which surrendered in 1994; estimated armed strength fewer than 300.
Wa National Army (WNA): Estimated armed strength fewer than one hundred, operating from a single camp in northeastern Kayah State near the Thai border. Still in opposition with no ceasefire agreement.
Chin National Army (CNA): Formed in 1988, this is the armed wing of the Chin National Front operating in Chin State and still engaged in fighting the Burma army. Estimated strength fewer than 500.
Arakan Rohingya National Organization (ARNO): Formed in 1998 by the merger of the Arakan Rohingya Islamic Front (ARIF) and the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO). The group operates along the Burma-Bangladesh border with estimated strength fewer than 1,000, and is still fighting the SPDC.
National Socialist Council of Nagaland / Isaac-Muivah (NSCN [I-M]): Estimated armed strength fewer than 1,000, operating near the Burma-India border in northern Sagaing Division.
National Socialist Council of Nagaland / Khaplang (NSCN [K]): Estimated armed strength 500-600, operating near the Burma-India border in northern Sagaing Division.
25 See Lahu National Development Organization, Unsettling Moves: The Wa Forced Resettlement Program in Eastern Shan State (Thailand: LNDO, April 2002), pp. 4-6.
26 Ibid., pp. 3-5.
27 Human Rights Watch interview with Aung Kyaw, Thailand, March 2002.
28 Human Rights Watch interview with independent observer, Thailand, March 2002.
29 Human Rights Watch interview with representative of a local relief and human rights organization working in southern Shan State, conducted in northern Thailand, March 2002; see also Lahu National Development Organization, Unsettling Moves: The Wa Forced Resettlement Program in Eastern Shan State 1999-2001 (Thailand: LNDO, April 2002), p. 21, which quotes a Lahu farmer in southern Shan State as saying, "The Wa took everything they wanted from us. They demanded taxes. Each family member had to give 250 baht to the Wa Army per year. If we couldn't give this, we had to give one person to the Wa Army instead. They accepted children from the age of seven upwards." At the present exchange rate, 250 Thai baht is U.S.$5.92; for rural families in southern Shan State this can be one to two months' total income. Ten yuan is about U.S.$1.11 at present exchange rate.
30 Human Rights Watch interview with Aung Kyaw, Thailand, March 2002. At the present exchange rate, 500 baht is U.S.$11.85.
31 Lahu National Development Organization, Unsettling Moves: The Wa Forced Rresettlement Program in Eastern Shan State 1999-2001 (Thailand: LNDO, April 2002), p. 4.
32 Ibid., pp. 19-20.
33 See Human Rights Watch, World Report 2001: Burma (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2001); also Shan Human Rights Foundation, Dispossessed: Forced Relocation and Extrajudicial Killings in Shan State (Thailand: SHRF 1998).
34 Human Rights Watch interview with Sao Ood Kesi, Thailand, March 2002.
35 Human Rights Watch interview with Sai Lone, Thailand, March 2002.
36 Human Rights Watch interviews with Sao Ood Kesi and Sai Tern Sarng, both conducted in March 2002.
37 Excerpted from The Independence Declaration Statement of the Second Seminar of the Shan State People, 1st-3rd February 2001, Loi Tai Leng, issued by the RCSS on February 7, 2001, p. 2, list item 6.
38 Human Rights Watch interview with Sao Ood Kesi, Thailand, March 2002.
39 Human Rights Watch interview with Sai Tern Sarng, Shan State, Burma, March 2002.
40 Human Rights Watch interview with SSA-South brigade commander, Shan State, Burma, March 2002.
41 Human Rights Watch interview with independent NGO representative, Thailand, March 2002.
42 Human Rights Watch interview with Shan observer, Thailand, March 2002.
43 Human Rights Watch interview with Pado Mahn Sha, Thailand, March 2002.
44 Human Rights Watch interview with Saw Wah, Thailand, March 2002.
45 Human Rights Watch interview with Saw Lah Ghay, Karen State, Burma, March 2002.
46 A few months later when many KNLA soldiers mutinied, Saw Lah Ghay was forced by his officer to join the mutiny. He then tried to return to village life but ended up back in the KNLA, only to be later forced into the DKBA. Now twenty-two, he has just escaped the DKBA for the second time and joined the KNLA for the third time.
47 Human Rights Watch interviews with KNU General Secretary Pado Mahn Sha, February and March 2002.
48 This recruitment operation was described in detail to Human Rights Watch by a source with connections to the KNU inside Papun District, Karen State, Burma, June 2002.
49 Human Rights Watch interview with KNU source, June 2002.
50 Human Rights Watch interview, Thailand, May 2002.
51 Human Rights Watch interview with observer from KNLA First Brigade region, June 2002.
52 Human Rights Watch interview, Thailand, May 2002.
53 Human Rights Watch interview with KNU General Secretary Pado Mahn Sha, Thailand, March 2002.
55 Human Rights Watch interview with KNLA battalion adjutant, Karen State, Burma, March 2002.
56 Human Rights Watch interview with Karen source linked to the KNU in Papun District, northern Karen State, June 2002.
57 Human Rights Watch interview with Saw Ko Doh, Karen State, Burma, March 2002.
58 Human Rights Watch interview with Saw Ler Wah, Karen State, Burma, March 2002.
59 Human Rights Watch interview with Saw Tha Si, Karen State, Burma, March 2002.
60 Human Rights Watch interview with observer in KNLA area, June 2002.
61 Human Rights Watch interview with Saw Ler Wah, Karen State, Burma, March 2002.
62 Human Rights Watch interview with Saw Plah Htoo, Karen State, Burma, March 2002.
63 Human Rights Watch interview with Saw Tha Si, Karen State, Burma, March 2002.
64 Human Rights Watch interview with Saw Htoo Po, Karen State, Burma, March 2002.
65 Human Rights Watch interview with Saw Ko Doh, Karen State, Burma, March 2002.
66 Human Rights Watch interview with Saw Htoo Po, Karen State, Burma, March 2002.
67 Human Rights Watch interview with Saw Ko Doh, Karen State, Burma, March 2002. The village is not named to prevent reprisals against villagers for providing the KNLA soldiers with assistance.
68 Human Rights Watch interview with Saw Htoo Po, Karen State, Burma, March 2002.
69 Human Rights Watch interview with independent Karen observer from Thaton District, June 2002. Fifty thousand kyat is U.S.$8,333 at official rate or U.S.$58.82 at the more commonly used market rate. It would represent at least six months' total income for a rural family such as the family of this boy.
70 Human Rights Watch interview with Saw Ko Doh, Karen State, Burma, March 2002.
71 Human Rights Watch interview with Karen human rights researcher resident in Papun District of Karen State, interviewed in Thailand, June 2002.
72 Human Rights Watch interview, Thailand, May 2002.
73 Human Rights Watch interview with Saw Wah, Thailand, March 2002.
74 See Karen Human Rights Group, Abuse Under Orders: The SPDC and DKBA Armies through the Eyes of their Soldiers (Thailand: KHRG 2001), pp. 59-74.
75 Human Rights Watch interview with Saw Lah Ghay, Karen State, Burma, March 2002.
76 Human Rights Watch interview with Saw Eh G'Lu, Karen State, Burma, March 2002.
77 Human Rights Watch interview with Saw Lah Ghay, Karen State, Burma, March 2002.
78 Human Rights Watch interview with Saw Eh G'Lu, Karen State, Burma, March 2002.
79 Human Rights Watch interviews with sources close to the KNU, June 2002.
80 DKBA letter and agenda dated February 19, 2002.
81 Burma Border Consortium statistics for April 2002.
82 Human Rights Watch interview with KNPP Foreign Affairs spokesman, Thailand, March 2002.
83 Human Rights Watch interview with KnA Second in Command General Aung Mya, March 2002.
84 Human Rights Watch interview with KNPP Joint Secretary Khu Oo Reh, March 2002.
85 Human Rights Watch interview with Thu Reh, March 2002.
86 Human Rights Watch interview with Meh Reh, March 2002.
87 Human Rights Watch interview with Doo Reh, March 2002.
88 Human Rights Watch interview with Klaw Reh, March 2002.
89 Human Rights Watch interview with Dee Reh, March 2002.
90 Human Rights Watch interview with Klaw Reh, March 2002.
91 Human Rights Watch interview with Karenni relief organization representative, Thailand, March 2002.
92 Human Rights Watch interview with Klaw Reh, March 2002.
93 Human Rights Watch interview with Bu Reh, March 2002.
94 Human Rights Watch interview with Mu Reh, March 2002.
96 Human Rights Watch interview with Kyaw Reh, March 2002.
97 Human Rights Watch interview with Meh Reh, March 2002.
98 Human Rights Watch interview with Meh Reh, March 2002.
99 Human Rights Watch interview with KNPP Director of Foreign Affairs Saw Doh Say, March 2002.
100 Human Rights Watch interview with Thu Reh, March 2002.
101 Human Rights Watch interview with KnA Second in Command General Aung Mya, March 2002.
102 Human Rights Watch interview with Thu Reh, March 2002.
103 Human Rights Watch interview with KnA general Aung Mya, March 2002.
104 Human Rights Watch interview with KnA General Aung Mya, March 2002.
105 Human Rights Watch interview with Karenni staff member of international non-governmental organization, Thailand, March 2002.
106 Human Rights Watch interview with NMSP spokesmen, May 2002.
107 Human Rights Watch interview with independent source close to the Mon situation, May 2002.
108 Human Rights Watch interview with senior NMSP spokesman, May 2002.
109 Testimony to Human Rights Watch by nongovernmental organization worker, March 2002.
110 Human Rights Watch interview with independent source close to the Mon situation, May 2002.
111 Human Rights Watch interview with former Mon soldier, May 2002.
112 Human Rights Watch interviews with independent Mon human rights researchers, Thailand, May 2002.
113 Testimony of Kachin witness Brang Mai to Human Rights Watch, June 2002.
115 Human Rights Watch interview with Kachin witness, June 2002.
116 Human Rights Watch interviews with Brang Mai and Kachin development worker, northern Thailand, June 2002.
117 Human Rights Watch interview with Brang Mai, June 2002.
118 Human Rights Watch interview with ABSDF Chairman U Than Khe, June 2002.
120 Human Rights Watch interview with former ABSDF officer, Shan State, Burma, March 2002.
121 Human Rights Watch interview with former ABSDF soldier, Thailand, May 2002.
122 Human Rights Watch interview with ABSDF chairman U Than Khe, June 2002.
123 Human Rights Watch interview with U Maung Maung Nyay, PDF general secretary, May 2002.
124 Human Rights Watch interviews with U Maung Maung Nyay, PDF general secretary, and another former PDF senior member, May 2002.
125 Human Rights Watch interview with KnA General Aung Mya, March 2002.
126 Human Rights Watch interview with BPA soldier, March 2002.
127 Human Rights Watch interviews with independent Mon human rights researchers, Thailand, May 2002.
128 Human Rights Watch interview with Sai Lone, Thailand, March 2002.
129 Human Rights Watch interview with RCSS representative Sao Ood Kesi, March 2002.
130 Human Rights Watch interviews with RCSS representative Sao Ood Kesi and with former MTA soldier Sai Lone, Thailand, March 2002.
131 Data taken from the Appendix of a paper presented by Bertil Lintner to the conference "Terrorism and Low Intensity Conflicts in the South Asian Region", 6-8 March 2002 at the Department of International Relations, Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India; and Bertil Lintner, Burma in Revolt: Opium and Insurgency Since 1948 (Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 1999), pp. 480-495.
132 Human Rights Watch interview with RCSS representative Sao Ood Kesi, March 2002.