For decades bloody war has ravaged the eastern jungles of Burma (Myanmar). The brutal military junta, known as the State and Peace Development Council, recently launched its biggest military offensive in a decade.
The SPDC long has been warring against the Karen, Karenni and other ethnic groups. Some 160,000 Burmese have ended up in sprawling refugee camps near Mae Sot, a small, rural community just over the Thai border.
The group Christian Freedom International supports medical clinics, orphanages and schools. One school serves 31 kids from nearby camps.
The children’s ages range from 11 to 17. These are not secure American teenagers, possessing cell phones, cars and tickets to college. Most of these kids have endured far more hardship than the rest of us will see in our lifetimes.
The experience of 14-year-old Klo P’lan Paw, nicknamed Gloria, is distressingly common. She explains: “Sometimes Burmese soldier[s] come to our village. They also burn our house, destroy our garden, and when they ask someone to give them a thing they need, when we did not give them they kill our people so every time we afraid.”
Even more chilling is the story told by 15-year-old Moo Nay Paw (Andrea): “We met the Burmese soldiers in the distance. We couldn’t run, because they surrounded us. They arrested us and tied all the men. My mother and I went to stay under a big tree to take a short rest. At the moment one man tried to escape and ran behind me and my ma. While he ran, the Burmese army shot him. At that time I saw my mother lay down beside me, because one of the bullets came through my ma, but I didn’t know my ma died. I called her, ‘Mother … mother’ and I tried to move her. I called her again and again, but there was no reply.”
A coupleyears later her father met a similar fate. She says: “He was beaten like people beat animals. When I received this message I cried.”
Pee Law, or Esther, is 15 and from the Burmese village of Taw Kah Koh. The Burmese soldiers “captured the animals and ate them,” a devastating blow to poor farmers. “When I heard the sound of guns, and I was very afraid,” she writes.
Sixteen-year-old Ky Moo, or Christopher, explains: “My family enjoy very much my village, but when Burmese soldiers came to village … they killed people and burn our village.” His family fled to a refugee camp in Thailand.
Su Meh (Eve), 14, is one of eight children: “When I was baby the Burmese soldiers come to kill us and we will run far away to another places. If we not run we will die.” But fleeing isn’t easy: “We do not have food to eat and we do not have money or clothes for us to wear.”
Khu Wak Paw, or Ruth, is 16. Her father was killed by the SPDC. She would grow sad because “Karen people is like animals in the jungle.” Those who live in “the Karen village is always worry about the mines for the village it is difficult to feed their families. Most of Karen villagers cannot walk far away from the path because they afraid the mine will blow them up.”
Way Nay Lin (Mark) is 15. He says: “Burmese soldiers attacked my village. Many people fled to the forest. The Burmese soldiers are too bad for us because they killed a lot of people and burn our home and our barn and they take away our animals and all things that they want.” Soldiers captured and killed his father.
Fourteen-year-old Mercy Htoo, or Victoria, was born in a refugee camp. Her family had lived in Burma, but fled after SPDC attacks on her village.
The refugee camp offered safety, but, explains Mercy Htoo, “they can’t go anywhere. They can’t own the land to plant the food, fruits or vegetables.”
Although brutality is universal, Christians, who encompass the vast majority of Karen and many Karenni, often are special targets. Klo P’lan Paw explains that “The Burmese soldier don’t like the Christian when they know, and see a Christian they kill all. So we need to worship in hide place.”
No one, especially a child, should have to go through what these kids — the youngest victims of a war that never seems to end — have suffered. But the Burmese junta has proved to be impervious to international sanctions and pressure.
Americans can, however, help alleviate the human suffering.
Fourteen-year-old Say Reh, or Roger, says: “I thanks the people in America who help my people in refugee camps. May God bless you, America!”
Doug Bandow is vice president of policy for Citizen Outreach. He is the author of several books, including “Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire” (Xulon Press). He is writing a book about international religious persecution.