We have returned to the Thai Burma border once again. This trips affords us the opportunity to connect with our friends in the Backpack medics. We learn quickly that the postiive news out of Burma is only partially accurate.
On the positive side, many in the eastern Karen state feel it is easier to move around. The Regime is providing travel documents, allowing them to travel within Burma. At the same time, Army units do extract a tax, complicating necessary travel.
What is missing from the reports is the violence that the Burma army continues to inflict in the eastern states, where a ceasefire is more an allegation than a reality.
In Y_____ village of Mantong township, Burmese soldiers raped two women in April. Nearby, in Tangyan township, a number of people were forced to act as guides and/or porters for army units. Three young girls, under the age of 16, were forced to lead a patrol to a new village. The trek lasted overnight and the girls were given no food or shelter. A few days later, a group of 5 villagers were forced to guide and porter for an army unit. To ensure they didn’t escape, the 5 were tied together. As the soldiers camped over night, they ordered the villagers to fetch water.
One young boy reported the tragedy that followed: “When we went to fetch water, my father stepped on a landmine and died. immediately in front of me. My friend’s father also died. There was nothing I could do.”
Death visited those in the east in other forms. Also in April of this year, three soldiers from one of the ethnic group’s militia returned to their village in Namsan township to help with the harvest. Despite the donditions of the ceasefire, the Burma army arrested all three and tortured and killed them.
Faced with this level of violence and the regime’s attitude toward the Karen, Kachin and others, the people of eastern Burma still are confronting violence and instability. The only health care provided to them comes from the backpack medics, who brave the risks to care for their own.