Since his wife disappeared in Oct. 2011, Dau Lum has struggled with chronic illness and depression. Sumlut Roi Ja, a then-28-year-old mother of one, was abducted while harvesting corn, allegedly by Burma Army soldiers from the Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) 321 in eastern Kachin State. It is believed that she was raped and murdered, but her body was never found.
At the time of the interview with The Irrawaddy in late July, Dau Lum is still visibly distressed.
“I often get sick, and since she was taken, my mind has become traumatized and sad,” Dau Lum said. He and his lawyer took the case against the commander of LIB 321 all the way to Burma’s Supreme Court, but it was dismissed in 2012 due to a lack of evidence. Although he traveled to Naypyidaw, Dau Lum was not allowed a chance to testify.
Since then, civil society organizations have attempted to put pressure on public officials to re-examine the case, particularly the Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (KWAT), which sent an open letter to ex-president Thein Sein asking him to re-open the Roi Ja’s case. He did not.
Dau Lum and his parents have since abandoned their village of Hkaibang and relocated to a camp for internally displaced people, about a three-hour drive from Mai Ja Yang on the Chinese border.
The Irrawaddy visited Dau Lum and Roi Ja’s house, built just after their marriage in 2007, but now abandoned. Uninhabited, it is now broken and empty of belongings.
Dau Lum and Roi Ja’s daughter entered first grade this year. The girl, Dau Lum said, often asks him where her mother is.
“I say to her, ‘your mother went to look for money,’” he said, using a local expression for leaving home in search of employment. “Then, she replies, ‘why does it take her so long to find money?’”
Dau Lum still remembers the last day he saw his wife. They were with his father, harvesting corn just outside their village. He said Burma Army soldiers appeared and detained them—Dau Lum and his father managed to escape, but as soldiers shot after them, Roi Ja could not keep up.
“They tightened the rope around our hands, but the three of us ran away. Then, they shot at us, and my wife was afraid, and she could not run anymore,” he said.
Some locals reported seeing her in the Burma Army barracks on the mountain ridge outside the village. Troops from the Kachin Independence Army—a local ethnic armed group—who monitored the base said, on at least one occasion, they saw a woman they identified as Roi Ja.
The Irrawaddy asked Dau Lum whether he believed Roi Ja was still alive.
“She is not alive,” he said quietly. “She has been killed already.”