Midnight Searches

          (Repost of previous post "Midnight Searches: Gross Violation of Human Rights")
Article 17:   Any resident household within a Ward (Yat-Quact) or Village-group (Kyay-Ywar-Oat-Suu)  must report to the respective Ward or Village-group Administrator (Oat-choke-ye-hmu) if one of the followings occurs.
(a)        If someone who is not in the registered-family-list of the household and who lives in other Ward or Village-group comes and stays as overnight guest.
(b)        The above-mentioned-guest has ended the temporary stay and left the household.

Article 13:   The followings are the responsibilities and duties of a Ward or Village-group Administrator (Oat-choke-ye-hmu).
(g)        Accepting the reporting by the household(s) for overnight guest(s) from other Ward or Village-group, permitting the stay(s), regularly checking (after midnights) the list of overnight guest(s) (Than-goung-sa-yin), and taking suitably stern action(s) against household(s) and guest(s) not conforming with the reporting requirement.

(From the Ward or Village-group Administration Acts, promulgated 24 February 2012.)
Burmese Police entering a house in Rangoon to search.
It was one winter night in late 1972 or early 1973, I can’t recall the exact date, when our platoon of 20 recruits in last few days of our boot camp was sent into one of the Kachin quarters in the middle of Myitkyinar.

For security purpose the town was unofficially divided into many zones along the racial lines. Some wards occupied mainly by the Burmese were classified as White Zones while other wards whose occupants were mainly native Kachins and other minorities like Shans were classified as Brown Zones, implying the hot bed of enemy sympathizers.

For the vast majority of native Kachins we Burmese were just an invading army unjustly occupying their ancestral homeland and they deeply hated us for terrorizing them. They also resented the heavy influx of Burmese immigrants into their land encouraged by the Army and the socialist government. The town was also quickly becoming a Burmese town as the land-starved poor Burmese from the densely populated low lands were gradually moving up to the sparsely populated high lands.

That night we were there to support the local authorities and police and military intelligence personnel for one of their regular midnight searches.

As in the rest of military-ruled Socialist Burma a draconian law strictly required every household in the town to register its permanent residents and report any overnight guests. Local authorities zealously enforced the law by regular checks after midnight with the support of police and army. That practice was rigorously applied especially in the hostile areas of town to flush out enemy infiltrators.

The army’s jobs in these midnight searches were to surround the targeted ward with an overwhelming force and block all the roads in and out of it, while police and the military intelligence personnel thoroughly searched every house in the ward, one by one.

Occasionally, minor clashes occurred between KIA guerillas hidden in the ward and the army units with usually a small number of causalities on both sides. Often many innocent civilians were caught in the terrifying crossfire, but the authorities reckoned as long as they kept the enemy on their toes the civilian causalities were justifiable collateral damage in controlling the hostile neighborhoods.

Martial Society and Its Laws against Liberty & Humanity

Since ancient times thousands of years ago Burma had been basically a martial society. In the old imperial time most of the villages were classified as 100 class village, for a village had roughly about 100 households and whenever the king of the days summoned the village had to provide one volunteer soldier from each household.

So the village was labelled 100 class village since it had to provide 100 soldiers to the royal volunteer army. And the towns were also labelled 1000 or 2000 or 5000 class towns depending on the allotted number of men each town had to send to the king’s army.

Imperial Burmese Army (Reenacted).
Regularly, after the crop season and a successful harvest, the king would summon the army for whatever reason he fancied and at least one hundred able men from each village would pack their own weapons, bed rolls, and cooking utensils, and joined the royal voluntary army to invade the neighboring countries.

They had to live off the land they were passing, of course, as their army didn’t provide supplies and salary to its soldiers. The main attraction for the voluntary service, apart from the serious quenching of their militaristic aggression, was the part of the loot they could customarily keep. And the custom was said to be 50-50 between King and his volunteer soldiers.

In the past, neighbouring Thailand and the bordering parts of Eastern India had to bear the brunt of these pillaging expeditions from Imperial Burma regularly. The ancient capital city of Thailand, Ayuhtaya, was brutally looted, destroyed, and burnt to the ground by one of those marauding Burmese armies in the late 18th century. 

Burmese were so brutal the mothers in neighboring Indian State of Asam todays are still using the notorious Burmese General Min-gyi Maha-thiha-thura as a bogey-man to scare their young children if they don't behave.

The neighboring countries suffered innumerably until the British invaded Burma and defeated her in a very long war. British exiled the royal family to India, married off the young royals to low caste Indian servants, and, in the process, completely terminated the bloodline of the ancient kingdom of Burma beyond a meaningful salvation.

Beginning of King Thibaw's Exile (The last king of Burma) in 1886.
In the old imperial era, to maintain so-called Law & Order among violently-militant Burmese tribesmen, every ten adjacent households in a Burmese Ward or Village was formed into a cohesive administrative unit headed by a Sae-ein-goung or Ten-house-Head informally elected by the heads of ten households from among them. Traditionally the village chief (Thu Gyi) was either directly appointed by the Town Lord or, if there were none, informally elected by the Ten-house-heads from among them.

And one of these village or ward administrator’s powers has been to enter and search any house in their domain at their whim. Successive Burmese Kings had even issued edicts against building permanent-structured buildings for ordinary families as a brick or concreted building would prevent or at least delay the forced entries by the local chiefs.

That was the main reason most Burmese houses historically were either bamboo huts or timber houses even though Burmese have traditionally used the brick and concrete buildings for their Buddhist monasteries and pagodas.

Giant Burmese Kings in Naypyidaw.
When the British arrived in Burma they brought along with them a basic democratic system for rapidly-decaying Burmese Imperial Society. But as the colonial rulers trying to rule a militant people they liked what they saw in the rudimentary but effective administrative system of controlling Burmese villages and wards. So they kept the old brutal system of Ten-house-Heads and Thu-gyis together with their forced-entry powers, and even legalized it. Of course only in Burma, one out of their many colonies all over the world.

I don’t think the British could get away with such a law grossly violating the basic liberty and human rights in any of their so-called civilized-colonies except in Burma.

And in this civilized world with internet and Facebook and I-phones Burma is still the only country  with such an arcane law grossly violating the basic liberty and fundamental human rights of her every citizen. Unbelievable!

My First Midnight Search – Part 1

A Burmese Soldier armed with G3.
On that particular night we were ordered in advance to shoot anyone who failed to stop when challenged. Back in the battalion compound before we climbed onto the back of a heavy army truck, Sayagyi Min Aung, our Company-Sergeant, lined us up and ordered, “Stay where your are posted and keep alert. Keep your eyes wide open. The whole area is under midnight to dawn curfew. If you see anyone outside this time, ask him or her to stop. If they don’t stop, just shoot. No questions asked! Clear?”

It was our first time as armed soldiers taking part in a potentially dangerous security operation in a civilian area and we were all nervously excited. For a sixteen-year-old boy, who had just joined the army and was not even a sworn soldier yet, it seemed so incredible that we were given a life or death authority over some total strangers.

As we got there just before midnight our Sayagi Min Aung positioned us around the ward and gave us the order to cock our guns. I stood guard in the dark near the intersection of the main dirt road and one small lane that led to the edge of a heavily wooded teak forest about 50 yards away, while many policemen systematically searched the houses on the main road one by one.

The area was a squalid part of the town and most houses didn’t have electricity, but the main road had widely spaced electric streetlights which usually were turned off to save the Diesel fuel of town power generators, but tonight the street lights were dimly on as to assist the security operation.

Burmese army patrol in Myitkyinar.
The approaching winter had thinly shrouded the whole area with a fog like mist and we all had our winter jackets on to stay warm in the freezing cold night. Nearby, some of the small houses still had their dimly lit kerosene lamps burning and the flickering lights from the lamps were like the sparkling stars just above the ground in the misty white of the dark and eerily silent night. The air around was also thinly filled with the familiar smell of firewood burning from the small houses.

After a couple of hours of standing still at the same spot, getting bored and sleepy from a long day of hard work and training, I relaxed and carelessly leaned against a large tree nearby in the dark to take a rest. With the rifle safely slung on the right shoulder and my right thumb firmly hooked on its strap, I started nodding off, recklessly of course.

Not long after, many loud shouts and the noises of people rushing past woke me up. First, I saw a policeman staggered out of the small dimly lit house on the main road right at the intersection and he then started yelling at me to shoot at the people just ran past me.

Two of them in dark clothes like ghosts coming out of nowhere. I was in the dark by the tree and they didn’t even notice me as the front one almost reached the wood. Two more policemen were coming out of the house and started running towards me too.

“Shoot them. Get them. Don’t let them get away! Shoot them. Shoot!” the apparently injured policeman kept on yelling at me from a distance as if he clearly saw me standing in the dark.

Pretty Kachin Girls in Myitkyinar Manaw Festival.
Alarmed and scared I un-slung my G3 rifle from the shoulder, lifted it up, and pushed the safety off to semi and fired one round into the thin air as a warning shot. The loud bang of G3 like a heavy drum beat certainly scared the one running behind as he suddenly stopped and slowly turned around while the other one ahead of him kept on running along the dark track towards the teak forest.

What I thought was a man was really a young Kachin woman in dark-colored trousers. I could clearly see her remarkably pretty face under the dimly lit streetlight. 

In the eyes of brown-skinned dark-faced Burmese boy like me the fair-skinned white-faced Kachin girls were all so very pretty. And this girl right in front of me was much prettier than all I'd seen in this town. 

We were so close I felt like I could reach out and touch her. With a short black hair like a young boy, her young and very-fair face was a typically angular with a pointed chin on her perfectly oval jaw and she had a short necklace of jade beads around her slender white neck.

New Law for the Administration of Wards and Villages (2012)

Burmese Parliament has just passed the new law for the administration of Wards and Village-groups on 24 February 2012. The new law is basically the re-badge of same old draconian law violating the basic liberty and human rights of every citizen in Burma.

The law still imposes mandatory requirement on every household in Burma to report any overnight guest. The law still gives draconian power of midnight-searches at will to the ward and village administrators.

The Articles 6 and 7 of new Ward and Village-group Administration law basically decides the militaristic-formation of the nucleus of Burmese society like a squad-platoon-company-battalion-regiment pattern of a typical army corps.

Article 6:   For the careful selection of Ward or Village-group Administrator the Township Administrator is to select from the Ward or Village-group a group of five willing elders who are respected and influential among the residents and assign them as a supervisory committee.

Article 7:   The above five members Supervisory Committee is to -
(a)        Organize the Ward or Village-group into suitable Ten-households Groups.
(b)      Gather the ten heads-of-family or representatives-of-each-family over 18 years of age from each ten-households-group and Explain them the qualifications defined in the Article-5 of this Act for a Ward or Village-group Administrator whom they are to elect.
(c)       Direct every ten family-heads or family-representatives from every ten-household-group to elect by a secret ballot a qualified person from among them and report his or her particulars to the Supervisory Committee.
(d)       Check whether the elected person from each ten-household-group is qualified and if he or she is qualified according to the Article-5 of this act, and Appoint him or her as the Ten-household-head for that ten-household-group.
(e)        Direct the above heads of ten-household-groups to submit individually the name of person from among them to be nominated for the Ward or Village-group Administrator position, and Prepare the list of nominees.
(f)        Direct the above heads of ten-household-groups to vote for one for the Ward or Village-group Administrator position, and Count the ballots and Announce the result.
(g)     Report to the Township Administrator the name and particulars of the person who receives highest secret votes.
(h)       The Township Administrator is to check the person reported as the ballot winner by the Ward or Village-group Supervisory Committee and if he or she has qualifications required by the Article-5 of this act he or she is to be appointed as the Ward or Village-group Administrator after getting the approval from the District Administrator.
(i)        The term for the Ward or Village-group Administrator is same as the term of People Parliament (Pyithu Hluttaw) and a person is allowed to serve not more than three terms as a Ward or Village-group Administrator.
(j)         If the elected Ward of Village-group Administrator is a member of a political party he or she is to stop performing the duties as a member of the political party during his or her term beginning from the date he or she is appointed as a Ward or Village-group Administrator.

For some unexplainable reason Burmese are very competitive about that grassroots positions of Ward or Village-group Administrator positions while they don’t give a stuff about directly appointed higher Township or District or Divisional Administrator positions.

They normally fought brutally hard to get that Ward or Village-group Administrator positions. Traditionally in Burma significantly more Ward or Village-group Administrators got murdered than any other Administrators.

My First Midnight Search – Part 2

She weakly stared at me for a moment with an apologetic look in her big eyes, which I could easily understand as asking me to let her go, then quickly turned back and started running away from me as if I didn’t really scare her at all.

I automatically levelled my G3 and pulled the rifle butt tight into my right shoulder and took aim squarely at her back, but I somehow hesitated to pull the trigger. I simply didn’t want to shoot someone from the back, especially a pretty young woman. I could have fired and easily killed her, but I couldn’t do that.

G3 Exit Wound.
I knew very well what could happen to her if I squeezed my trigger finger. I’d shot someone from behind in the back and killed him before. Not just one but two men.

Just two weeks ago we were ambushed by KIA during a firewood detail on the Ledo Road and in the ensuing fire-fight I killed three of them and I still remembered the badly damaged bodies of three KIA militiamen and didn’t really want her to end up like them. I had consciously made the decision not to shoot at her thin body.

I slowly lowered the rifle barrel and thumbed the safety back on and tried to breathe in and out a few times. Remember to breathe if you are upset whenever you are in distress. I reminded myself as I calmed myself down.

Within a few short minutes she and her companion had disappeared into the wooded forest like ghosts. Two chasing police officers angrily stopped by me and yelled at me and then pointed their old revolvers at me in wildly threatening manners.

G3 and M16 bullets comparison.
Our Sayagyi Min Aung, witnessing the whole kerfuffle from a distance, rushed up to us with the carbine ready in his hands and told them to back off. He was annoyed too since the woman’s companion had stabbed and almost killed a policeman during their struggle to flee.

He wasn’t too happy, but I was still in his good book because of my quick life-saving action in that Ledo-Road ambush and so he let me off the hook. Especially after I told him that one of two Kachins fleeing  was a very young woman. We all knew he had two young daughters. He also wisely refused to chase after them into the darkness when the senior police officer in charge of the search demanded him just to do that. He knew very well that we were still a band of recruits too green to fight a jungle war yet.

About four in the early morning, they pulled us out of the area and brought us back to the battalion in the same old truck as we came.   Lucky we didn’t have to shoot no one that night. Later I had had the same recurring dream of that event for many years. She appears in my dreams thanking me with the sweetest smile I’d ever seen in my life on her angelic fair face.

I was at the pointy ends of .303 rifle Bayonets

When I was growing up in the little delta town of Mawgyun in late 1950s and early 1960s as an orphan before my father a communist surrendered in 1964 or 65 our house in Mawgyun was searched regularly at midnights by armed soldiers from the army company permanently stationed at the edge of our island-town.

The eldest brother of my communist mother was the local party boss of the Burmese Communist Party and his brother was also a communist guerrilla in the jungle and their children and I were basically raised by their eldest sister my great aunt in their ancestral house in the middle of Mawgyun town.

The soldiers would come up to our house at nights and their torch lights and their loud voices would wake me up. I used to sleep alone on the floor inside a mosquito net and they would come up and lift the net up with their bayonets at the end of .303 rifles and shorn their torch lights right on my little face as I sat up and froze with fear inside the net.

I still remember their bright torch lights and their long blackened-bayonets amidst the pitch black darkness and the hard sounds of their army boots stomping on the timber-floor around me. I was definitely scared shitless but I wouldn’t show to them that I was scared and I would never cry, my aunt later told me when I became fairly big and strong.

Now thinking of those scary nights I know if one of us children ever tried to run away from those soldiers they wouldn’t hesitate to shoot us or even use their foot-long bayonets to stab us to death.

To rid un-democratic laws of Burma one law at a time!

If we are to rid of all the un-democratic laws in Burma one law at a time, this law grossly violating our basic liberty and our fundamental human rights by allowing midnight searches without proper search-warrants must be the first law to be tackled.

To rid forever this gross violation of our rights what people of Burma need is to start a nation-wide mass-disobedience campaign. Please do not, I repeat, do not report any overnight guest to the local ward or village-group administration. No other country on this rapidly-getting-smaller earth has Midnight List (Than-goung-sa-yin) except Burma!

And please do not open the door and let the authorities into your house for a headcount to search for any overnight guest as the Burmese Criminal Code strictly gives any householder the right to refuse entry unless the searching authorities has a properly issued legal search-warrant from the local court or judge.

Let the public disobedience campaign against Midnight Searches begin!

----------------------------------30 Mar 2012 update------------------------------------

This draconian law grossly violating basic liberty and human rights had been amended recently by the Burma's parliament. It now provides legal punishment of the overzealous administrator of a ward or village-group or anyone else for forcing his constituents or anyone to do free labor or serve as porters. One year jail term or maximum 100,000 kyats fine or both is the punishment. It's a right step towards reforming this law but still not enough, I believe.

Public announcement of new amendment for Ward or Village Administration Law in Burmese.