Name: Nan Thein Thein
Ethnicity: Pwo Karen
Family: Married with 4 children (age 6 to 13)
Address: Hlaing Bwe Township, Karen State
I arrived here yesterday. I came because we had no more money to pay porter fees, so I dared not stay in the village any longer. Most of the men have already run away so the soldiers tried to catch the women, and I was afraid to stay. My husband doesn't know I came here because when I came he had already fled from them. I don't know where he is. I hope to find him here. I just arrived so I don't even have a house to stay in yet. If I find my husband he could build a house for us.
Two years ago the soldiers came one night and asked me to go with them. I dared not go so they beat me with their guns. I was pregnant, and I fell down on my belly and it was hurt, and my baby was hurt inside. Two days later I had a miscarriage and lost my baby. I was so sick from it that I had to go to the hospital, and they had to make an operation to cut my womb. Now I can't have children anymore.
Now the soldiers come to the village and ask for money. Every month they demand 200 or 300 Ks. Sometimes they also make us go for forced labour, and every month we have to pay 1,000 Ks as labour fees [SLORC says this is to hire labourers] and to pay the SLORC militia. We don't know how they really use the money. They say that if we can't pay it, we won't be allowed to stay in our village anymore. They come and steal everything, and they come to take porters to their camp.
We are very afraid but we have to go. Sometimes we had to go for one month. I wanted to hire someone to go in my place but I had no money. If you borrow money from others, you have to pay interest. I faced that problem.
There used to be over 100 houses in my village, but many people have run away and now there are only 10 houses left. The soldiers often ask for 10 or 20 porters every month. Each household was ordered to send one family member, sometimes including many women. SLORC also grabbed people to be porters whenever they came to ask for money and when we couldn't pay. Sometimes I've been a porter for one or two days, sometimes for over a month. We had to carry rice, ammunition, salt, chillies and sugar, and we also have to carry the soldiers' clothes. I was very afraid of them all the time. They scolded and cursed me. Sometimes the women had to carry two 81mm mortar shells each. We had to go to Lu Pleh and to other places. The soldiers are from IB 331 and 339. I know of Capt Than Shwe and Capt Than Win from IB 331, and Capt Soe Teh from IB 339. I've see many men brought back from being porters with broken legs.
Name: Naw K'Ser Paw
Family: Married with 6 children (age 2 to 16)
Address: Nyaunglebin District, Pegu Division
[Naw K'Ser Paw's husband is a Karen soldier. She fled her village and arrived in Karen-controlled territory in June 1994.]
I was arrested at the start of this year. The SLORC soldiers surrounded the house, called us to come out and said, "If you don't come out we'll drag you out!" Then they started to punch me.
They tried to punch me in the face but they missed, then they tried to punch me in my back but instead of me they hit my baby son in the head. I thought he was going to die. He wasn't even breathing. There was also a man staying at our house to protect us, and they hit him with a gun about 10 times. There were about 200 soldiers – that's a lot! Their commander was Maj Myo Tint. They tied us up and took us to the headman's house in the village.
At the same time they took all our cattle. They kept us there one night, then the next day they took us to Tat Tu Camp. Along the way they made me and my baby son sit under a hut for about four hours. They didn't give us any food. At Noh Po they took our photo twice. First they made me stand under a tamarind tree, put on my bamboo hat and hold my son, and the second time I had to sit cross-legged with one of the bags I'd brought along and my son in my lap. When we arrived at Tat Tu they asked me a lot of questions about my husband and then put us in the jail. The next morning they took us to a bigger jail in Tat Tu, where they kept us for eight days.
We were locked up together with Naw Ta Blu Htoo and her son, just the four of us. They just kept us in the cell. My son had diarrhoea and they wouldn't let us go out to the toilet. I thought, "This time, he's going to die. Even if he doesn't die here, he'll die in the next place for sure." But luckily he could eat a little bit, and one of the sentries gave him two tablets to stop the diarrhoea and it stopped. The soldiers interrogated me about my husband.
They said: "Ask your husband to come and surrender to us. We won’t kill him, and then you can all go and live in Ler Doh." I told them that my husband doesn't do anything for me and that I never even see him. I'm left alone with only my baby son, just the two of us. They said, "You're lying. We arrested you because you're a liar," and they kept telling me to call my husband to come and surrender. While we were there they called out some other people in the jail and killed them. They accused those people of being spies. We saw them digging the ground beside the jail to bury themselves. Then one evening they called us so we thought they were going to kill us because we were the only two left, each of us with our child. I said to Naw Ta Blu Htoo, "This time I am going to die." I couldn't carry my son with me because they'd beaten me on my back and it was too painful, so Naw Ta Blu Htoo and I went to them alone. They told us, "We won't kill you, but we want the truth." Then they asked us questions.
Then Maj Nyo Aye took us to Thu K'Bee. On the way they tied two of us together and we couldn't even walk along the paddy dikes in the rice fields. Sometimes we had to cross rivers where water was up to our waists, and I also had to carry my son. When we got to Thu K'Bee they took us apart and tied us up separately, then we went on to Seik Gyi, then by truck to Nat Than Gwin and eventually to Tham Bo Camp.
At Tham Bo we had to work starting at , clearing the bushes and cleaning around the senior officers' houses. We had to make fences around their houses, cut wood and carry water. There were many others being held prisoner like us, not only Karen but Burman too. There was one group of 24 people they arrested all together. Then 20 of them were released and only four of them were left. Everybody had to work, Burman, Karen, everybody. The soldiers hit me on my back and kicked me in the head. The only food we had was sent to us from our village, it wasn't SLORC's food. Sometimes we only had rice, not even any fishpaste or salt. They sent messages to our children and relatives back home to bring us food but when they came they wouldn't let us see them. If they brought salt, rice and chillies for us then often the soldiers took it all. If they brought money for us to buy medicines, the soldiers just took it all and never gave it to us. We couldn't do anything about it because we were in prison. When the people from our village couldn't come, we were only fed once a day until they brought more food.
After three months at Tham Bo they took us to the police camp at Ler Doh for one night and one day without food. Then they took us to the court [she probably means the township LORC office]. At the court they told us: "We arrested you because of your husbands, not because of yourselves. Because your husbands are very bad men. We need to kill them, though in a way I don't want to kill them." Then I had to pay 16,000 Ks to Ye Soe. He is the superior of Maj Myo Tint, who arrested me. I also had to pay 2,400 Ks when we were at the police station. They told us if we didn't give them the money they asked for they'd put us back in prison, so we had to give them everything because we couldn't bear to stay there anymore. Then they released us, but even after I was back at home they still came once a week to interrogate me. They asked me questions and said, "Your husband didn't surrender to us. You're a liar", and they beat me up. I told them, "Since you released me I haven't seen my husband. I know nothing about him. Just ask the village headman." The headman confirmed that my husband hadn't been around, but SLORC said if anyone saw my husband around there, they'd kill our whole family. They said they'll be watching and come back again. I got so sick I was paralysed for two days. People thought I was going to die, and they gave me 14 or 15 IV drips before I got better. I don't know what it was. Just after that Major Ye Soe came and ordered me to get out of the village. I moved to my aunt's house in another village, but I couldn't stay there because she was afraid to get into trouble because of me. The SLORC people there called her in and told her they didn't want me there. They told me to go and report to the police and the army, but I didn't want to do that after what they did to me last time. So I ran away from that place and came here.
SLORC had done other things to me before too. One time my father asked me to go and buy 30 packets of cheroots for him. I went alone, and when I passed an army outpost the sergeant stopped me and said: "Give me a light. I want to smoke." When I tried to give him a light he grabbed my hand and said, "Last night, 15 people slept in your house. Do you know who they are?" I told him I hadn't seen anyone and he said, "How can you say that? I saw the people in your house from here." Then he punched me. I kept telling the truth, and he slapped me in the face. Then I stopped talking and started crying. One of my sons and my nephew were with me. My nephew said, "Aunt, SLORC is going to beat us until we die." Then the sergeant punched him too and his jaw swelled up. My nephew is an orphan, and he is not strong. Then the sergeant hit me with his rifle butt, but then he saw his commander coming so he released us. This sergeant's name was Wah Ko. Another time we were just delivering a letter to Thu K'Bee Village for my father, but SLORC troops arrived and asked what we were doing there. We told them we were there to buy chickens but they didn't believe us, punched us and then made us hold our ears and squat and stand up 15 times [a child punishment, very degrading for adults].
Back there we always had to keep running from SLORC. Only two of my children went to school, one girl and one boy. They just started school for two days, then we had to move. Since we've arrived here we've been sick all the time, so we can't do anything. The mother has to care for her sick children, and the children have to care for their sick mother. We can't get any food so we have to buy it, and now we've run out of money.
Name: Sai On
Occupation: Gem trader
[As a gem trader, Sai On constantly
travels around southern
SLORC is commandeering
porters every day. Lately they've been doing it even in Tachilek,
and in Mong Pyak 60 miles to the north, Mong Yawng 90 miles to the north, in San Sai,
Hong Luk, Huay Kai, Mae Hoke, Mong Yang, and in the parishes around them. Also, if
you go about 60 miles east of Tachilek you’ll find
Mong Pone Parish, and Tah Ler
Parish 30 miles to the north, they're taking porters there too. At night the
troops surround the village and take everybody. None of the men are spared,
they take them all. In Mong Pone the monk pitied the villagers so he pleaded to
SLORC authorities not to take them as porters. They told him he has to buy 10
mules or else they will take the people, so he bought them the mules and now
they've promised not to take the people there. They use everything for military
purpose; people, mules, private cars. The people are so afraid that they'll
have to serve as porters that they’re running away to
The next day the Thai authorities drive them back into Tachilek, and then they're all taken as porters by SLORC. The Thais drove out more than 200 people for one time, and as SLORC knew of the repatriation they were waiting on the Burmese side of the border. The people did not reach their homes. They were arrested and herded to Loi Hsa Htong, where they were kept until SLORC needs them as porters. They're still there now. The Thais drove them back on 6 June.
Loi Hsa Htong is a local SLORC military headquarters. They've put the people inside a barbed wire fence and they're not allowed to see any of their relatives. It's impossible to say how many people are being kept there, because every day people are taken out as porters, others come back from being porters and new people are brought in. I can't be sure, but I think there are about two to three hundred people being held there. People who have fled being taken have told me about this, and many people in Tachilek know about it.
Porters at Loi Hsa Htong
were sent to Mong Ker in northern
Some have even been taken by aeroplane to Nam Sang [because it is now rainy season and the muddy roads are almost impassable]. From there they have to go on foot. It's 20 days’ walk. None of them have arrived up there yet, they're still on the way and more are being sent now. SLORC is also sending reinforcements to the area from Lashio now.
SLORC troops captured people who were on their way to their fields or to work
and sent them to the frontline or to Loi Hsa Htong. Then when people were
afraid to go out anymore, they started raided houses in the evening, then at
dawn they took whoever was in the house. For 20 days they even rounded people
up in the market, so people from
If the Thais hadn't paid,
they would have had to go to the frontline as porters. First SLORC demanded
100,000 Baht for each of them, but they gave them
2,000 or 3,000 each and the soldiers let them go back. When they got back to
SLORC soldiers take everyone they on sight, even in the marketplace and in teashops, even the women. The youngest are 12 or 13 and as for the oldest, even some people over 60 have to go as porters. Some have been used as portering for two months already and have not been released yet. Some who are lucky could return home in 10 days.
Sometimes they get sardines with their rice, but usually they just get plain rice. It's very rare, and often it's not enough. Many get exhausted and die along the way. As for me, I have to pay bribes. If I couldn’t pay them I'd probably have to go. All the people just look on SLORC as a bunch of bandits, not a government. Their army too, people say they're not an army, they're just bandits.
Now they're not going around to take porters as much, instead they give orders to the headmen in both the villages and the towns to have 20 people each ready every day to serve porters.
When SLORC asks for them they have to be sent. They started this programme three months ago, and since then they've called for those people all the time, so many times you can't even count it. Every village and section of town has to keep money ready as well. The amount depends on the size of the village – every household has to pay 40 to 200 Ks regularly. In very small villages where there is not enough people to send as porters, they have to send cash instead. Whether there’s fighting or not the people have to accomplish all these assignments.
Even before when there was
no fighting in
Every day the villagers also have to rotate going to fence the military camps, to cook, fetch water and farm for the troops as unpaid labourers. The villagers aren't even fed. They even have to wash the soldiers' clothes. The villagers' farms have been confiscated, and then the owners are forced to go back and farm the land but all the profits go to the military. The farmers who have their land taken are in trouble because they have no way to earn their living, so they have to sell everything they own to survive, then when that’s exhausted they have to do something like run away to Thailand. But the Thais never allow them to stay, and drive them back.
Those who are lucky have
some relatives on the Thai side of the border, so they can go one by one and
stay very secretly. Now SLORC is also bombing the villages. Maybe they want to
bomb the soldiers, but they dared not come down low enough so they usually bomb
the civilian villages instead. The planes are from
In every 10 households there's now at least one informer for Military Intelligence. They're forced to do it, they have to report everything that happens in those 10 households every day, every hour. If anybody comes visiting, they have to report that such-and-such person came to such-and-such house, what time he came and what time he left. If they don't obey they’ll be arrested, taken away and tortured.
SLORC only wants the
Name: Sai Shwe
Age: over 60
Family: Divorced with 1 daughter (age 3) who stays with
[Sai Shwe is a businessman who constantly travels in
As a businessman I have to pay money whenever they demand it – we have to bargain over it. Unless I pay then I can't do business. If you run a shop you'll have to pay. Whatever you want to do you have to pay. Even if you want to cross the border you have to pay. I can't say how much because it's always up to them.
If anyone wants to be a
merchant, trader or shop owner he has to have a permit. Depending on how much
capital he's going to invest he has to pay a certain percentage to them.
There’s a limit on investment. When they practised socialism, they confiscated
if you invested more than 2,000 Ks. Until now, if you invest too much it will
be confiscated. It's still a
When soldiers buy things,
it depends on the individual soldier but usually they won't pay the cost. For
example, some Thai people used to go to Tachilek to
sell petrol or diesel fuel, but all the soldiers come and fill their cars or
motorbikes. They don’t pay, they just go away when
their tank is full. So those Thais couldn’t make any money and they had to give
up and go back to
If you go across the
border bridge into
If they arrest you and you give them enough money to make them happy, then you'll be released. If not, it's up to them. They can do to you whatever they like.
You can't do business openly or legally unless your capital is very small. If you want to invest a significant amount then you have to do business secretly. I've heard about this Economic Quadrangle, about how they're building these roads [the Economic Quadrangle is a Sino-Thai concept involving building roads and opening up borders to strengthen trade between Thailand, China, Burma and Laos]. First the Thais negotiated with the SLORC commander and they made agreements that a road would be built from there to there and how wide it would be and so on, but when the time came to build it SLORC had changed commanders and the new one said, "Oh, no, not like this, you must do it like that."
So the plans keep changing and being cancelled, and most of the Thai contractors have given up and gone home. For example, the previous military commander in Tachilek made construction agreements with a Thai contractor named Kay Lian, so he sent some of his trucks and bulldozers across but the new commander said, "No, you can’t do that," and he had to bring all his equipment back. The new commander also cancelled all the plans for the new bridge across the border that had already been agreed. To make friends with SLORC is very difficult.
They have a policy in
Even if she's not happy in her marriage, she has to pretend to be happy. She has three children with this sergeant. All are girls. The government policy is that all their children must be considered Burmans. Now all her daughters are married to Burmans. They still have this policy, so the SLORC soldiers are always trying to marry Shan women any way they can. I think SLORC are trying to commit genocide against the Shans.
Name: Naw Ta Blu Htoo
Family: Married with 1 son (age 8)
Address: Nyaunglebin District, Pegu Division
[Naw Ta Blu Htoo's husband is a Karen soldier. She fled her village and arrived in Karen-controlled territory in June 1994.]
Brother, I'll tell you how SLORC captured me on January 16 at in the evening. SLORC came and surrounded my house. My husband wasn't at home, just me and my son. There were about 100 soldiers. Tay Aye was there, and Soe Moe Khine, Aung Thu, and Maj Nyo Aye the battalion commander of IB 60. SLORC came into my house and asked my name.
I answered them, and then they told me to come down out of the house. Then they tied me up with rope with my hands behind my back. One of them hit me in the head with a gun, while the others beat me, slapped me in the face and punched me in the back with their fists. They asked me if my husband carries a gun and I told them, “No, because he's not a soldier", but they didn't believe me.
They started wrapping something around my head, and after they wrapped it around two or three times I couldn't bear it so I said, "Yes, my husband carries a gun", because there was nothing else I could do. They stole everything from my house, even my clothes, spoons, pots and plates, parturient pig and took to their camp. After that they took me to the village head's house. They tied me up under his house and kept me there for half an hour.
Then they took me up into the house and tied me up around the neck and all over my body. They kept me like that all night long and they didn't give me anything to eat until the next day, when they untied me and took me to Tat Tu. We had to cross a river and as we crossed they started tying me up again. One of the soldiers put my son on his shoulders to cross the river. Then Maj Nyo Aye himself from 60 Infantry Battalion took a photo of us. Later we arrived at Taw Lu Ko Village, then at Noh Po. While we stopped there they arrested another woman and they got very upset and angry, and then they took our photo again. Then we arrived at Tat Tu at about in the afternoon.
When we arrived there they made a special place to keep us like a prison, and at about they took me out and interrogated. They said, "If you ask your husband to come here do you think he’ll come?" and I said no. They said, "If your husband doesn’t come we'll do bad things to you", and I said, "You can do whatever you want, because I'm in your hands now and there's nothing else I can do." They kept telling me to write a letter to my husband but I told them I couldn't write, so they told one of the villagers there to write a letter for me and then they ordered another man to send it. The next morning they put me back in the lock-up, and they said, "We asked your husband to come here but he wouldn't, so you'll be the one to suffer." I said, "Go ahead, there's nothing I can do", and they said, "We can wait. If he doesn't come here then we'll never let you out." The place they kept us was an underground cell and very dark. They kept us there all day and night and gave a little food and only let us out twice during the day and once at night to go to the toilet.
When they let us out into the light we couldn't walk properly and it was so bright we couldn't see after being in the darkness. They kept us there for seven days and nights. Then they marched us to Tah Pu, Thu K'Bee, the Burman village at Kyo Gone and onto Theh Gone, where we had to get on a truck to Nat Than Gwin, then to Ler Doh Military Camp. We thought they were going to keep us there but then they took us to Chit Than Gwin and finally to Tham Bo [where IB 60 headquarters is located]. Maj Nyo Aye went with us all the way. When we got to their camp at Tham Bo they made us sign a paper, then they locked us up. On that day alone they'd arrested about 30 people along the way from different places. They ordered the SLORC soldiers there who'd lost their legs to guard us, so those men ordered us to do everything for them and we had to do it. They made us plant trees and cut all the grass, not even one blade of grass was to be left. We also had to make fences and tend their ducks and animals, find firewood and carry water for them. We had to cook and eat very early in the morning before they came to call us for work, and if we weren't ready we'd be in trouble. Some days we weren’t well enough to work but they said, "You're just lying." While we worked they just sat and watched us, like a boy tending his goats. They also made my son work by cutting the weeds around the barracks, and he didn't want to do it so he began crying. They sent a message to the people in my village to come once a week to bring food for us, and when they came my son went back with them. But I had to stay there and work every day, all day and at night too, so I was getting very tired. The soldiers told me, "We won't let you out until your husband surrenders to us." They said they'd keep me there forever.
At night I had to sleep in the prison. At they came to wake me up and asked whether my husband was coming to surrender, and when I said “no” they started beating me on my back. My back got all swollen up until I couldn't even wear a brassiere anymore. One day we heard gunfire outside the camp so the soldiers went out to check, then they brought back one man with them. He was a trader, and he had a hand grenade so they put him in together with us. They tied up his whole body and didn't give him any food. Later tears were falling from his eyes, and we felt very sorry for him. At night they wouldn't let him sleep. One of the soldiers came to ask him a lot of questions and beat him, then as soon as he went back another came, and so on. The man wanted to rest but they'd never let him. The next morning they took him out of the prison and asked him questions. The soldiers cut off one of his ears, then they cut out his tongue. Then they put him back in the cell with us. His blood was all pouring down. The next day they came and took him away and we never saw him again. I don't know what they did to him.
We were kept at Thambo like that for three months, then we were sent to the police lock-up at Ler Doh. They kept us there like pigs – we had to eat and go to the toilet in the cell.
Inside there were a few pots to defecate for everyone there. Before putting us in there, the police forced each woman to give them 100 Ks. They kept us there for one day and night, then they sent us to the village LORC camp, then to the township LORC camp. They sent us to Strategic Command Headquarters to sign a paper, then back to the police station again. Then we had to sign again to be released, but the police demanded money before they'd let us sign. They demanded 12,400 Ks from me. I had to give them the money and then they let me go.
When I arrived back in my village there were SLORC soldiers in all the houses. They told me, "You have to go and see our officer."
The officer asked me, "Do you want to stay here or somewhere else?” so I told him I wanted to stay there. He said, "I don't want you to stay here because I don't want you to meet your husband. Go and stay in another village." I told him I'd go and stay wherever he ordered, but then after the soldiers had left I went back and stayed in my own village. Later my husband came back, and we moved here because I know if I stay there the soldiers will come for me again. I've been sick the whole time since I was released because of beatings. I am still painful inside. The druggist has given me injections but they don't work, so I don’t know what kind of medicine I need. My son is also sick and it’s very hard for us. We're from the plains but here it is mountainous region, so we have to cut down the forest and plant on the hills. It’s very hard and I don't know how I can do it with my sickness, and my husband also isn't used to it, but I'm afraid to go back to my village so there's nothing I can do.
Name: Nai M—
Interviewed: April 1994
[Nai M— fled from the village on
Q. What did you do to earn
a living when you were in
A. I lived by fishing.
Q. Why did you have go and work on the railway construction?
A. The local Burmese military authorities required each household of the village to contribute one labourer for the railway construction: We dare not refuse the orders of the military authorities and I had to go and work there for my family.
Q. Who came to tell you to go and work there?
A. Our village headmen. They were ordered by the local commanders to urge the villagers to go and work there.
Q. Are the villagers paid for their labour?
A. They are not paid. They have to work for free.
Q. Where did you get food to eat during working there?
A. We had to take our own food and work there. The labourers are not provided with any food by the authorities.
Q. How many people from your village have to go to work there a day?
A. All the households of the village have to contribute one labourer a day. Our village [Paungdaw] has 120 households, therefore a total of 120 people from our village have to work there.
Q. How did you go to reach your worksite in the railway construction?
A. From our village [Paungdaw] we walked to Kanbauk Village [about 5 miles]; from Kanbauk we went by car to Kaleinaung [about 8 miles]; and from Kaleinaung we went by car again to reach our worksite near Natkyizin Village [some 30 miles].
Q. Who paid for your transportation to go to the worksite?
A. We had to go to the worksite at our own expense.
Q. What were you given to do there?
A. The 120 people from our village, including myself, were given to clear away all the trees and bushes for 100 x 100 square feet, to remove all the tree-stumps and smooth the ground, to break some hills, and etc. We, the 120 people from Paungdaw, were required by the authorities to complete the work within 15 days.
Q. How did you share duty between yourselves? Were all of you required to work at the worksite? Then who did the cooking for you all? Was there any instruction from the authorities for this?
A. When we reached the worksite, we were instructed by the soldiers there to make five persons a group –one person was to do the cooking for the group, while four other persons were to work for the railway.
Q. How many hours a day did you have to work?
A. We had to start working at and work until , from to was time for lunch and a rest, and we had to work again from to Therefore, we had to work altogether eight hours a day.
Q. When you got tired during the working hours, could you take a rest for a while? When the soldiers saw that you were resting, what did they say to you? Did they press you to work on?
A. When we wanted to rest during the working hours, we could. The soldiers didn't say anything to us. The only instruction of the authorities was that we must complete the given work in the given 15 days´ time, not later than that time. Since the work required much hard labour to be completed by the deadline, we did not have much time to take rests during working.
Q. Were there any villager who fled from the worksites to escape the hard labour? When a villager has fled from the worksite, what the military authorities then do to his/her family in the village? Now you yourself have fled from your village, do you think that your family in the village is fined or punished by the military authorities because of your fleeing?
A. Many villagers have fled from the worksites to escape the hard labour. According to the orders of the military authorities, if a villager flees away during working at the worksite, his/her family in the village must pay a fine of 3,000 Ks. Now I am still worried for my family in the village. I know that my family have no money. So I am not sure if any member of my family is arrested and detained by the military authorities, for they can not afford to pay the fine.
Name: Mi N—
Family: Married, five months pregnant when she fled
Q. What did you do to earn
your living when you were at
A. Like most people in the village, my family lived by fishing.
Q. You are five months pregnant; why did you have to go to work in the railway construction?
A. I worked for my family because at the same time my husband had to go and work for his elder sister's family, for her husband was then ill and not able to go and work for his own family.
Q. What did you have to do at the railway worksite? Did you have to do the same work with the men?
A. Yes, normally the women had to do the same work with the men. Since five persons had to form a group and work together in one place, if the group had only one woman, the woman did the cooking for the group and the rest four men went to work for the railway. But if the group had more than one women, one of the women did the cooking and all the rest four persons had to go and work for the railway. But this is only our own way of sharing the work between men and women; there was no instruction from the authorities to share the work in this way, what they told us was that we must complete the work within 15 days.
Q. How many people from Paungdaw Village had to go and work at the railway worksites, how many of them were women, including yourself?
A. There were 120 households in Paungpaw and 120 people had to go and work for the railway construction, each household had to contribute one labourer. Among the 120 people working in the railway construction, there were about 40 women, including some young girls aged between 14 and 15.
Q. How many days had you worked there before you fled the village?
A. I had worked for 11 days before I fled from the village.
Q. What did you have to do during the 11 days you were working there? Did you do the cooking or work with the men?
A. I did cooking for some days and had to work for the railway construction for the other days. During the days I worked for the railway, I had to clear the bushes, remove the tree-stumps, clean the ground by sweeping and burning off the leaves, carry the earth and fill in the low places, and so on.
Q. Why did you decide to flee?
A. We were continuously required to work for the railway construction and we didn't even have time to do our own jobs to survive. Again, we had to work very tiredly for the railway. We couldn't afford to work on for the unpaid hard job and so decided to flee away.
Name: Maung O—
Family: Married with 2 children (age 4 months and
Interviewed: late March 1994
[The following interviews were conducted by the KHRG in these refugee camps at the end of March 1994. The villagers came from several areas, and have worked on various different stretches of the railway and at different times. This explains the differences in their stories relating to the type of labour, the treatment by the troops, and the width of the path being cleared. Note that the width of the path is very wide for a railway, because it is usual for SLORC to clear a wide "killing ground" along roads and railways in order to make it hard for civilians and opposition forces to cross without detection. Villagers often mention "porter fees"; this is a name given by SLORC troops to protection money they extort from villagers. It is theoretically to be used to hire munitions and supply porters, but such porters, as evidence shows, do not receive pay.]
I arrived here a couple
months ago. I came because the soldiers are shooting at people around my
village. I can't bear to live there now. When I was there I had to work on the
railway for 15 days at a time and they fed us nothing. We had already run out
of food, so we asked to go home but they wouldn't let us. When we asked them
for food, they refused to give us any, instead shot at us. Twenty-six people
were shot after stealing goods from the soldiers. They were shot on the railway
Then when we got back to our village, the soldiers came and called us to go back to work again, but we dared not go back, so the soldiers beat many villagers. No one wanted to go back to the worksite because they can't get any food there. The soldiers took many people to the worksite by force and they fed them nothing. When the soldiers were around the village that time, I was hiding in the bushes. Then when they were going to return to their outpost, I ran away and came here. I just kept running, because I knew the way. My family just had to suffer. They could do nothing, because they couldn't follow me. Then the soldiers came to my house and poked my wife in the side with a rifle butt. They kicked her hard in the stomach and she vomited blood. Then they kicked my baby son down into the fire, and all the hair on his head was burnt. They slapped my 7-year old son in the face and he cried out. They beat them because I had escaped. Along the way here I stopped to wait for my wife and children. Then I brought them with me. My wife is still sick because of beating, and my baby son is still sick. If you touch his head it is still painful. [Maung O—'s son still has a bad burn scar and no hair on the crown of his head.]
I worked at the railway three times. It was the third time that I escaped. Each time was 15 days, with no time off. After 15 days on the railway, I had only three days back in the village before going again. At the railway we had to leave the ground, clear the scrub and the grass. Sometimes we had to clear the forest. The area was bamboo jungle, and there were some hills and mountains. Sometimes it was farmland, with coconut plants and betelnut plants. If there were trees or plants we had to cut them down. They destroyed the farmland if they needed to. We had to clear the jungle along a path 200 feet wide. We had to break rocks and carry them about half a kilometre in bamboo baskets. We had to bring our own tools. I saw over 4,000 people working altogether, including so many women, and also pregnant women and a few children. They youngest was 14, and there were old people over 50 and up to 60 years old. We all had to do the same work together. We worked from in the morning, then we could rest for a few minutes at and then we had to keep working on. They didn't feed us. Even at night we had to work sometimes, cutting firewood. They had a generator for light. We had to work until At night we slept on the ground. There were always soldiers around. When someone had to go to toilet, they were followed by soldiers.
Some people got sick. Even if they were sick, they were forced to work. If they stopped, the soldiers beat them up with a piece of bamboo stick. Some nearly died, and some vomiting blood. They didn't get any medical attention. Some people died of sickness and starvation. I also saw some labourers who were very tired, and tried to rest under a tree. They were beaten up. The soldiers just beat them while they were sitting there, and hurt them badly. They couldn't even walk after the beating. Then the soldiers just forced them back to work. The soldiers usually beat the labourers with bamboo sticks and metal pipes. There were soldiers all around, so nobody could escape. If some people tried to escape, the soldiers shot at them. The soldiers shot 26 people to death after they took away the soldiers' food. The soldiers brought food for themselves and there were also labourers who brought a lot of food for them. We didn't have any food, so we tried to take away some from the soldiers belonged to IB 409. I only know one officer's name – Lt Htun Myint. He used to walk around checking us while we were working, and the other is Lt Myo That.
Some women were raped, including a woman named Ma Thein Myint from our village. When the officer raped her she was screaming, and they shot her to death. She was 21 years old, and she was my cousin. She was raped by a lieutenant colonel named Thaung Myint. My father tried to report it, but the officer he had to report was the same one who raped her, so it was just ignored and no action was taken. I also heard that they raped two women from another village, then stabbed them to death with a knife. They gave the bodies back to their families and said that they had killed each other in a fight.
Our village is four or five miles from the railway. There are 78 households, and one person from each family has to go work on the railway. The soldiers loaded us onto the trucks like they take people to jail, because they're afraid that people will escape. The soldiers also collect porter fees, 300 Ks from each family for five days. To get the money people had to use many different ways, like selling their belongings or finding work to get money. Anyone who couldn't pay or refused was taken to work on the construction side and not allowed to come back. They just have to keep working there.
Some people escaped together with me, but later when the soldiers came to the village they arrested them and put them in jail. I was the only person who made it here. Before I escaped I worked on three different parts of the railway. We never knew which part we were going to work on – we just had to go where they took us. They are building three railway lines parallel to each other, about four miles apart. We knew nothing about why they are building this railway. I think they only want to keep us working. I don't think this railway can do any good for us.
Name: Nai Q—
Family: Married with 2 children (age 1 and 4)
Interviewed: late March 1994
I arrived here about 20 days ago. I left because I couldn't bear the oppression of the Burmese troops anymore. I had to go work on the railways three times, for three weeks altogether. Each time 14 people from our village had to go, and there are only 15 families in our village. Our group of 14 had to go for seven days, then seven days at home, back to the railway for seven days, and so on. Since we have only 15 families, in some houses where there is only one man, then he/she himself/herself has to go. If there are two or three men, SLORC calls them all. If there are no men in the house then a girl, a woman, or even a pregnant woman has to go. About five or 6 women had to go from our village. While the men are gone working, there is not much problem for families who have money, but it is a very big problem for families who don't have anything. They can even die.
The railway is two hours' walk from our village. When we arrive, the soldiers check us. We have to choose one leader for every 10 people. If somebody is missing, we have to pay 10,000 Ks. Labourers are not only from my village. There were a lot of people, and I couldn't count them. Altogether I think there must have been 20,000 people, but not all in one area. In each area there were probably 4,000 or 5,000 people. At the railway, we had to dig the ground. We had to clear a way 300 feet wide through the forest, and if there was a big tree, we had to uproot it. If there was a mountain, we had to cut through it. We had to use our own tools. We had to work on hills and flat land, deep forest and thin forest. Sometimes we had to cross rivers. Once one place was finished, we had to move on. We started work at in the morning, stopped for lunch at and then we had to work again. The work finished at , and we took a bath and ate. Then at We had to start again.
We had to bring our own food. People who had some money could buy some vegetables. The rest of us just had fishpaste and rice. At night we slept on the ground on some leaves – we had no mats or plastic. Soldiers were around us 24 hours a day. There were two different groups of soldiers; one for the security of railway and another for frontline offensives. So when those troops needed porters to go to the frontline, they asked the troops guarding the railway and people were forced to go. Many people were forced into portering, but I don't know how many. Whenever those troops came they could take as many people as they wanted.
The soldiers on the railway just controlled and checked us. If they saw someone who stopped working, they beat them. Sometimes, they talked to the leader of that village, and ordered that person to pay 10,000 Ks. If the person couldn't pay, there would be a big problem. The soldiers don't care about the people, they care only about their railway.
I saw people being beaten very often. There was one man, and when the soldiers got drunk they ordered him to do a lot of things that he couldn't do. The man spoke back to the soldiers, then he was beaten. They beat him with a stick at his head and on his back, and he fell down and started bleeding. He lost a lot of blood but the soldiers just left him there as it was. None of them helped him, only some of his friends came and cared for him. His head was cracked a little and he lost consciousness for about five minutes. He couldn't work for half a day because he couldn't move. But as soon as he could get up the soldiers called him to work again. I saw many people being beaten up, but this man suffered the most serious. After beating them, the soldiers look at their condition and as soon as they look getting better they are forced to go back to work. The soldiers are from IB 410.
Some women were also beaten, but not so hard. The soldiers just make the women afraid. They also took some women away as porters. I saw one woman who gave birth at the railway. There was also a single girl who was crushed to death when a tree fell on her. She was only 16 or 17 years old. The soldiers did nothing – some of her friends dragged her out and buried her.
I saw people from aged 12 to 50 years old working there. I don't know about other parts of the railway – maybe there are people even older. When people got sick, nobody took care of them or gave them medicine. If they couldn't work but weren't terribly sick, they were ordered to work anyway or else they would be beaten, so they had to force themselves to work. The sick weren't allowed to go home.
The soldiers also came to our village and asked for porter fees. The poor had to give 500 Ks each time, and the rich had to give more. If the soldiers come, all our animals, rice and money must be given to them. They catch the livestock by themselves, and you can't protest or they'll curse and scold you. And however much rice they ask for, you have to give them. Sometimes the soldiers come every 10 or 15 days, sometimes they come every three or four days. It takes 2½ hours to walk to the village from their outpost.
I came out here with just my family and my brother's family from another village. Many more people want to come but they are afraid of the trip right now. One or two days ago a SLORC soldier shot a Burman villager along the way, so most people dared not come yet. When we came out we slept three nights on the way and walked for four days. I knew the way because I've been here once before. We didn't bring anything with us except clothes on our backs because we were afraid the soldiers might interrogate us on the way. We saw some soldiers, and they stopped us and asked, " Where are you going?" We told them that we were going to our aunt's house because our uncle was sick, and they let us go. I will not go back. There are too many problems there.
Name: Ma R—
Interviewed: late March 1994
I have been here just two days. I came because of the heavy labour. We had to work for SLORC all the time. I had to work on the railway for half a month in February. After I finished my turn, I came out here and another group replaced us. About one hundred people from my village went to work with me. Our village is quite big, more like a town. We received an order to go to work, and then we knew we had to go. One person per family had to go. I am the eldest child. I have only younger sisters and brothers, and they are still primary school students, so I had to go instead of my mother and father. My father can't do anything for the time being because he is suffering from a disease. If I was not there, my parents would have had to hire someone to go for us.
I don't know exactly how
many women had to go. In our group there were about 15 women. It was quite far.
We had to go to
At the railway the men dug the ground, and we had to carry the dirt. We had to take our own tools. It was in the hills and in the jungle. We had to work from until , then we got one hour rest and we kept working until We had to eat our own food – we brought it from home, and added food from the jungle. I didn't see what the soldiers ate, so I don't know. The soldiers guarded us with guns. They didn't do any work, they were only watching to make sure that nobody tried to run away. If people felt very tired, they could rest for a couple of minutes. I took rests on the way when I was carrying dirt. I just walked and worked as slowly as I could. I had to carry the dirt about 20 feet and make an embankment about 20 feet wide. They didn't say how much we had to do, they just told us to hurry and finish it.
At night we had a small shelter to sleep in. Each village had built a shelter for themselves, and we had to fix the shelter when we arrived for our turn of work. We brought sleeping mats from home. There were no soldiers around at night, only in the daytime.
There were young people working, 13 years old. Most of the aged persons were around 40. The children were doing the same work together with us – the old people, too. Some sick labourers were working. If they looked really sick, they didn't have to work and they could stay in the shelter. The soldiers let some of them go back to the village, but the villagers had to replace the sick labourer. I saw pregnant women working too. The soldiers didn’t pay us anything.
After a half month working for them, I came out here by myself, together with my cousin. The rest of my family stayed in the village with our relatives. It took three days for me to come here, and I could bring only three small bags of my belongings. There were 12 of us altogether. We came with someone who knew the way, and just followed him.