Hseng Mun was twenty-three years old when he stepped on a landmine while fighting the SPDC inside of Shan State. His leg was crudely amputated at the knee joint. Field medics often lack bone-saws and are forced to cut through the tendons at the knee joint, with a knife, removing the entire lower half of the leg. He was brought to Thailand for treatment and has lived in Loi Tailang ever since.
Another amputee who says that he was a hunter stepped on a landmine while trying to get food for his family. “We are being helped by the army now, so we don’t have to worry about food.”
Neither man has had any contact with his family, back in Shan State, in years.
The SPDC robbed them each of a leg and of their family. They were also robbed of their livelihood as well as their freedom and dignity.
Hsai Wee is 10 years old, but he looks much younger. Malnutrition causes many of the children to develop late and to never achieve their full height and weight potential. He’s been living in Loi Tailang for five months. “We came here because the SPDC always came to our village and destroyed everything. They took what they wanted. They took the animals, cows and pigs. We walked here through the jungle, it took four days.”
Hsai Wee doesn’t smile. He should be a normal, happy child. Instead, his child’s face looks tight with worry and his brow wrinkles as if he were deep in thought. Perhaps this is because his village was burned or because he was separated from his father and doesn’t know if he lived or died.
The SPDC robbed Hsai Wee of his childhood and his dad.
Kown Kydwa, 43 years old, came to Loi Tailang three months ago after escaping from SPDC soldiers. At that time, he had been a porter for almost four years. He showed us the huge scars on his arm where Burmese soldiers tortured him with a knife.
“Life was very difficult.” He said, sadly. He tells us that he was beaten repeatedly.
“They hit me with their rifle butts. The SPDC soldiers broke some of my ribs and they never healed properly.”
Kown Kydwa is now nearly deaf. “The soldiers restrained my hands and the officer slapped me in both my ears.”
On the day he was captured, Kown Kydwa was on his way to work in the fields. The soldiers saw him and arrested him, forcing him to work as a porter. The SPDC soldiers only fed him and roughly 200 other porters the heart of the banana, an inferior food, which is normally only used to feed pigs.
“When the SPDC fought a battle against the Karenni they used us porters as human shields. They put rifles on our shoulder and hid behind us, firing.”
Once, when the soldiers sent him down the hill to haul water, he made his escape. He went into the jungle with no food or equipment. He moved through the jungle for seven days, sneaking and eating wild foods that he found himself. He hid in the day time and moved at night. He didn’t know where he was or where he was going, but he kept moving.
Eventually, Karenni soldiers found him. They took him to a field hospital where he was given food and clothing. Kown Kydwa counts himself lucky. “Other people who escaped lost their way in the jungle.”
Knowing that he was Shan, the Karenni soldiers then took Kown Kydwa to Loi Tailang, so he could live among his own people.
He looks around at the dusty bamboo hut he shares with other disabled IDP men and sums up his life. “I have no family. I have no extra clothes. I have difficulty walking because it hurts inside.” He points to his abdomen and to his ribs which were broken with a rifle-butt.
Kown Kydwa has four children, but has no information about them.
“I don’t know if my family is alive, and they don’t know where I am, only that I disappeared from the farm. Now, because I am deaf and injured I can’t go back in the jungle and look for them.”
The SPDC robbed him of his family and his health.
Sao Nong (not her real name) is a thirty-six year old woman whose hard life has aged her well beyond her years. She has two children, a four-month old son and a six-year old daughter. “SPDC soldiers always came to the village and took what they wanted they also asked money from the villagers. They came often. They killed some people in the village.” She said. “It’s better to live here than in the village. It is free and I don’t worry about food and no one asks us to pay taxes like the SPDC.”
She lost her husband. “I was working in the fields. When I came back my husband had been arrested by the SPDC. I haven’t had any word from him yet.”
They forced people to be porters abut once a month and kept them for twenty days. They took five to six people each time.
The SPDC forced people to grow opium for their benefit. They have to pay tax on the opium. She grew opium. The SPDC made her. They said half was for them and half was for here but they took taxes from the half which was left for the villagers. Then sometimes they just burned what was left and the villagers got nothing. In the village 40 families that had to grow opium also grew crops but the SPDC would destroy their other crops and punish them if they refused to grow opium.
In spite of the horrible realities of her life, Sao Nong still can dream of a better future.
“I dream that the SPDC would go away from our village. I also want freedom of movement. And human rights.”
Before I left, Sao Nong made a request.
“Please tell this story to other people.”