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Secret Genocide
Voices Of The Karen Of Burma

Daniel Pedersen

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Every effort has been made to contact the copyright holders of material
reproduced in this text. In cases where these efforts have been unsuccessful,
the copyright holders are asked to contact the publishers directly.

Published in 2011 by Maverick House Publishers, Office 19, Dunboyne

Business Park, Dunboyne, Co. Meath, Ireland.

ISBN: 978-1-905379-62-0

Copyright for text © 2011 Daniel Pedersen.

Copyright for typesetting, editing, layout, design © Maverick House
All internal photographs courtesy of Steve Sandford


The paper used in this book comes from wood pulp of managed forests.
For every tree felled, at least one tree is planted, thereby renewing natural

The moral rights of the author have been asserted.

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or
by any means without written permission from the publisher, except by a
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written for insertion in a newspaper, magazine or broadcast.

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
and the Irish Copyright libraries.
A c k now led g emen t s

his book would have proven impossible without
the assistance of my family, particularly my parents
Jack and Doreen, and the Mya family, particularly
the late Bo Mya and his sons, Nerdah and Tay Lay. To
them I offer my humble thanks.
For their help and faith throughout, I would like to
thank my wife Methinet and my friends Richard, John,
Kevin, Warwick, Jo, Myat Thu, and Steve and Am
I also offer many thanks for the tutelage I received from
those embroiled in this protracted conflict: Hellerpaw
Buhtoo, the late Mahn Sha, David Tharckabaw, Brigadier-
General Hsar Gay, and Chris.

Genocide D efined

he following is an extract from Resolution 260
(III) A of the United Nations General Assembly
on December 9, 1948, which officially came into
force on January 12, 1951:

Article I: The Contracting Parties confirm that

genocide, whether committed in time of peace or
in time of war, is a crime under international law
which they undertake to prevent and to punish.

Article II: In the present Convention, genocide

means any of the following acts committed with
intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national,
ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental
harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group
conditions of life calculated to bring

S ecre t Genocide

about its physical destruction in

whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to
prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the
group to another group.

Article III: The following acts shall be


(a) Genocide;
(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;
(c) Direct and public incitement to
commit genocide;
(d) Attempt to commit genocide;
(e) Complicity in genocide.

Article IV: Persons committing genocide or any

of the other acts enumerated in article III shall
be punished, whether they are constitutionally
responsible rulers, public officials or private

The F our P rinciples of t he
k aren re volu t ion

he following are the four principles of the Karen
revolution, as laid down by Saw Ba U Gyi, the
first leader of the Karen Revolution:

1. For us, surrender is out of the question.

2. The Karen, we shall retain our arms.

3. The recognition of Karen State must be


4. The Karen, they shall decide their own


C hap t er O ne

‘You can compromise on many matters, and I believe in

compromise, but you cannot compromise on a principle.’
KNLA Brigadier-General Saw Hsar Gay

n 1949, the Karen people first declared to the world
that they would defend themselves and their cultural
identity. Since then, man has walked on the moon,
television, internet and satellite technologies have become
part of everyday life, and Burma’s neighbours have taken
their place on the world’s economic stage. And still, the
Karen have not found their peace. Some would say the
modern world has bypassed the Karen people, while others
speculate they have become entrapped by it, cast as pawns
while the rest of the world establishes new economic and
political hierarchies.
In little bamboo huts hidden in the jungle, their
barefoot children are taught their language, rudimentary
mathematics, and history as the Karen know it. There is
no internet. There are mostly no telephones. Often, there
are no books. Sometimes, backpacking medics turn up
out of the blue and tend to festering bullet wounds and
chronic ailments, reminding the Karen that they have not
been completely forgotten about. At other times, however,
Burmese troops or their allied soldiers turn up and burn
down the Karen’s schools and churches, before turning

S ecre t Genocide

their torches on their bamboo homes. Generally, the

Karen have fled by the time the enemy arrives, and while
their villages are being reduced to scorched earth and
ash, they are already searching for a new place to live—
preferably somewhere with a water supply and stands of
bamboo from which they can carve a new settlement. But
every now and then, the people give up, unable to take
the constant threat of violence against their communities
anymore, and make for the Thai border, where they
become lost in the refugee camps a few kilometres beyond
the frontier.
In the camps, they find a form of compromised peace,
but freedom remains an elusive dream. They witness
the freedoms enjoyed by their neighbours from behind
bamboo fences and barbed wire. Through the slats, they
see a country thriving, with flashy cars driving back and
forth past their camps. They also see the soldiers, the
one constant in their lives, penning them in and taking
advantage of their plight. The Karen refugees are entirely
dispossessed. They are not permitted to leave the camps,
and they are not allowed to work because they don’t have
the proper permits. Yet they must somehow be fed and, in
many instances, they are sent on to a third country where
they have to learn to make their own way, far removed
from their customs and culture, their friends and family.
It was immediately after Burma’s independence from
Britain in 1948 that this period of persecution against the
Karen began, and it has now spanned more than sixty years.
In the post-WWII period, Great Britain’s decolonisation
programme sped forward, constantly gaining momentum.
The British were determined to pull out of the colonies,
and when it came to Burma, the decolonisation process
had reached breakneck speed. There was virtually no

S ecre t Genocide

period of winding down; the British simply up and left.

When Burma was granted its independence, a relatively
minor Burman (Burma’s predominant ethnic group)
general, General Ne Win, was appointed vice chief of
staff of the armed forces, or Tatmadaw. Ne Win was
not a particularly prominent general, and there were
others who could have been appointed just as easily. His
appointment was a happenstance of history, and no one
at the time could have predicted what he would become.
The following year, in 1949, he was appointed Chief of
Staff of the armed forces, replacing General Smith Dun,
an ethnic Karen. Ne Win now had total control of the
army, and by 1962, he had consolidated enough power to
seize control of the entire country by armed force.

At the time of independence, David Tharckabaw was

a mere boy of 13 years. David is Karen and was educated
in Rangoon, Burma’s largest city and the country’s most
important commercial centre. He is now, at the age of
73, the Karen National Union’s (KNU—the political
organisation representing Karen interests) vice president.
He likes a drink, smokes heavily, and speaks slowly and
with great reserve, thinking carefully before answering any
question. His election to his current position occurred
in 2008, and he takes his role as vice president very
seriously indeed. Some call him hard-line, while others
say he is simply pragmatic, and a chorus within the Karen
movement claim he lacks the charisma required of a leader
of stature. But after several recent high-level defections
from the KNU to Burma’s State Peace and Development
Council (SPDC), the ruling military junta controlling
Burma (sometimes referred to simply as ‘the generals’),

S ecre t Genocide

David Tharckabaw was the man people turned to in their

hour of need. He had been elected on the belief that he
was morally sound, and the people now trusted him not
to backflip on his policies in the face of enormous pressure
and corruption from the junta, who routinely use bribery
to get what they want.
I first met David through a mutual acquaintance, just
days after he was elected. He came to my restaurant in
Mae Sot for dinner, with the express purpose of being
interviewed for this book. He and I have since become
good friends. Over a post-dinner coffee, David relaxed
a little, and as tired staff cleared our table of Burmese
curries, we retreated from the banter of the other KNU
executive council members and their supporters.
‘Very few people know that this war was started by
the Burmese regime [now] in power, only a few know,’
he said quietly, as he laid down the fundamentals of
my education, as he saw it. ‘Because, according to the
propaganda of the ruling class, it was the Karen armed
resistance [that declared war], and actually that is not
true. It was started by Ne Win, who was vice chief of staff
of the armed forces after independence, and he used his
pocket army troops to attack Karen quarters in Ahlone,
right in Rangoon. There were also attacks in Insein
and Bake-Daweh (Mergui-Tavoy) areas to the south of
Moulmein. Well, when it got to Insein, of course, the
Karen could no longer just sit,’ he said. Insein was at that
time the headquarters of the Karen National Union, the
political body representing Karen interests in the newly-
independent Burma.
‘And that is how the Karen resistance against successive
regimes started, and now we have had the 60th anniversary
of the Karen resistance,’ he continued. ‘We sometimes
call it the “Karen Revolution”.’