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Hey all,

Here is our letter to the US Embassy in Thailand and we are also
sending similar messages to the Thai Tourist Police and anyone else
we can think of to contact that may be able to put pressure on the Thai
military to leave the Akha alone.

We also just want to reiterate that we are safe and sound and were
never in any harm’s way. We just want to get to the bottom of it all and
are glad that we are able in some small way to help these wonderful
people.

A letter to your senator may help stem the tide of US military aid to
Thailand or at least help safeguard the rights of the Thai hilltribes. Also
here is the contact website for the Embassy in Thailand:

http://usa.or.th/embassy/acs.htm

Rog and Jen.

To US Thailand Embassy Staff,

My wife and I just got down out from the mountains of
northern Thailand where we were staying in an Akha
hilltribe village.

On December 19th, as we were eating dinner, we heard
M-16 rapid fire and some sporadic side arm shots from a
nearby village. After dinner we decided to go out to
see what had happened.

From what we later pieced together, Thai Army soldiers
from Nueng Gow Lang Task Force 5 unit 541 entered Bpah
Mah Hahn village (Ampur Mae Faluang, Chiangrai
Province) around 7:30 pm ostensibly to do an opium
raid. One Akha fled from one hut and cowered in the
creek behind it while the army shot randomly at him in
the dark till he was struck in the head, a grazing
wound, and taken into custody. He has no home, only is
paid to watch people’s livestock. His name is Ah Seh
Rgoeuh Zurh Gooh is 48 years old and has no family.
The grounds were littered with shell casings. Two other
men were taken into custody. Ah Peeh Cheh Muuh Gooh,
age 27, and his older brother Ah Yah Cheh Muuh Gooh,
age 40. The Akha folks remaining in the village
were visably scared.

We decided to see if we could find the Akha men and see
what kind of conditon that they were in. We drove to
the army base at Nueng Gow Lang but there was no one
there. We checked at the Haen Taek Hospital. No one
there. Finally around 11 pm we spotted an army truck
stopping at the Haen Taek Police Station. We pulled
along side and asked them if they had seen three Akha
men? They stated no. (“Mai mii, mai mii” = “We don’t
have them.”) Very suspicious. Even with our limited
travellers Thai, we knew something was wrong. At this
point the three men pinned down in the very same truck
called out in Akha one person in our group for help
(one person in our group spoke Akha).

While the army men quickly moved to get the Akha away
from us and into the police jail, Matthew peppered the
Akha with questions and ascertained that they had been
tortured. Then they were led into police custody,
behind
closed doors.

We proceeded to the Sam Yaek Army base Cavalry Squadron
241 and finally spoke with Capt. Dumrong. He said he
had a mission at the base and could not leave to verify
what we had seen at the jail. He also said that it was
not his responsibility as it was a different unit
and that for that matter they could enter and shoot in
Akha villages at any time. His commanding officer,
Apisit, reiterated this stance stating in English: “We
can go shooting in Akha villages anytime.”

We returned to the Haen Taek police station where the
police officer in charge greeted us warmly and assured
us that he had nothing to do with the matter and took
us to see the three Akha. The one Akha had a bullet
wound to the back of the head. One Akha was not
injured but Ah
Peeh had the back of his neck burned with fire and all
the skin was gone from the base and back of his neck,
an area bigger than an outstretched hand. Easily second
or third degree burns. They had been missing for three
hours from when they were taken from the village until
when the army had dropped them off.

Two days later, on Dec. 22, the day we were leaving the
village, we located another Akha man who had been at
the Sam Yaek Army base the very night we talked to
Capt. Dumrong, and was being tortured at that very
time! Once again we photographed this man’s injuries,
fractured ribs, bruises, burns. He stated that he had
been tied with his hands behind his back in a kneeling
position and his wrists tied to his ankles and that
they then repeatedly electrocuted him at his ears. His
capture and torture started on the 18th and lasted till
the 21st, when he managed to escape at 3 am in the
morning from Sam Yaek Army Base Squadron 241 by
wriggling out of his bindings, afraid that he would be
killed and dumped, a rumor that is now rampant among
the Akha.

I personally took photographs of both of these
instances of torture by the Thai army of the Akha
hilltribe.

Thailand receives considerable military aid from the US
and from what the Thai army officers said, I believe
that there are also US army officers working to train
Thai army units that operate within the Golden Triangle
area.

Can you please tell me what the US foreign policy is in
regards to the hilltribes of Thailand? Both of these
instances involve clear use of extrajudicial physical
punishment (torture). Especially since the US is
working so closely with the Thai military, I insist
that this situation be investigated.

Roger Miller and Jennifer Jackson


Hey all,

We just got down out from the mountains of northern Thailand where we
were staying in an Akha hilltribe village, working with them to build a
road from their new village (where the army forceably relocated them)
back to their old village and their fields.

This is a long email and contains R-rated content (harsh Reality) as
well as a PG rating (for strong comments about Politics and
Government). It also ranks T for Torture. With those disclaimers, I
should note that we are both quite safe, even though we bear witness to
the rampant abuse of others.

Here’s a table of contents:
1) Some recent Akha history
2) Road Building
3) Matthew and his Truck (this is for you Lunarwolf)
4) Thai Army Torturing and Abusing Akha Prisoners
5) Do something about it!
6) Some other random thoughts

1) Some recent Akha history:

The forced Army/Forestry Department relocation of this Akha village
eleven years ago, has been the chief cause of this food shortage in the
village. This is not the only hilltribe village in this situation, but many
other villages have their fields close by, while the people of this village
must walk three hours per day to get to their fields and back again. For
this reason there is little fruit and vegetables as they either have to
carry it very far or the passing hunters and army people (Thai Yai –
Shan rebels fighting for their own state in Laos and China) take it from
the fields before they harvest it themselves. The village claims no
more than a handful of fruit trees, a few chickens and a few pigs, a
dozen water buffalo, but no cattle.

There are quite a number of youth who have to work in the lowlands to
support their families. This often includes prostitution. The lack of
young women in the villages is noticeable. The Thai government is
actively waging a campaign to eliminate prostitution (or the image of
Thailand as a brothel state) and at the same time fail to address the
situation that they create by forceably relocating indigenous peoples
from long-term ecologically and economically sustainable farms to
places where they can hardly meet their basic nutritional needs.
Additionally, there are a significant number of children being removed
to sectarian boarding schools by missionaries who teach them that
their traditional way of life is wrong, immoral and bad and so the
survival of traditional arts, crafts, language and culture is threatened.

Opium smoking, which has long been a recreational pastime in hilltribe
communities is often the refuge of the hilltribe people, especially the
males – often because there are few Akha females to marry (see
above). While in healthy villages it is mostly kept in check, the police
and army use opium raids as an excuse to terrorize hilltribe villages,
although the fickle police often buy opium and smoke the opium from
the same people that a few days later they bust.

2) Road Building:

The village that we were in is in need of a road back to its mountain
fields, and since there are not funds to build the road available from the
government (which displaced the people in the first place in order to
illegally coopt their land to make it into non-native pine plantations),
they must do it themselves. It is also a necessity so that they can
slowly reintegrate themselves with their former fields and then move
back to their old village, which did not have a road to it.

We spent several days helping to build the road, which meant a long
day of hard labor chopping bamboo with machetes and digging the
road into the hillside with hoes. Working alongside the Akha folks was
great even though we really couldn’t communicate much except via
sign language and a few words in Thai that we happened to have in
common. We were so tuckered out and our hands pretty ripped up, we
hardly had energy to wash the grime off in the evening. And we were
eating WAY more than the average Akha villager.

3) Matthew and his Truck (this is for you Lunarwolf):

Our contact with the Akha was through an American named Matthew
McDaniel, who has been living with the Akha for about ten years and is
a fierce advocate for them. He is an interesting, slightly odd duck sort,
amazingly dedicated, inspiringly couragous. Matthew drives a 4 wheel
drive toyota truck, stripped of the flatbed, bumpers and quarterpanels
(“They get in the way on rough roads.”), with tools, jacks, mud chains,
supply boxes, roll bars and flood lights mounted on the exterior. It is an
insane mad max style vehicle and turns heads everywhere. Thomas
Dobrowolsky, I have pictures of it just for you.

4) Thai Army Torturing and Abusing Akha Prisoners:

Matthew had documented dozens of counts of abuse of the Akha at the
hands of the authorities many times, but he was never so “lucky” to
catch them red handed as we did this week. On December 19th, as we
were eating dinner, we heard M-16 rapid fire and some sporadic side
arm shots from a nearby village. We finished dinner and decided to go
out with Matthew to “to go have some fun messing with the Thai army.”

From what we later pieced together, Thai Army soldiers from Nueng
Gow Lang Task Force 5 unit 541 entered Bpah Mah Hahn village
(Ampur Mae Faluang, Chiangrai Province) around 7:30 pm ostensibly
to do an opium raid. One Akha fled from one hut and cowered in the
creek behind it while the army shot randomly at him in the dark till he
was struck in the head, a grazing wound, and taken into custody. He
has no home, only is paid to watch people’s livestock. His name is Ah
Seh Rgoeuh Zurh Gooh is 48 years old and has no family. The
grounds were littered with shell casings. Two other men were taken into
custody. Ah Peeh Cheh Muuh Gooh, age 27, and his older brother Ah
Yah Cheh Muuh Gooh, age 40. The Akha folks remaining in the village
were visably scared.

We decided to see if we could find the Akha men and see what kind of
conditon that they were in. We drove to the army base at Nueng Gow
Lang but there was no one there. We checked at the Haen Taek
Hospital. No one there. Finally around 11 pm we spotted an army truck
stopping at the Haen Taek Police Station. We pulled along side and
asked them if they had seen three Akha men? They stated no,
actually “Mai mii, mai mii”, which means that “we don’t have them.”
Very suspicious and even with our limited Thai, Jen and I also knew
something was wrong. At this point the three men pinned down in the
very same truck called out to Matthew in Akha for help. While the army
men quickly moved to get the Akha away from us and into the police
jail, Matthew peppered the Akha with questions and ascertained that
they had been tortured. Then they were led into police custody, behind
closed doors.

We proceeded to the Sam Yaek Army base Cavalry Squadron 241,
where we thought that these army folks were likely to be based and
demanded in combinations of Thai and English to speak with an officer
in charge. After raising quite a stink about the human rights of the Akha
and claiming to have photos of the Akha in custody, we finally spoke
with Capt. Dumrong of that Squadron. He said he had a mission at the
base and could not leave to verify what we had seen at the jail. He
also said that it was not his responsibility as it was a different unit and
that for that matter they could enter and shoot in Akha villages at any
time. His commanding officer, Apisit, reiterated this stance stating in
English: “We can go shooting in Akha villages anytime.”

We returned to the Haen Taek police station where the police officer in
charge greeted us warmly and assured us that he had nothing to do
with the matter and took us to see the three Akha. The one Akha had a
bullet wound to the back of the head. One Akha was not injured but Ah
Peeh had the back of his neck burned with fire and all the skin was
gone from the base and back of his neck, an area bigger than an
outstretched hand. Easily second or third degree burns. They had
been missing for three hours from when they were taken from the
village until when the army had dropped them off.

Two days later, on Dec. 22, the day we were leaving the village, we
located another Akha man who had been at the Sam Yaek Army base
the very night we talked to Capt. Dumrong, and was being tortured at
that very time! Once again we photographed this man’s injuries,
fractured ribs, bruises, burns. He stated that he had been tied with his
hands behind his back in a kneeling position and his wrists tied to his
ankles and that they then repeatedly electrocuted him at his ears. His
capture and torture started on the 18th and lasted till the 21st, when he
managed to escape at 3 am in the morning from Sam Yaek Army Base
Squadron 241 by wriggling out of his bindings, afraid that he would be
killed and dumped, a rumor that is now rampant among the Akha.

Thailand receives massive military aid from the US and there is a
School of Americas style torture and terrorism training camp here
where the US trains the Thai army how to deal with drugs. Now, with the
American sponsored drug war, the use of any drugs, herbal or
synthetic is the justification for eliminating the Akha from the mountains,
no need of trial, procedure, or true proof of guilt. Keep in mind this is
going on in regions where the forestry department has taken as much
rice land as they can to install pine plantations for export wood pulp,
where there is no work, very little food, and these villages were all
relocated by the army. This is genocide.

5) Wanna do something about it?

Please contact your representative or senator, and file a complaint with
the Thai Embassy nearest to you. You may also contact the US
Embassy or any other embassy and insist that this situation be
investigated. Jen and I personally saw and have pics of all these
injuries. We’ll send a copy of the complaint we sent to the US
Embassy here in Thailand. Unfortunately, the word is that the US
Embassy here is fairly blase about human rights abuses of the
hilltribes, especially because the US Army is so involved, and the CIA
has history of drug running in the Golden Triangle (Lao-Burma-Thai
border area). Your reps and senators may be a better bet.

For more information about the Akha go to http://www.akha.org, Matthew’s
organization’s web site. The web site’s tone is incendiary, but we
assure you that what the Akha are contending with is real. Matthew is
on the front lines every day and as a one man show Akha defense
organization, he is a bit of a maverick!

6) Some other random thoughts:

This was an illuminating experience for both of us. Back at home, even
though we try to keep it simple, we have a reasonably comfortable
lifestyle, even compared to pampered American standards. The Akha
village we visited is living in extreme poverty, due mostly to the fact that
they were removed from their well-maintained, thriving mountain top
location. We ate rice, fermented mustard greens, cooked yams and
carrots every day, for each meal, which were cooked over an open fire
in a thatch hut. (We brought our own supplementary provisions,
thankfully.)

The military continues to destroy any sense of security they might have
in their new location. We read about human rights abuses in our work,
but nothing like this has ever brought the point home so clearly as to
see the look in the eyes of people who have been tortured, to see the
lip-biting fear in the faces of children in villages where these random
abuses are carried out.

In the past few years, we have come to think of ourselves as
environmental crusaders first and foremost, while acknowledging that
crimes of human rights and social justice are often committed at the
same time. This experience, driving with Matthew to actually confront
the agressors, has given me a renewed interest in human rights issues,
especially in the cases of corrupt and/or abusive power.

On a slightly different front, getting our fingers in the dirt has certainly
kept alive our interest in having a plot where we could organically
cultivate some of our own food and fruit. We’re not sure if we’ll really
wind up with a farm out in the sticks or not, but it seems unlikely for the
immediate term. Right now we are both still planning to go back to
grad school when we return, which would mean an urban lifestyle,
however, we are certainly contemplating other options. It is so
interesting to see all the new horizons that are being opened up to us
during this trip. Someday perhaps we’ll have our own little chunk of
land, permaculture-cultivate it and spend part time doing some kind of
eco-activism, perhaps telecommunting. Seems ideal. In any case, we
are certain that we’ll continue to educate ourselves about human rights
issues, and hopefully be able to make a difference for the Akha and
others.

It seems strange to think about Christmas after this intense experience.
It was particularly bizarre to come down to the city last night and eat a
pizza dinner, sleep in a relatively clean (i.e. not dirt floors) hostel, and
take a hot shower. We are giving thanks for our health and happiness,
as well as being with each other every day! We’re not sure exactly
where in Laos or Thailand we will be for Christmas, but probably in
Chiang Kong on the border. You’ll all be in our hearts and thoughts!

We also got a visa to Cambodia, so that we can go see Angkor Wat,
but plan to spend the bulk of our time in Thailand and Laos till Feb.

Have a very merry C’mas and drink some egg nog for us. Southeast
Asia is really short of holiday nog. : )

Love and hugs,
Rog and Jen


Hello all!

We’re now in Chiang Mai, in the north of Thailand. We’ve had an
interesting bit of time since we last wrote. After we ran into
Hallie Bahr, a friend from San Francisco, who happened to be in
Bangkok at the same time we were, we headed out to a town southwest
of Bangkok called Damnoensaduak. This is where one of the famous
floating markets is, and we really had a ball. The town is a network
of canals, and on about four “blocks” of canals, there is a market
where mostly elderly women in flat-topped hats sell their home-grown
foods and cook up yummy Thai treats. They paddle along on their long-
tail canoes, with gas cooking stoves and scads of veggies and
fruits. We ate a ton of food! There were also more permanent stalls
lining the canals, with more touristy goods, like cheesy carved
elephants and velvet paintings. We did find some nifty things, too,
and got in some good Christmas shopping. We had hired a boat that
was to take us back after two hours, and we decided to jump ship and
walk along the canals’ elevated sidewalks instead, which was cool,
because we could see into people’s homes and workshops along the way.

We really enjoyed it here, and probably would have stayed another
night at our really cheap, clean hotel ($4!), were it not for our
plans to hook up with a Thai Environmental Institute associate out of
Petchaburi, still further to the southwest. Petchaburi was less
exciting than we would have liked, and our dodgy accomodations made
it a bit worse (paper bits stuffed in holes in the walls to keep out
the mosquitoes!). Here we stayed two days, trying to hash out plans
for going to the Kang Kachan National Park, about two hours away. In
the meantime, we went to quite a few wats (temples) here, and were
able to go right into the monks’ dormitories at two of them. There
always seems to be at least one monk on duty, and at one of the wats,
a monk offered us Pepsi, water and small Buddha amulets: Ahh, the
benefits of being two of only a handful of western visitors! The
dormitories are long teak wood buildings on stilts, and inside there
are two rows of rooms on either side of the building, with a long
wide area between them with a shrine and places to sit. They’re very
beautifully carved, cool and peaceful. At another wat, we were
invited by a couple of people into a funeral vigil for one of the
men’s wife. On this occasion, our Thai phrasebook left a lot to be
desired, as we fumbled around to find the right words. It was really
interesting to be there and pay our respects, and were dumbfounded by
the incredible number of flowers adorning the place.

On our second day in Petchaburi, we were picked up by a friend of the
TEI worker, who it turned out runs a small national park trekking
business. After about a two hours’ drive, we pieced together that
the TEI worker hadn’t really understood what we wanted (to go and
check out his work with the villagers that live in the national
park), and had set us up to go on a trek with a tourist company.
After an afternoon at the trekking headquarters – a lovely plot of
land with five thatch and bamboo huts, lots of fruits and vegetable
patches – we were met by the TEI guy. Since his schedule didn’t
allow for taking us around personally, we opted to go into the park
with the trekking company, and instead of rides on elephants, etc.,
we would go visit the villages. The next day we set out, and had a
lovely boat ride across a reservoir created by a huge earthen dam.
We visited quite a few families along the banks of the lake, and got
to see the crops they were growing and how they live. It was very
interesting, and we had no idea really what to expect next, as the
guide who supposedly spoke English definitely did not! It was quite
an adventure!

We were in very good spirits as we visited one family that had a
little store and offered us water and a yummy rice pudding. We then
munched on some sugar cane and talked with the owner, using our handy
phrasebook. At this point, the guide handed Jen a big cleaver to cut
away some of the sugar cane, so as to get to the yummy middle. This
is where the day began to go downhill. New to the methods of hacking
away at sugarcane, Jen managed to slice not only the cane, but also a
big chunk of her thumb!! Blood spilled, and I looked down to see
that I had cut from the top of my thumb straight down through the
nail to the quick. Ugh. It was awful. Rog, the guide and various
family members managed to clean it up somewhat as I squirmed and
cried, then we aborted our plans of spending the night and visiting
more villages the next day, in order to head straight for the clinic
across the reservoir. In our little long-tail dingy, which required
constant bailing (!), we plied through the waters. We made it to the
nearest clinic before they closed and the nurse took a quick look at
my thumb and sent us on to the hospital. She didn’t have the
facilities there, in case the cut went through the bone. Lovely.

The hospital was quite well staffed, and I had about a half dozen
nurses at various points working on me. The worst, worst, worst part
was the anesthesia – I think I was their training ground for using
big needles in small places. Rog said that he almost lost it there
himself. They determined that there was no problem with the bone
(thank goodness), and proceeded to clean and stitch up my (gulp)
thumbnail and thumb. While Jen hummed various songs and looked the
other way, Rog kept a good eye on the cleanliness of the tools, and
thankfully everything they used was fresh out of the package and
sterile.

The next day we departed the national park area and headed back
through Bangkok to Ayuthaya, one of the former capitals of Thailand,
where we hoped we’d relax and rest. After a good night’s sleep at a
wonderful little guesthouse that was spic and span, we rented bikes
(Jen managed it like a one-handed Evil Kanevil), and toured around
some truly impressive ruins of wats and palaces. It was fun to have
the freedom of a bike! However, by the end of the afternoon, Jen was
sure she’d overdone it and probably had some form of heat
exhaustion. We boarded our very happily air-conditioned overnight
bus to Chiang Mai, with Jen downing water and trying to cool down.
She slept pretty soundly most of the night, but upon arrival in
Chiang Mai the next day, dealt with some hefty gastro-intenstinal
revenge and exhaustion. She spent the next 36 hours close to the
loo, while Rog got the lay of the land. We did manage a low-key
activity the first night, and caught an English-language version of
the movie Harry Potter! We thoroughly enjoyed it, as we’ve both read
all four books to each other aloud, and are big fans of the wee
wizard.

Chiang Mai is a nice city, with an ancient moat and lots of wats.
There is a city ordinance in place that has kept developers from
building skyscrapers, so it really has a small-town feel to it.
There is a great night market and lots of cooking schools.
Thankfully, Jen’s recovered now, and we were able to take a great
Thai cooking course yesterday. We had a blast learning to make our
favorite green curry, paenang curry, spicy glass noodle salad and
banana spring rolls, among several other dishes. The best part was
getting to have a wonderful feast for lunch that we cooked ourselves.
We plan to take another course tomorrow where we’ll learn how to
actually make the curry paste we’ll be cooking with! Hopefully we’ll
be able to replicate and perfect some of the dishes when we get
back.

So, after two incidences of illness and a badly cut thumb, Rog and
Jen are now on the do-less, relax more track. We decided not to go
to Vietnam this trip, as we could easily spend a month there, and
we’re going to instead enjoy Laos for longer, where we’ll be at
Christmas. We also got a visa to Cambodia, so that we can go see
Angkor Wat, but plan to spend the bulk of our time in Thailand and
Laos till Feb.

By now we’ve been travelling for about 3.5 months, including the time
we toured some US national parks after our wedding. It’s bizarre to
think that so much time has already gone by, yet we also are
beginning to feel travel-weary. We’re on the prowl for a really
beautiful place to go to spend a couple weeks, perhaps a nice town in
India where we can do a yoga retreat?? Sounds crazy, but we’re
thinking a vacation from vacation will be in order!

Rog and I are doing incredibly well – thankfully we both have been
able to take care of each other when we’ve been sick, and we are
totally content to hang out with each other. Neither of us has tired
of each other’s almost constant companionship, which is so terrific.

Hope all is well in your neck of the woods.

Happy Holidays to all!

Rog and Jen

Rog and Jen’s travels – some old stuff, some new stuff

This blog has a collection of the travel update emails that Jen and Rog compiled during our 2001-2002 round the world trip. We're off to do a bit more trekking around, and thought it would be nice import those old emails. Enjoy!

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