Late one rainy afternoon in early April, a soldier of the Democratic Karen Budhist Army (DKBA), brought an urgent message to Karen villagers in Tarlaewantmikalan village, Pankyone Township, Hpa-An.
“If you want to go, please go fast. We don't know what the late comers will do. We can’t do anything to protect them," he said.
The DKBA wanted them to flee the area, to a safe zone, before they began an offensive against the Karen National Union in two days.
One family, with many young children, left their village carrying their belongings in the rain.
They are among thousands of Karen villagers who have fled for the relative safety of the Thai-Burma border because the DKBA and Burmese armies started offensives against base camps controlled by the rival Karen National Union, in early April.
U Win Maung, a farmer who lives in Tarlel Wamt Mekalan Karen village, in Pai Kyon township, Pa-an district, said, "Now we are facing troubles and are on the run because the Karen are fighting each other.".
He said he is familiar with similar conflicts in the past. He has had to run away and hide in the jungle during battles before, returning to his village when the shooting stopped. Now he is almost 50.
He has worked at many different paddy fields, but, maintaining them has been difficult because he has had to flee from the fighting so often. He complains that this instability makes his life very hard.
“'There is no certain tomorrow because by the time that I have built up my paddy fields and farms, I have to run,” he said.
Sergeant Saw Duu Kuu, who surrendered to the KNU after serving six years at the DKBA 999 special battalion said in an interview with the Karen Information Center, "I don't want to be a soldier anymore because I do not see any good coming from Karen people fighting each other. I want to continue to my life as an ordinary citizen."
Over 2000 people, including 325 families, from Wamt Mekalan, Poat Pawlay, Danwe Pu, Mae Laarhke, Mae Laarhtar, Giho Hke, Nel Kel, Kayholka Lol and Kaymoo Khe fled to the Thai-Burma border in early April because of military offensives in their area. According to the camp commander, currently, they have been living in a refugee camp in Noe Poe.
At present, there are 1,988 refugees, including 304 families, living in new the newly opened Ou Twohta refugee camp since June, a camp commander said.
Villagers who live near the border area can quickly flee to the jungle to hide and then return home, but, many others stay near the border because they live so far away.
DKBA soldiers and the junta army personnel are blocking Karen refugees who flee to the border areas to seek refuge in the camps in Thailand.
"The DKBA accused the villagers of planting the land mines and have threatened to kill all of them. We do not dare to go anywhere and not let them see us. They block all the routes," a new comer to Ou Twohta Camp said.
The dangerous trek to safe ground has resulted in casualties.
“The mother of a three month old child died. The child arrived at here in camp," said a local person.
A spoke person for the Internally Displaced Karen People Committee said that thousands of Karen villages have suffered and faced various difficulties when the Military government launched heavy offensives in Taung Oo and Nyaung Laybin districts in 2006 and also when it launched military operations in Nyaung Laybin and Pha Pune districts, in April 2008.
"Even though we Karen don't want to fight each other, we cannot do anything, except be very sad. I count it as Karma,” said a 20 year old DKBA soldier, who lost a leg after stepping on landmine during a military operation in KNU brigade 7 area.
During the 2006 government military offensive 54 villages in Taung Oo district, 100 villages in Nyaung Laybin district and 10 villages in Pha Pun district were burnt down by the Burmese army. There were 2,800 villages destroyed in the last 10 years. It has been described as the worst human rights violation case in the world, in a statement by the Karen Women’s Organization, in May 3, 2006.
There are many school children among the refugees. The camp committee at Ou Twohta is asking NGO’s for assistance to open a new school, so the children can continue their studies.
However, Thai authorities do not allow the building of schools, making it very hard for children to get an education.
"The school children are very disappointed it. We are worried about the lack of education for our children. We are trying to teach them to read and write, but Thai authorities still don't allow us to build a school," a camp committee member said.
A teacher from Noe Poe refugee camp said that he feels very sad when his students ask him a question like "Sir, when can we go back to class to learn?"
The teacher said that even though there are many problems, he is trying his best to provide an opportunity for the children to get back to the classroom.