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Library Living Ghosts - The spiraling repression of the Karenni population under the Burmese military junta

Living Ghosts - The spiraling repression of the Karenni population under the Burmese military junta

Living Ghosts - The spiraling repression of the Karenni population under the Burmese military junta

Resource information

Date of publication
February 2008
Resource Language
ISBN / Resource ID

Executive Summary: "The people of Karenni State are living ghosts. Their daily survival is an
achievement; however, it also signifies their further descent into poverty and a
spiralling system of repression. Whilst this report documents the deteriorating
situation in Karenni State over the past six years, this is nothing new for the
ethnically diverse population of this geographically small area. They have been
living in a protracted conflict zone for over 50 years with no respite from decades
of low-intensity conflict and frequent human rights abuses. All the while both
State and Non-State actors have marginalised the grassroots communities’ voices,
contributing to the militarisation of their communities and societies.
Burmese soldiers oppress Karenni villagers on a daily basis. Villagers are isolated
from members of their own communities, and other ethnic groups; they report
daily to local Burmese troops about Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP)
troop movements and other activities in their areas; community members spy on
one another, reporting back to the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC);
and they are punished by the SPDC in retaliation for the actions of the KNPP. All
of these strategies create an environment of fear and mistrust between ethnic
groups, communities, and even family members. These tactics successfully
oppress the villagers, as they are too fearful and busy to think beyond daily survival.
Further exacerbating the situation is the fact that villagers face oppression not
only from the Burmese army, but also ceasefire groups and the KNPP. Soldiers
from both the KNPP and ceasefire groups physically maltreat villagers and
undermine their livelihoods. While these occurrences are certainly less frequent
and less severe than similar acts by the SPDC, they still oppress the civilian
population and undermine their ability and capacity to survive.
Additionally the presence of many different actors has resulted in the militarisation
of Karenni State. Thousands of landmines have been indiscriminately planted
throughout the state, without adequate mapping or markings to minimise civilian
causalities. The SPDC, ceasefire groups and the KNPP all recruit and have
child soldiers in their armies. The Burmese army has the largest number of child
soldiers anywhere in the world, and approximately 20 per cent of the KNPP’s
troops are under 18 (the minimum age for recruitment into the armed forces
under Burma’s national law). The increased militarisation of Karenni State has
resulted in increases in human rights abuses.
However villagers are staging their own non-violent resistance movement. They
have developed and implemented a number of early warning systems and
household and village-wide risk management strategies so as to minimise the
impact of the SPDC and other armed groups violence and abuses. These
resistance strategies have become the biggest threat to local and regional
authorities; consequently the villagers are increasingly becoming the targets of
hostilities from the Burmese army.
Most people in Karenni State rely on agriculture as their primary source of income
and are living a subsistence existence. Despite the villagers’ best efforts to secure
their livelihoods, their ability and capacity to do so is constantly undermined by
the SPDC and, to a lesser extent, ceasefire groups and the KNPP via crop

procurement, forced production of dry season crops, arbitrary taxation and fines,
theft and destruction of property and food, forced labour and land confiscation.
This is further exacerbated by the drought that has been occurring in Karenni
State for the past decade, which affects crop yields. When coupled with
skyrocketing commodity prices, villagers’ ability to ebb out a living is further eroded
– to the point of impossibility in some cases.
The abject poverty in Karenni State prevents villagers from accessing basic health
and education services. Whilst the SPDC claims to provide free health care and
education, in reality this does not occur. Health and education services provided
by the state are extremely expensive and are well-below international standards.
As a result, for most people education and medical treatment becomes a luxury
they simply cannot afford.
As a result of poverty some villagers are turning to illegal activities in order to
survive - mainly poppy production. In Karenni State there are two areas where
villagers are growing poppies with the permission of ceasefire groups. Farmers
can earn a significantly higher monetary return on their poppy yields than for
other crops using the same quantity of land. Poppy growers can earn up to
300,000 Kyat per 1.5 kilogram package of raw opium they produce (a 1.5 kilogram
package of raw opium can be produced in four months). A teacher supported by
the SPDC would have to work for 60 months in order to earn the same amount.
Additionally amphetamine type stimulants (ATS) are being produced in Karenni
State. Three factories producing ATS in Karenni State have been identified, again
in areas controlled by ceasefire groups; however as it is difficult to distinguish
between factories and ordinary dwellings it is possible that there are many other
ATS factories in Karenni State that have not been identified. Each factory can
produce between 250,000 and 300,000 pills per month. From the three known
factories in Karenni State between 9 million and 10.8 million ATS pills are being
produced and released into the international drug market each year.
Today over a quarter of the population in Karenni State have been forced from
their homes as a direct result of the actions of the Burmese military junta. Between
70 and 80 per cent of those displaced are women and children. Displacement
has increased 42 per cent since 2002 and represents eight per cent of the total
population in Karenni State. Karenni State has the highest level of displacement
to population ratio in all of eastern Burma. When similar comparisons are made
to the five countries with the largest displaced populations in the world (Sudan,
Colombia, Uganda, Iraq and the Democratic Republic of Congo) the percentage
of displaced persons in Karenni State is alarmingly higher. Over 12 per cent of
Sudan’s population is displaced – less than half that of Karenni State.
Internally displaced persons (IDPs) in eastern Burma receive very little assistance,
if any at all, primarily due to the policies of the SPDC, which severely restrict
humanitarian agencies accessing these vulnerable populations. The SPDC
deems IDPs as enemies of the state and implements a shoot on sight policy,
which includes children and the elderly. IDPs are vulnerable to human rights

abuses, exploitation and violence from the
SPDC, as well as food shortages and have
severely limited access to education and
health care services.
The most pressing need of the people and
the IDP population is physical security. Most
people have the capacity to earn a livelihood
mitigating food shortages, to educate their
children, establish a medical clinic and
develop their communities; however, they
lack the security necessary to do so. There
are humanitarian organisations working in
Karenni State, including local community
based organisations (CBOs), nongovernmental
organisations (NGOs) and
international agencies such as the United
Nations Development Programme. Despite
this presence the humanitarian situation in
Karenni State continues to deteriorate and
people are finding themselves slipping further and further into the poverty abyss
– with no foreseeable escape.
The impacts from the situation in Karenni State are not confined to the State’s
boundaries - they spill over into other states and divisions in Burma and also
across international borders, especially into Thailand. These spill over effects
include, but are not limited to: the mass exodus of people from Burma to
neighbouring countries as refugees and migrant workers; illegal trafficking of
drugs and people and associated health concerns, especially HIV/AIDS.
These non-traditional security threats impinge on Burma’s neighbours
economies and social welfare systems, affecting regional stability and security.
The situation in Karenni State cannot be rectified without genuinely addressing
Burma’s complex issues, including ethnic chauvinism, in a participatory
manner, which engages the whole nation’s citizenry. Only when these issues
are truly addressed may the people of Karenni State find peace and start living
life for the future, and not as living ghosts.

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