It was long after the sunset behind Doi Luang Chiang Dao
Turn around, to face the eastern side, you will see
As dark as the sky blanketed over Pangdaeng
Look into their faces, their eyes,
It is as if their lives have been cursed
Trapped in misery forever
Their wings of freedom clipped
Their hearts hurt, twisted by suffering destiny
Can you see the wound of oppression, and tears?
Are they doomed to hellish suffering?
Whipped by the heavy blows of injustice, time and again
Bruised in body and broken of heart
Mourning in the silence of the night
Like wounded wild animals
Who will then release them from the chain of suffering?
Leading the way out of the cage of fear
To the light of life and peacefulness
July 23, 2004
The soil smelled fresh after the rain. The only sounds breaking the dawn were cocks crowing. While many villagers still slept in their bamboo huts, others rose to make fires, cooking and preparing to leave for work. Slowly, the smoke seeped through the thatched roofs of the bamboo huts.
The sound of motors broke the tranquil coolness, and passed the village, before dying down.
Villagers were fully alerted when the dogs barked fiercely and heavy footsteps were heard stomping on the moist ground around the village.
In one bamboo hut, Puk Lungtee, a young man in his early 20s had just woken up to make the fire, a routine normally carried out by his wife, now late in her pregnancy.
Alerted by the warning noises, Puk peeped through the crack of his bamboo hut. He saw several armed man enclosing on each house.
"Stay calm everybody. Don't be afraid. We are here to arrest illegal aliens. Showus your documents, hold out your IDs and household registration papers," an officer blasted through a loudspeaker.
"I have a card issued by authorities; I am not an alien. It should be OK...," Puk told himself before going back to sleep.
However, the officers' shouts frightened him and his wife.
"Everyone in the house get out now!!..."
"You stay here...I will go..." Puk's wife whispered to him.
The pregnant Palaung woman slowly got up, walked quietly, and slowly opened the door. She glanced down fearfully and saw armed officials.
"Where is your husband..." one officer asked while walking up. The other officer waited downstairs.
"I don't know... toilet maybe...," Puk's wife shook her face as she softly told the officer.
During all this, Puk lay in his bed with his young child, worrying.
"Damn...no good...shall we take the woman!..." an officer said. Puk held his breath.
"You woman, get down here. Now!!...," she was terrified by the shouting.
Puk wanted to warn her to be careful; too late. Besides, he feared that the officers might learn he was in the house. All he could do is lie down still.
The officers then circled the village and ordered all the women to gather at the village ground. The officers were divided into three corps; one enclosing the Pangdaeng cluster in front of the cave, the other two circling Pangdaeng Klang and Pangdaeng Nok.
"Don't be afraid. Don't try to escape...," the announcement caused further chaos.
The armed officers then ordered the villagers to hold a card with numbers before taking their picture in front of their houses without any explanation.
"Remain calm...we will take you for training at the district office..."
"We will take you to get free blankets. And we will bring you back home..."
Some villagers showed their IDs. The officers checked them but did not return the IDs.
"We will talk at the district office, and then we will return these IDs," the villagers were told.
The situation became tense when officers pushed villagers, both men and women, into pickup trucks. Among over 50 vehicles were police trucks with iron cages.
"Why arrest us?...What have we done wrong?..." villagers complained.
No answer. The pushing and pulling continued.
Some villagers refused to get into the vehicles, and were forced on by officers. A man was hit on the head with a gun. Some tried to escape, running into their corn fields but they did not get far before officers caught them. Others jumped into the wild stream which carried them to the other side of the river.
The arrests continued.
"We have done nothing wrong...why arrest us..."
"Be merciful...please don't take me away"
The cry of fear of the villagers; young and old alike, pregnant women, the handicapped was everywhere to be heard. Some wept, some wai-ed and begged in tears. To no avail. The arrests continued; officers used force and were aggressive.
Altogether, 48 villagers of Lahu, Lisu, Palaung and Khon Muang ethnicities were arrested and taken to the old district office. They were all confused and fearful.
"What have we done wrong? What have we done wrong?..." their grievance was echoed aloud. In front of the district office, on the lawn sit relatives of those arrested fearing for the fate of their loved ones.
For the relatives, it seemed ages before the arrested villagers were ordered to give their fingerprints without any explanation from their captors.
All 48 villagers (34 men and 14 women) were charged with "encroaching on the forest," despite the fact that they have been living in their village for many years.
They were charged with forest encroachment while resting peacefully in their own houses.
"We slept in our houses but were accused of encroaching on forest. We were scapegoats. Even the pregnant women, the elderly, the children, the handicapped were arrested. We only stay in our village, how can we be charged with encroaching on the forest. The officers were the real invaders (of our premises)...," a villager complained.
Not long after, when I talked to Saengla Jadoo, a Lahu woman with sad eyes, her voice trembled as if she was still haunted by the deep fear of such terror.
"Early in the morning, mother was cooking when the officers came into our house. They told us not to fear. They were surveying illegal aliens; they said we will be taken to the district office and will be allowed to return home. They asked for the household registration paper and ID card...," Saengla recalled the story when her mother was caught.
Apart from her mother, her father and brother-in-law were also arrested in the same incident.
In another family, the young woman breadwinner was arrested leaving behind her blind mother and young children. No one knows how they will live their lives.
"Why arrest us?...We haven't done anything wrong. Why didn't they care about our feelings, or didn't they consider us as fellow human beings...," the young woman said sadly and sarcastically of this tragedy.
The arrest of the Pangdaeng villagers was widely reported by the mass media. I believe many people were moved by pictures of the arrested villagers; an elderly man with tears welling in his eyes behind the iron bars, elderly women, pregnant women, and a handicapped man.
These pictures were sad to look at. The arrested villagers were no different from wild animals injured by hunters. Fear in their eyes and faces testified to the horror of the incident. They were arrested without knowing why.
Is it because of hate or because of the negative attitude toward ethnic minorities which had blackened the hearts of the captors, which made them ignore the dignity of the villagers and treat them as if they were not fellow human beings?
I kept asking myself these questions in deep confusion, distress and despair; the questions in the name of humanity.
"This is not the first time...it is the third time they have arrested us even though we have done nothing wrong."
"There must be something wrong...," someone murmured.
Translated by Mukdawan Sakboon