Ashes and Tears: The Interviews
Interview 11: "Mr. Blue"
Male, age 41.
Occupation: former government civilian department employee.
Education: 10th standard.
Left Burma: December 1999.
Q: The part of Pa'an you were staying in, was it government controlled, or not?
A: It was known as a "brown area" [contested between government and Karen forces].
Q: Why did you leave your government work and go to the border area?
A: I left Rangoon in 1988, after the military seized the power. In September. Because I got actively involved in the demonstrations. So I fled because I was afraid of the military.
Q: What kind of work were you doing in Pa'an?
A: Farming. Peas, chilis.
Q: Did the farming situation change while you were there?
A: Sometimes we could not do our work, because of a lot of forced labor and a lot of portering. Sometimes they destroyed the farms. My cousin's farm was destroyed, the [government] military destroyed his paddy field.
Q: Did you or your family members have to do work for the military?
A: I myself did it. Mostly construction. Road construction... After six years there I fled into the KNU [Karen National Union] area.
Q: Could people pay money in order not to do the work for the military?
A: Yes. The army would ask 5,000 kyat for one time.
Q: How many people would they ask to work for them?
A: 200 to 300 at one time, one person from each household [for construction].
Q: What kind of people did they ask to work for them?
A: First they call the men, if that's not possible, the women have to serve for that work. Otherwise, they have to hire other people to work for the army.
Q: Have you heard any news of your old village in later years?
A: There's no contact at all.
Q: When you first came to Pa'an, was it a forest area?
A: Yes it was.
Q: Did that change while you were there?
A: A lot of forests were cut down in the border areas. Including some places controlled by KNU and other places. Most of the places are near the creek or the river, where they can move the trees easily. The area where the KNU controlled it was managed by the KNU. They cut the forests for their funds. And the DKBA, Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, that organization also cut the forests. And most of the trees were cut by the [government] military. They cut a lot of forests around that area. The wood went to Thailand.
Q: In the Pa'an area, did you notice changes in fish or wild animals?
A: It's more rare than before. Because most of the forests are destroyed, some of the wild animals are also decreased. Some snails that were plenty before, now they cannot find anymore in that place.
Q: Were there elephants in the forest in that area?
A: I never saw them, but some people said there were a few wild elephants in the forests.
Q: Besides the labor, were there other kinds of problems with the authorities in that area?
A: I lived in fear in Pa'an because I had run away from Rangoon. The soldiers would come to the village and take the pigs and chickens, paying only small money.
Q: What was your life like in the KNU controlled area?
A: I had to shift from one place to another, mostly at the times when they had fighting with the government.
Q: Why didn't you flee to Thailand?
A: Because Thailand is not my country. I wanted to live in my country as much as I could.
Q: When you worked in the government department before 1988, how were you treated, being a Karen?
A: They treated me the same, but I didn't get any promotion because of being the only Karen and a Christian.
Q: Did other people in your department participate in the '88 uprising?
A: Yes, they did. A lot of people.
Q: In Pa'an, were there landmines in the area?
A: Yes, there were a lot of mines in that area that were planted by the [government] military and the KNU to defend themselves against each other. People got injuries to their legs. They would go to Thailand to get treatment for that.
Q: What was medical care like in the Pa'an area?
A: We relied on the herbal medicine most of the time, the indigenous medicines. It is known by the ancient Karen people. We'd find it in the jungle. Sometimes we bought medicine in the market.
Q: What did people in your area think about the boys Luther and Johnny Htoo, their group known as "God's Army"?
A: People who lived around that area said it was good for them, because [the boys] did some big things that [ordinary] people cannot do.
Q: What do you think is the future of the Karen struggle?
A: I think they [KNU] should continue to do what they do, because they represent all the Karen people.