By VIOLET CHO
The Irrawaddy News
About 300 Karen villagers in Burma have fled to Thailand after the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) and Burmese army units took over their villages, according to sources in the area.
Robert Soe, an officer in the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) Battalion 201, said refugees from four villages began arriving in Thailand last weekend. They are temporarily living in Valeki in Pob Phra District in Tak Province.
The refugees are receiving food and other necessities from local Thai people and international nongovernment organizations.
According to local people in Valeki, the Karen villagers said soldiers with the DKBA, a Karen splinter army, and the Burmese army took over their villages and forced them to work as porters during a military operation along the border.
Several hundred more villagers are reportedly displaced persons now inside Burma, said local sources.
“They are planning to go back after the DKBA and Burmese soldiers leave their villages because they have everything there, houses and farms,” said Ba Wah, a resident in Valeki.
It’s unknown how long the Burmese military operation will go on along the border area, said Ba Wah.
The exodus started early this month following skirmishes between the KNLA and the DKBA near Valeki village, across the border from Phadee. DKBA troops backed by Burmese army units took over a military base belonging to the military wing of the Karen National Union (KNU), KNLA Battalion 201.
Beside Burmese army operations in Karen State, there are also Burmese army operations going on in Shan State. According a recent report by the Free Burma Rangers, the Burmese army uses tactics of forced relocation, often along ethnic lines, as a way to smother potential opposition to its rule.
The Burmese army and United Wa State army both continue to use forced labor to transport supplies and expand military infrastructure, said the report.
People must pay a fine of 5,000 kyats (US $5) if they are unable to serve as labor.
Villagers are generally forced to provide labor four times a month, according to the report.
The report also said the Burmese army has ordered people in Shan State to grow castor oil and rubber plants, in a junta-imposed project to produce biofuel. Villagers have no choice whether or not to participate in the program, the report said.