covering burma and southeast asia
Tuesday, August 14, 2018



By Aung Zaw FEBRUARY, 1999 - VOLUME 7 NO.2

In central Shan State of Burma, since May 1998 until the present, over 400 Shan villagers in Parng Long district have died with symptoms of poisoning. According to Shan human rights workers and local Shans, the sudden deaths began after the dumping by the Burmese military of thousands of poisoned rats into the Pawn River, the only source of water for the over 10,000 villagers in Wan Nong Wan Koong village in Pamg Long. Pamg Long is well known for being the town where the Pamg Long Agreement was signed in 1947. The leaders of Shans, Kachins, Burmans and Chins agreed to join a Union of Burma to regain independence from the British. "There is no longer any Pamg Long spirit in the Shans," an angry Shan dissident said. In military ruled Burma, human rights violations and ethnic cleansing are widespread. Ethnic minorities, including Shans, have accused the Rangoon government of human rights violations, extra judicial killings, and forced relocations in their territories. "We are convinced that the massive number of deaths in the Parng Long area is a direct result of the dumping by the army troops of poisoned rats into the Pawn River," said a member of the Shan Human Rights Foundation [SHRF] based near the Thai-Burma border. According to one SHRF member, in April of 1998, the Burmese Army ordered each household in Pamg Long to collect dead rats and deliver them to the authorities. Most of the rats had been killed with Chinese rat poison, which is the cheapest and most available poison in the central Shan State. "It was strange that they had never issued such an order before," said Nahn Ho Kham, a SHRF member. But Kham said rats had always been plentiful in the Parng Long area. "They army collected dead rats, kept them in plastic bags and took them away." The order included: "Any household that did not bring the rats would be charged 100 kyats per rat." Later the army dumped the dead rats into the Pawn River, according to Shan farmers who witnessed it. "That happened twice in April and in July of 1998," Kham said. The SHRF employee reported, "The Pawn River is a slow flowing river, local villagers said the rats must have simply sunk to the bottom of the river near the bridge, since the flow is so slow." Wan Nong Wan Koong is directly downstream along the Pawn River, and the river is the only water source for the over 10,000 villagers staying there. Within days after the rats were dumped, villagers began falling sick. "They [villagers] are Tai Loi [Hill Shan] they said they have never seen such diseases," Kham said, adding the, first to begin suffering were children from the houses nearest the river. They often spend each day swimming in the water. The symptoms that people suffered were, first, a severe headache, followed by fever and vomiting. They were then unable to keep down any food or drink, and quickly became weak and dehydrated. Later their vision started failing. This continued for 5 or more days until the patient died. Shortly before dying, the patient would start gasping for breath. After death, the lips and palms of the patient would turn black, and dark blotches would appear on their skin. Kham said the cemetery in Wan Nong Wan Koong is so full that the graves have spilled over into the nearby fields. However, local authorities and health workers did not show up until recently. "They [local health workers] did not come but they knew that people were dying," Kham said. Not long ago, the health workers visited some of the people who were sick, and simply administered 5 white pills per person. The health workers did not give any instructions about how to take the pills, and the condition of those that took the pills did not improve. Kham said most of the villagers except the educated ones did not connect the deaths with the dumping of the rats in the river. The deaths of relocated villagers from poisoning are continuing to be reported this year. Kham said villagers have still been dying, which indicates that there is still poison present in the waters of the Pawn River. In January, a Shan woman visited the Wan Nong Wan Koong. She did not eat anything there, but accepted a cup of tea, made with water from the Pawn River. Later she became ill with symptoms of poisoning, and only recovered after long and expensive treatment at a clinic in the town. SHRF said the carcasses of about 20,000 rats, mostly wrapped in plastic bags, remain in the river upstream of Wan Nong Wan Koong, seeping poison into the water. Poor villagers can not afford to go to the hospital or clinic. A Shan woman, who become sick with symptoms of poisoning, went to a clinic in the nearest Shan town. She recovered after spending 30,000 kyats (approximately US$85). Meanwhile, the SHRF has issued an urgent statement, asking for independent medical experts from international health bodies to demand immediate access to the central Shan State, which is unlikely to be approved by the Rangoon junta.

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