Ashes and Tears: The Interviews
Interview 9: Sinlyu Bawk Htun
Male, age 36.
From: Myitkyina, Kachin State.
Occupation: Lieutenant in Kachin Independence Army.
Education: final year, Rangoon University.
Left Burma: November 2000.
Q: Why did you leave Burma?
A: Even though there was a ceasefire, after I left the KIA, I was arrested and put in prison. I left the KIA in 1996, and once I left the KIA I was arrested and sentenced to three years, but I didn't have to serve for three years. But even though I was released I had to report to the MI almost every week. Whatever move I made, they always followed me. Every week or every month, they called me for interrogation. I was closely monitored by the MI, that's why I no longer wanted to live in Burma.
Q: Was that in Myitkyina that you had to report to the MI?
A: Yes, because I had to report to the MI [there] I was not allowed to go to anywhere else.
Q: What work were you doing for the KIO after '96?
A: I was directly controlled by the [KIO] Headquarters. Mainly my job was to monitor smuggling of illegal Chinese people. And to [keep track of] trading problems for the KIO. I was an intelligence person for the KIO. The Chinese businessmen who had a very good relation with the [Burmese government] generals, they bring those Chinese people from China, make them work in Hpakant. I had to inform that they're supposed to go and catch them. I worked individually. Even though we arrested those Chinese illegal people, we didn't make any harm to those people. Because we didn't have power in the Myitkyina area, as it is a Burmese military controlled area. When we arrested them, we'd just ask them, "where do you live" or "where do you belong to" and just check them calmly and then just send them away to where those people belong to.
Q: Before the ceasefire time, where were you stationed?
A: 3rd Battalion [north of Pajau, due east of Myitkyina].
Q: Just before the ceasefire, in the 3rd Battalion area, was there fighting with the government troops at that time?
A: Always fighting.
Q: What was the situation at the time regarding your weapons, ammunition, supplies?
A: There was always lack of rations. Even though they said "this is for three days," sometimes we had to live on it for a week, or maybe more. Always a ration shortage there, and concerning the weapons, the arms, even though there was a war, we could not shoot whenever we wanted. So we had to be very careful with our shooting.
Q: After the ceasefire, how did the situation change?
A: What I noticed is that we had no furthering of the KIO or KIA or local people. But the Burmese troops made their way closer to the KIA place, and the life of the local people, the native people, became harder and harder for the living. So it's become worse than before. Since the Burmese troops made their way closer to the KIA troops, the local people -- officially they make more freedom, but whatever those people want to do, they have to get permission from the military authorities. There are so many restrictions and repressions, so the local people cannot do whatever they want, or whatever they used to do. So even though they said, "now is free" during the ceasefire, so the life of the local people becomes harder because they need to go through the [local] military authorities whatever they do.
Q: Did it affect their religious practice at all?
A: Yes, especially in those remote areas, the religious repression's going on, worse than before. As well as in the city, but mainly in the remote rural areas.
Q: What about [government] troops asking people to work for them, was that happening around the 3rd Brigade area?
A: Wherever there's a Burmese troop, a Burmese military outpost, the local people of that area will be forced to work for them. Especially in the remote areas, rural areas, way far away from the city.
Q: Was there still any logging going on there?
A: Up to '96-'97, there was lots and lots of logging and tree-cutting. But after '97, the amount of logging and tree-cutting was reduced, due to the availability of the trees. No more trees! Especially in the KIA area. Because the Burmese troops made the traders cut the trees in the KIA area, but there's some more left in their own area. If there's a KIA base, then the military government send the businessmen to that KIA area, and allow them to cut the tree in the KIA area, so there's no more trees.
Q: Were there arrangements for logging with the KIO?
A: Yes, there's some arrangements, but not between the KIO and the government. If a person wants to do logging business, they have to get permission from the [Burmese] military government as well as the KIO. But the KIO do not give permission to everyone, they just decide who should be the one to do that. But the Burmese government give permission to almost everyone who can afford to give them the money.
Q: Who would do the work of actually cutting the wood?
A: All of the workers are Chinese.
Q: About the KIO opium-growing ban, after the ceasefire, did that change at all?
A: There was no opium growing, and no trading.
Q: What about in the Burmese government-controlled areas that used to be KIO?
A: The was no opium planting in Kachin State. If a person is planting it in Kachin State, he will be given death penalty by KIO. That is under KIO controlled area. But under the MDA controlled area, there might be some opium planting, even in Kachin State.
Q: Were you aware of any operations after the ceasefire period where foreign companies came in to bring out minerals besides the jade?
A: Most of the businessmen who are allowed to do mining and logging business in the Kachin State are Chinese people. The advantage is for the Chinese people, not the local people. The local people might get the temporary job or something like that, but in reality, they are not the ones who get the advantage. So, since they [Chinese] are allowed to do mineral mining business freely, that's why there's lots of the local resources being taken away. So it's not good for the country or the people of the Kachin State. Especially gold and aluminum and the other natural resource kinds of things are being taken away, including the jade.
Q: How did civilians in Myitkyina feel about the KIO?
A: Most people see the ceasefire as no good for them. Before, the Kachin people, even in the town, believed in KIO. That [the KIO] can give to the Kachin people and they can take the Kachin people out of the Burmese control. And they will be the ones who lead the nation. But since after the ceasefire, especially late 90's, '97-'98, they don't trust the KIO anymore. Even among the KIO, there's no trusting the KIO leaders. When I first entered the 3rd Battalion, there was over 800 soldiers. But when I left, there was less than 300. Most people left, because they don't trust their leaders anymore. They had no belief in the KIO anymore. People cannot but criticize the KIO leadership.
Q: What do you think of the recent change in KIO leadership?
A: I believe that the change needed to be done a long time ago. But there was no one that could lead, there was no one better than [Gen.] Zau Mai. There was no change in leader. But it should have been done a long time ago. I believe that Zau Mai wasn't a good leader. What I believe about [Brig. Gen.] Tu Jai is, he is a good leader. And he should have replace that position since a long time ago. Mostly the KIA servicemen respect him, and he is a good leader. But because under Zau Mai's leadership, many of the servicemen were killed by the Burmese soldiers -- or by Zau Mai, executed -- that's why there's not many good people left. But under the Tu Jai leadership, I believe the organization will be better. The people will be more involved in the organization.
Q: What was your own situation just before you left Burma?
A: One of my closest colleagues was arrested -- I didn't even know if he was arrested or killed, he just disappeared. And like my closest friend, many of the KIA servicemen who were discharged from the KIO had been killed by the Burmese soldiers. I had to make the weekly reports to the MI. If I didn't those people would come to my house and I'd be interrogated, arrested, tortured. My life was no longer safe in Burma. If I had stayed in Burma I don't know if I would be alive up to today or not. I could not even go back to the 3rd Brigade area, because most of the leaders there had a good relationship with the Burmese generals, so I could be sent back at any time, anywhere, so there was no safe place for me anymore.
Q: Did they make any trouble for your family as well as yourself, in Myitkyina?
A: Yes. My brother was killed in July last year. Because they wanted me, but they couldn't do it to me, so they did it to my brother. My elder brother.