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Loikaw: A Town Under Siege

First of all I have to plead that you keep secret from where you received this letter; I don't dare sign my name as I fear for my life.

As it is a very serious matter for us and for our beloved mother country, I have to endeavor and to risk my life to write this letter to you.

The situation in Loikaw, Kayah State during 22nd, 23rd, and 24th days of June 1989 was as follows:

On the 22nd, 23rd, and 24th June 1989 the Burmese soldiers of 66th Division provoked terror in the whole town of Loikaw and nearby villages.

They were going to make an offensive operation somewhere near the Thailand border, so that they needed 1,500 porters.

They shanghaied many males between the ages of 16 and 60 on the roads and junctions during the day and they surrounded the whole villages at night, kicked open the doors of the houses and grabbed every male they could catch.

In the villages of Konetha and Wari Kawhku (about eight miles from Loikaw) they shot their guns at random and grabbed any adults and teenage males who were unable to flee. In Konetha village a native Kayan was hit in the leg and wounded.

In Loikaw township the soldiers grabbed any male they could put their hands on, including the government servants, teachers, shopkeepers, workers, and farmers, etc. Later they released the government servants, but kept all those they had grabbed in the compound of 54th Infantry Regiment.

They kept about 500 men in a barracks normally used for a platoon of soldiers. That barracks is surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by soldiers day and night. These 500 men were fed one coverful of a soldier's mess tin (about two cupsful) of boiled rice, twice a day without curry; drinking water is scarce. The soldiers who guarded the shanghaied men seldom put a pet [?] of drinking water at the entrance door of that barracks, but that amount of water quenched the thirst of only 10 or 15 of the men inside. Usually only those prisoners near the door (very few out of 500) got a chance to drink water.

There is only standing room for the prisoners inside the barracks and they kept them in there for two or three days or more.

During the night of 22nd, 23rd, and 24th of June 1989 the soldiers sometimes kicked open doors of the houses in Loikaw and grabbed every man they could lay their hands on. There were heatings with rifle butts, hitting in the face, and bullying. On one occasion they grabbed the attendants and guests at a wedding ceremony in Naungya (Ca) quarter in Loikaw. They (the soldiers) forced the townspeople at gunpoint, grabbed them, put them on the military trucks and carried them to the compound of 54th Infantry Regiment in Loikaw.

So, nearly every man in Loikaw township had to seek refuge in Buddhist monasteries, some took to the mountains and stayed in caves, some had to stay those three nights in the marshes, on the river bank of Baluchaung, and some had to hide on the roofs of the houses.

Nearly all the shops, tea houses, restaurants, and others closed their doors during those days of terror and the town was nearly deserted.

When they couldn't get the number of porters by force, they demanded the chairmen of Law and Order Restoration Committees in Loikaw to give them a certain quota of porters from each of the 13 quarters of Loikaw township.

If the headmen of each quarter could not fulfill the soldiers' demands they threatened the headmen that the soldiers would search each and every house again and shanghai every able-bodied man they could lay their hands on.

So the headmen had to collect by force each and every family from their quarter (kyats 100/- 75/50/- 45) [8 kyats per US $1] and pooled all that money and hired professional porters (those who willingly work as porters for a fee between kyats 1,500 and 3,000 for a military operation).

A 60-year-old man was shanghaied in Nammehkon village about five miles west of Loikaw.

At about 2:00 A.M. on 6/23/89 the door of a certain house in Shwedaung quarter in Loikaw was opened forcibly by soldiers of 66th Division and the ensuing quarrel made the soldiers load their weapons and made the head of the family and their son draw the long Burmese swords. But there was not bloodshed. After that accident, wonder and wonders, the Township Law and Order Restoration oligarchs summoned that head of the family and gave him a serious warning.

On the same night they forced the door of Myanma Insurance Corporation branch office in Shwedaung quarter, Loikaw, and hijacked a government clerk. Later he was released.

On one occasion in Shwedaung quarter, a certain man pleaded to the soldiers that he had a chronic illness and gastritis; the answer for his pleas was beatings and jabbings with bayonets, so that blood came dripping down from the man's mouth.

On that same 23rd June 1989 night every house in Shwedaung quarter was forced open and hijacked many people who could not flee. Among those people were many schoolteachers.

About a week ago a hijacked porter was killed by a land mine several miles east of Loikaw. When the relatives of that man went to collect the body, another one was killed, again by a land mine, and some were wounded.

The same incidents occurred in nearly every quarter of Loikaw.

Whenever there was a military operation it was known that they let [used?] the porters (by force, of course) as point men. The loads the porters had to carry were heavy and sometimes the soldiers let the porters starve. When the porters were wounded or ill they were simply left in the jungle. If the porters were killed there were no compensations or any kind of assistance to the family left behind.

Sometimes some of the porters simply didn't come back. No news about whether that porter was dead or alive, and the soldiers simply didn't care. When the operations were over and the porters came back, most of them came back feverishly ill with malaria, and some just like living skeletons.

Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.