Please! Let My People Go
My name is Saw Peacefully Thomas, I am a Karen pastor from Thai Myanmar border. I am the president of one of Migrant Learning Center in Thailand, hosting more than a thousand students from the Internal Displaced People from Myanmar. I entitle with the role of Kawthoolie Karen Baptist Church’s general secretary. I would like to tell you a short story of my life and I hope that it will be representing Karen and ethnics groups of people in Myanmar. I was born in Karen state, Pi Ta Ka village in 1977 during the time when Burmese military government raised the “four cut four operation,” as characteristics of ethnic cleansing. In the course of this intervention, my family had to fled and moved to Thai Myanmar border. Since I know that I am human being, I have to run for life, move on place to place. My village was burned down. I live, sleep and eat together with wars. Death and arbitrary arrest, brutal violence is hot news and story that I hear for my whole life. When I was 12, in 1989, the Burmese Military government wipe up the Karen to the edge of Thailand. This is the rest of my life that I spent in refugee. I grew up in refugee camp, received my limited education under boundary of unrecognize education until I graduated from Kawthoolie Karen Baptist Bible School and College. I am one of activist who struggle for minority right, justice and freedom. I have big hoping for the day to set my people and minority groups in Myanmar free from the military regime. I have hope and dream on a day will come when I will overthrow the government of Myanmar, the military regime.
I was filled with excitement on the morning of March 27, 2021. I had returned to my own country, Kawthoolei, arriving in Mu Traw District in Brigade 5. I went to the headquarters (Day Pu Noe) to see my leader and meet with the Karen soldier (KNU). I was there to give them encouragement and to help them in any way possible. When we met each other, we were full of joy, we had faith that we would build up our home land called Kawthoolei, and everyone hoped to be free from the oppression.
We met together and talked over the future plans of Kawthoolei. We each shared our ideas and met with the villagers. While we were meeting, I looked down the road and could see some students training to be medics. It looked so peaceful and I thought to myself, they will be giving their services for their people in the near future. Around 3pm we saw two fighter jets circling the area. When they arrived, some people were amazed, some were taking photos, while others were wondering if something was going to happen. However, most people didn’t really take notice and kept doing what they were doing.
In the evening at 6:30pm I had a Bible study. I started the study passionately sharing the Word of God however, around 7:00pm I heard a very loud noise. I didn’t know where the noise had come from but then I heard the noise of the fighter jets. My friend and I ran outside and we saw the lights from the missiles of the jet streaking across the sky. We realized we needed to get to safety so we ran back, ducking and diving along the way, to the holes that had already been dug in case of attack. We made it to the trench and were full of fear, unsure if the missiles would hit us or not. The first missile didn’t reach us, but the second missile was much closer and the explosion from it sprayed dirt all over my body. At that time nobody knew what to do, we were mentally exhausted and couldn’t help each other, the only thing we could do was pray in fear and wonder if it was our time or if we would be spared. The jets returned for a second time and shot missiles again. Once they left, the village was silent, the lights were all off and there was no noise coming from anywhere, everyone went off in their own direction. We realized we needed to find a safer place so we ran up the mountain. Once we reached the jungle, we saw some of the villagers. There was a mother with her newborn baby, pregnant women and small children. They were terrified, running to hide under the large trees. I noticed a small child asleep and thought about how he wouldn’t be afraid because he wasn’t aware of anything.
We were hiding in the jungle and wondering what was going to happen when the jets returned for a third time around 1:00am. I knew they were going to shoot missiles at the village again and I was right. As they shot for the third time, I thought to myself, is this real or am I in a movie. At the end of the night, I felt like I had just lived through the worst nightmare ever.
In the morning we made our way back to the village and we didn’t see anyone. We didn’t know what had happened to our other friends or if anyone was injured or dead from the attack. We found a soldier who was in charge of the base and asked him for a ride back to the Salween River. He was happy to arrange transportation and we got into the car and made our way back to the river. The car was old and run down so it was a slow journey. When we were climbing hills, we had to get out and push the car up the hill. One time, as we were pushing, a few people saw us and asked if we were going back. Others in the group asked if they were able to follow us back to Thailand. We couldn’t answer the question and our words wouldn’t come. As we left, we saw our friends, some children, and villagers that were left behind watching us leave and were full of despair because we could do nothing to help them. If we had stayed behind, what could we have done, we had no choice. The only choice we had was to leave them.
On our way back to the main road we saw villagers carrying bags of supplies as they tried to escape. As we arrived at the bank of the Salween River, we saw people getting on boats to cross into Thailand. There were so many people sitting under the trees by the river side of Thailand. We asked them where they were going and they said they were afraid of the planes so they were running to Thailand. The next day we heard that the Thai authorities forced them to go back to the war zone.
On the way back to Thailand we met with one of our beloved generals and he asked us to sleep there one more night. He said he would take us back the next morning, with heavy hearts we told him that we wouldn’t be able to stay and were going to leave that evening. We felt guilty for abandoning him and I wondered why we didn’t suffer with our people. I thought to myself, “Am I lucky to have escaped?” “Am I a person who is abandoning my people?”. As I looked at my people, I felt great sadness.
Now that I’m back home, I’ve seen my family and my congregation. Everyone was praying for me and are happy that I have arrived home safely. All I can think about though is “What should I do now?”. Just as I experienced, my people, the mothers and fathers, children and older people cannot rest day or night because the planes haven’t stopped. “What should I do?”.
My dear brothers and sisters around the world, God has rescued me and taken me to a safe place so I can reveal the truth about what is happening. You can’t hear the voices of the ones who are suffering and they can’t tell you how they feel. I am nothing but I am speaking as a representative for the voiceless and crying out for the attacks and persecution to end. I am nothing. Can I do nothing because I have no guns to shoot down the airplanes? Can I do nothing because I don’t have enough faith? Or am I just a person who has abandoned my people to be crucified on the cross? Yes! I am nobody.
I am reaching out to you now on behalf of the people who are voiceless or too afraid to make their voices heard. I want to cry out for those who have no anti-aircraft missiles or defense against these merciless attacks. I am calling out on behalf of the children and the elders who live in fear of their lives being taken from them and don’t know if they will live to see tomorrow.
Why doesn’t the world hear us? Is it because they think we are evil? Do they think we have nothing because they see us as less than human? Is our voice not heard because we are wild animals being hunted and running for our lives? Is it because we are indigenous people without a country and therefore not protected by the same laws or deserving of the same rights as the rest of the world? Are tragic deaths that are happening in Burma daily justified by the fact that their actions are stronger than the power of the rest of the world? My people, my citizens, my villagers, my congregation, my family, my relatives and even I have suffered from the time I came into this world and it hasn’t stopped even now.
The message I want international community to hear for peace and justice for all the people and ethnic groups in Myanmar (Burma) is:
1. International Law (Universal Jurisdiction)
As a representative of all of the ethnic groups of Myanmar (Burma) I urge the international community to follow the laws that have been agreed upon and ratified. I hope that these laws will actually be enforced. Looking back on the last 60 years, the actions of the Myanmar (Burma) military government make it clear to me that it is a failed state that doesn’t warrant existence in this world.
2. International Diplomacy
We know that the only reason the country of Myanmar (Burma) exists is because of the British colonizers determining and drawing the borders. As a result of the division without the consent of the people there has been constant conflict as ethnic groups have struggled to reclaim the borders of the past. They want to be recognized by the international community as having autonomy and self-determination in order to escape from the persecution that they have suffered. Are ethnic groups not worthy of recognition internationally? Because we don’t have this recognition are our human rights not worthy of protection from the oppression we have endured? If we give these rights to all of the ethnic groups there will be unity and economic prosperity, the opportunity to trade internationally and open a way to end discrimination. To achieve this, we call upon the international community to become allies with us in order to secure our freedom and to expel the evils in our territory.
3. Political Aspiration
We want to determine our own political destiny with protection, equality, freedom, and human rights in our land. As every country has its own culture, political system and identity we want the opportunity to establish our own. Democracy has taught me that I have the same full rights as any human, ethnic group, or even the simplest person. America, Australia and all Western Countries have a responsibility to enforce international law, promote democracy and ensure that human rights are upheld.
4. People’s Demands
My people deserve to have their culture and history on display to show the beauty and diversity of the world. My people need an international law that stands for justice and protects their lives from anxiety, killing and fear. I believe that the international community should fight for the autonomy of ethnic groups and the ability to preserve their own distinct identity. We don’t want to see ethnic cleansing anymore nor do we want to see civilians or ethnic peoples indiscriminately killed in the future. I call upon the international community to free my people.
"I would like to urge and remind the international community to respond to their own teaching in their lives."
“PLEASE! LET MY PEOPLE GO!”
Pastor Peacefully Thomas
Kawthoolei Karen Baptist Churches (KKBC)
thomas_peacefully2006 at yahoo dot com