* To monitor human rights situations in Mon territory and other areas southern part of Burma
* To protect and promote internationally recognized human rights in Burma
human rights foundation of monland
SLORC-State Law and Order Restoration Council;
KNU- Karen Nation Union;
KNLA- Karen National Liberation Army;
NMSP- New Mon State Party;
LIB- Light Infantry Battalion of SLORC;
No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour.
Article 8, 3. a: International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
Conscription of Forced Labour
Focus of This Report
Since the SLORC came into power, it has tried to have more control of border areas than before with objectives to officially open the border trading points and keep the ethnic forces' guerrilla warfare militarily to be weak. After occupation of some border areas, the SLORC has tried to connect border points and the areas deeper inside Burma to create proper communication for its own profit.
Among the proposed road construction which are planned to connect the border areas and deeper inside Burma, Three Pagoda Pass-Thanbyuzayat motor road, which is 100 kilometers long, is the main one in the southern part of Burma (see map). The road is passed through Kya Inn Seik Kyi township of Karen State and Thanbyuzayat township of Mon State. Politically, when SLORC has approached ASEAN to be a member to break the isolation of the international community, this mentioned road is remained as an important way. It would connect with motor highway of Thailand through Kanchanaburi Province and provide effective access to ASEAN community. The military regime itself faced difficulty to build this road with government's expense because it could not take out any official loans from World Bank or International Monetary Fund (IMF) since it seized power and cracked down the democracy movement in 1988. Since then it have conscripted forced labour from local inhabitants to implement its development infrastructure project.
In 1996, the SLORC, anyhow, has been in a serious situation to construct this proposed road although they could not accept outside development fund. Before it became a full member of ASEAN, it should complete some important road construction for trading purpose or could conduct more pressure to ethnic armed oppositions militarily. In October of 1996, the SLORC local military bases took responsibility and started constructing the Three Pagoda Pass-Thanbyuzayat motor road. Without spending available fund and necessary technical equipment the SLORC local troops have been conscripted forced labour of the local ethnic villagers who are inhabiting along the route.
To ensure the on-going situation up to the end of 1996, the HURFOM human rights workers also traveled around the area and conducted interviews with villagers who escaped to the border refugee camps. To protect the persons who were conducted interviews, the report does not use the real name of the interviewees and changed all their names. However, all events and stories were true which really happened in Burma. It is hoped that all information must be useful in helping the international community to halt SLORC from abusing human rights violations and promote international recognized human rights in Burma.
Development of Construction Plan
Before the SLORC reached ceasefire agreement with NMSP, it also considered to build this road but the situation was very unsafe for SLORC because it could not control the whole area. In ceasefire agreement the NMSP had the same opinion to build this road in a suitable situation when the whole country retained peace. In 1996, even the KNU traveled to Moulmein for several rounds of negotiation, but the hope for ceasefire was still far.
Soon after ceasefire with NMSP, the SLORC has discussed with Mon leaders to build this road, but later the Mon leaders realized the aim of the SLORC in constructing of the road that to have more control of the area and launch more pressure to KNU. When the NMSP proposed various border development projects to cooperate with SLORC such as to build several roads, schools, hospitals, clinics and etc., in the Mon area the SLORC has put the road construction as priority and has ignored other projects which directly benefit to local Mon community.
Initially, SLORC would like to give construction contract to NMSP and with its own arrangement the NMSP could bring any Thai Co. to implement the whole project. Eventually, the SLORC itself could not provide enough protection to build this road and that was why its officials have approached and then pushed the NMSP to agree and take responsibility implementation of the project. The most parts of Three Pagoda Pass-Thanbyuzayat road are controlled by MNLA and KNLA troops. But SLORC has firm control only in the area from Three Pagoda Pass to Chaung Zone (see map). The SLORC also has some bases in area between Anan Gwin and Thanbyuzayat and it has no concrete control in the whole area. Thus, if the NMSP took responsibility and built this road, it could be possible.
By the way, the SLORC also brought one Thai company. " Power. P. Public Co. Ltd.," to conduct survey along the route in September, 1996. Since the Mon leaders have realized objectives of SLORC in constructing the road and have refused to cooperate with SLORC. To build the road, some Mon leaders were also given pressure by SLORC authorities and at the end the NMSP leaders officially decided not to take responsibility to build this road.
In November 1996, the Central Committee of NMSP decided not to cooperate with SLORC to build this road and not to make any disturbance to construction which means to maintain the ceasefire agreement. It is also meant the NMSP will not approach to KNU troops in the area to agree on the construction. Since SLORC did not reach ceasefire agreement with KNU, the Karen troops could make troubles to SLORC authorities or Thai Co. field personnel any time if they built this road. Otherwise, at the time when NMSP never took any responsibility to build that road, several parts where under control of KNU troops will become very unsafe and SLORC itself could not complete the whole route of the road.
Plan Related Conscription of Forced Labour
After the SLORC authorities approached or persuaded the NMSP leaders for several times after ceasefire and later they realized the attitude of NMSP regarding to this road construction. Since the NMSP refused to build, the Thai Companies are also reluctant to participate to build this road. But for the SLORC, on the eve situation of becoming ASEAN membership, it would like to start building this road anyhow.
has aimed to build this road as an international highway to connect with
When the time SLORC could not get cooperation from the NMSP to build that road and no participation of Thai Co., the SLORC decided to build this road by itself by conscripting of forced labour and confiscation of villagers' land properties. Like other government's infrastructure projects, while SLORC local authorities has taken all constructing responsibilities, many local inhabitants have been totally become victims of forced labour.
In 1996, when SLORC has implemented the road construction from October up to December, the two local battalions of IB No. 31 and 61 have been taken all responsibilities in conscription of forced labour. Those two battalions' troops normally have taken bases in villages Anan Gwin and Taung Zon which are on the half way of the route and instructed for the road construction. Initially, the SLORC just built the road construction only from Taung Zon to Tha Nyin (see map).
The conscription orders were instructed from the military commanders of Anan Gwin and Taung Zon, and according to instruction, the villagers have to contribute their manual labour by rotating basis. The conscription orders were directly sent to village leaders of village tracts, and then they had to take responsibility to send the demanded labourers. The villager labourers themselves have to travel to the defined work-sites by bringing their own tools and foods from their homes. In area where under loose control of the Burmese Army, they have used the villagers as human shields in the construction to protect themselves from the attack of the Karen rebels.
According to villagers, at least about 30 villages of seven village tracts of the Karen local inhabitants were conscripted to be forced labourers in the construction site. Since October 1996, the respective headmen of village tracts who received the orders from the military commanders had to provide at least 30 villagers from each villager tract for at least one week duration in construction site. With rotation basis, after one week the village headmen had to provide another group of villagers to change them. As the population in the area is not so much, the most villagers have to work in the construction for more than one round within one month period and had to work for two times of two weeks duration in the construction.
The most work-duties were mostly to clear the foliage along the route and cut trees that lied on route in the initial construction process. The villagers had to clear the foliage and cut trees which are lied in width about 50 foot of each side of the route. Since October, the local authorities already measured the route and defined the width of route and the lands along the each side of the old route had already been confiscated. The trees along each side of the route have been grown naturally as forest and in some area, the plantation of fruit trees are owned by Karen villagers. Those local inhabitants grew such kinds of fruit trees in their own lands for several years and these were confiscated by forces without providing any compensation.
The lands that occupied the bamboo groves were also confiscated and cut down. Normally, the villagers also grew bamboo to use it in building farm-huts and houses. The fruit trees such as coconut, betel-nut, cashew-nut were also cut down under the instruction of the military. The villagers could not make complaint against SLORC for their loss, because the existed constitutional law. It mentioned all lands in the whole country are owned by government and it has rights to confiscate any land when it needed.
In Japanese Era, that road was build as railway by forced labour of Burmese people and prisoners of war, but the whole part of the road was not completed. After the civil war broke out on the wake of independence of Burma in 1948 and the road has been useless for several years. When the current military regime came into power and after its occupation of the NMSP headquarters in Three Pagoda Pass, it also opened the border trading point officially with Thailand. In 1992, the road was prepared by truck owners to re-use it to bring passenger and products. The Mon and Karen troops in area also allowed the trucks for passage and they also have chance to collect more tax from products and passenger for their fund. But the road was repaired very roughly and it was used only in dry season.
Since the SLORC tried to construct this road to use for the whole year, the whole embankment along the route must be built very strongly and large. Actually, since the road was planned to build as a highway, it should be built by machines or provided other necessary technical assistance. But in its construction process, the military have used the villagers as forced labourers in spite of using machines. The width of the embankment is normally large about 100 foot according to proposed plan and in some part of road, the embankment had to be built with height up to 4 foot. The work-duties are considerably hard for those villagers as they had to work with their own manual labour without machine help. In daily works, they had to dig earth and rock outside of route and crushed and brought it to embankment. In some areas, the villagers had to carry the dirt and rock from the places far from the embankment.
The military never provided any tool or equipment and the villagers have to arrange by themselves to complete defined work-duties. Furthermore, they also have to go to the construction site with their own expense.
The most effected Karen villages with more 30 households and the estimated households are mentioned as below
Name of Villages Estimated Households
2. Kyauk Be Lu 100
3. Phar Pya 200
4. Win Khana 100
5. Anan Gwin 140
6. Khaiae Saw 70
7. Hnit Ei Ywa 40
8. Phar Ra 60
9. Htee Toe Khoe 30
10. Law Shan 100
11. PuuTaw 40
12. Ah Htat Ka Yar 50
13. Out Ka Yar 40
14. Mae Ga Wa 35
15. Mae Da Lay 40
16. Wae Paw 40
17. Mae Za Le 40
18. Sin Pyay 50
19. Lone Se 50
The other villages with less than 30 households were also forced to work in construction. For those villagers, they are far from the military bases and while the SLORC troops came into villages, all male villagers were suddenly arrested and brought them to work-sites. They had to work in construction continuously and without permission of military, they accepted no chance to return back to their homes.
Sometime, when the local authorities sent often instruction orders to village headmen asking for labourers, it were refused by villagers. The villagers, themselves, are farmers and they had to work in their farms or plantations. Because of refusal of villagers, the troops came into villages and arrested the left villagers rashly including women and children and brought them to the work-site as hostages to change with men. The men who were arrested in villages must be tortured severely for their refusal and brought to work-sites by troops.
In implementing the road construction, the SLORC local authorities have used the prisoners for nearly two years to construct the part close to Thanbyuzayat initially that is lied under its firm control. According to villagers, there are over 500 prisoners working in the construction and they were detained in the Yetagon detention center which is situated in Thanyin and far about 15 kilometers from Thanbyuzayat town. Those prisoners have been sent to work-site every day in the morning and they are brought back to detention in the evening. In some work-sites, where is far from the detention and those prisoners were detained in military outpost.
The authorities separated those prisoners into many groups and the soldiers watch them very closely in the every work-site. By locking up chains in their legs, the prisoners had to work very hardly and they are not fed with enough amount of foods. Their health situation is almost weak and they had to work for the whole day harder than conscripted villagers. Because of weakness and shortage of foods, the prisoners could not work well to meet the satisfaction of the authorities and they were always punished such as beating and kicking. In some work-sites, the villagers also had to work together with prisoners and they could somehow help the prisoners who were physically weak. They also had the same works like villagers such as to cut trees, clear foliage, carry stone, crush rock and etc..
Because of shortage of foods, malnutrition, maltreatment of authorities, hardship work-duty and lack of medical care, some prisoners also died in work-sites. In some case, because of weakness, prisoner became losing consciousness and the authorities sent them to detention again instead of providing proper medical treatment in hospital. But it was hard to get evidence how many prisoners died in work-sites or in detention.
The Appalling Consequences in Construction Site
Like other construction sites which are under management of the Burmese Army's infrastructure projects, the villager labourers who were forced to work never accepted the proper shelter. The villagers initially had to create the temporary shelter as quickly as possible soon they reached to the construction site and the authorities never provided them any assistance. They brought mainly rice and cash along went to work-site. The cash was used to buy other supplement foods to eat with rice. Sometime, their rice brought from homes was confiscated by the soldiers or it was changed with low quality rice that the troops received as food ration. Normally the villagers are very poor even in their native villages and when they have to work in the construction site, they could not bring much cash to buy supplement foods. The military never provided them any payment for their labour contribution and they have been faced food-shortage or malnutrition problems.
The villagers also faced the problem to get pure water in their temporary shelters. According to villagers, the military put them at least over 50 men in one place not so far from their own work-site and they were not allowed to go outside. If they moved or fled from that place by their own decision, they will be accused contacting Karen forces and must be severely punished or killed. Even many Karen troops were active in the area, they could not make any trouble to construction or harm to the villagers as they were the same ethnic people. Such restriction of movement to the villagers put them to be hard to get foods and other supplies.
The over-defined working time is also terrible enough for villagers. They had to start working about 7:00 a.m. in the morning and could stop about one hour for launch about 11:00-12:00 a.m. and returned to work-site again at afternoon time and had to work up to 5:00 p.m. evening. In the construction site, the most work-duties are normally hard and the villagers were always beaten and shouted by the soldiers.
Even though the villagers were forced to work hardly under the instruction of the military commanders, the soldiers who were watching in the work-site never satisfied on the villagers. Some villagers became weak and could not meet to satisfaction of soldiers. In beating the villagers the soldiers always used bamboo or wood-sticks. While they were ordered to carry heavy big piece of woods or big stones, the villagers were unable to carry it to embankment and they were severely beaten by group.
Because of lack of communication and work opportunity, those Karen village community are normally depending on their products of farming only. When the head of family member had to work in the construction, the family members left behind were in hard situation for survival. The women and children left in home could not find enough income or unable to work in the farm or plantation. The villagers had to work in construction very often and more women and children were sent to work-site in spite of men. Normally the men have to work for income or in their own work-place in farms or plantations. But the military had used every body who reached to the construction and never refused labour contribution of women and children. The working situations are always very hard for women and children.
Other Human Rights Abuses
Those villagers who were forced to work in road construction as labourers have been suffered with various kinds of human rights abuses since the Burmese troops deployed more bases in the area. After SLORC seized power in 1988, they have extent its forces and took firm bases in the rural ethnic areas more than before.
Those local Karen inhabitants who were forced to work in construction, are actually situating in the conflict area between KNLA and SLORC troops for several years. After 1990, SLORC troops took more bases in their native area and the situation became worsen when the Karen troops from KNLA tried to push them out. The fighting between the two forces have been occurred too often and the local inhabitants have been mistreated by SLORC with accusation of [being] rebel-supporters.
When SLORC troops from South East Command launched the military operation in the area, some villages were relocated by forces or destroyed or burnt into ashes. When the offensive troops moved back to their regular bases, the local inhabitants came into villages and created their normal life again. The most suffering situation is they were always forced to be porters carrying ammunition and other supplies for military to frontline. The SLORC military patrols were always launched in area by its local troops and the villagers were also arrested to be porters. Additionally, when the SLORC troops came into villages, they also looted villagers' belongings. In some villages which are close to the military base, the villagers always have to provide defined number of porters to the military base with monthly basis. The nearest military base also asked monthly portering fees from villagers in situation whether they have military operation or not.
Besides the portering fee, the villagers near to the military bases also have to provide rice and other food supplies with monthly basis. When the military operation came around to the area, the villagers also have to provide extra food supplies. Sometime the villagers, who refused to be porters or provided portering, were arrested by the troops and severely tortured. The troops brought them to the military bases and used them as labourers to work in building military encampments or other necessary daily works such as to carry water and find firewood. Otherwise, sometime when the troops needed to build the military bases, they forced the whole villagers nearby.
Since inhumane treatments to villagers have been abused, the villagers in the area were displaced and several families fled to border areas to take refuge in camps. The violations have been more terrible and terrible when the SLORC started implementing the Three Pagoda Pass-Thanbyuzayzat motor road construction. The safety of the villagers became worsen and they faced more difficulties than before. To get enough foods and more safety, they had to escape to refugees camp such as Halockhani, Thabyu, Htee Lein Par and other camps.
Name: U Ohn Khin
Sex/ Age: Male/ 48 years
Nationality/ Religion: Karen/Buddhist
Native Place: Mae Gawa village, Kya-Inn-Seikyi Township, Karen State
Interview Date: December 11, 1996
The Karen local inhabitants in area have been suffered 'by various kinds of human rights abuses by Burmese Army for several years. Later when the SLORC came into power and implemented infrastructure projects and the situation of the local villagers became more worsening and they have to leave their native places.
Regular human rights situation
When did you arrive to this village (in a border refugee camp) and why did you leave from your village?
I came here because of the maltreatment of the Burmese soldiers in our village and shortage of foods at my home. When the Burmese soldiers came into our village, they arrested and forced us to be porters to carry their supplies and now they forced us to work in motor road construction. We have no time to work in farm and my family faced hardship. Regular human So I decided to come here. I have nothing left to give them rice or cash. If I stayed here, they will arrest and beat me.
Did you come here with your whole family and how difficulties did you face on the way?
I came here
with my whole family including my five years old youngest son, and we had to
walk for three days from our village. We used jungle way, we could not come straight
Conscription of forced labour along with SLORC's military deployment
You said the Burmese soldiers maltreated you and the other villagers. Can you explain me how yourself and the villagers were maltreated by the soldiers?
Actually, my native village is Taung Zon. But I didn't stay in Taung Zon for several years. Since 7 years ago, the Burmese troops took base in Taung Zon village and then I moved to Mae Gawa village. When I was in Thaung Zon after arriving of Burmese troops, they forced all male villagers including children to build the military encampment at least two days in every week for nearly one year. In there, we had to work many various jobs such as digging earth, making fence and bunker, building barracks and others. Sometime, they forced the villagers to carry ammunition and supplies to frontline. At that time, the base was unstable and very vulnerable to attack from Karen troops. They said if the Karen troops shelled with motor to the their military base, they will burn down the village. After one year the Burmese soldiers took base, I could not keep tolerance of maltreatment and I fled into Mae Gawa village. The troops were mostly came from IB 61 and they were changed quarterly with IB 31.
After I moved to Mae Gawa (5 miles far from Taung Zon), the situation was likely better. But we still had to work for military base but not so regularly. They ordered to cut trees and bamboo to provide for their military encampment or to use it as fire-wood. Up to now, we still have to work for soldiers as
labourers or porters. And we also have to provide them 450 Kyat and about 2.5 kilograms of rice every month as portering fee.
You said you are a farmer. How many baskets (Burmese style rice measuring basket and it is weighted about 60 kilograms) of seed of rice did you grow in the last farming season and how many baskets of crop product did you received?
Every year, I grew about 1.5 baskets of rice seed. I received about 30 baskets of rice every year.
Looting of rice-supply from villagers and food-shortage problem in rural area
Is it enough for your family to eat for the whole year?
If the rice was all for us it might be enough for the whole year for our family. We have to give too much to Burmese soldiers. As portering fee and security tax, we have to provide cash up to 1,000 Kyat and 4 kilograms of rice to Burmese soldiers monthly. The village headmen collected and sent it to military base every month. If the amount of cash and rice reduced, they will ask why it was reduced and they checked whose refused to pay.
Besides the portering fee and security tax, when the Burmese troops came into village, they also confiscated rice. To give portering fee every month we also had to sell that rice. So only half of the total rice we received from farm left with us for eating. We had faced food shortage problems every year and we had to mix rice with corn and cassava for every day meals.
When you were in village, how did the Burmese soldiers treat the villagers, when they came into village?
When the Burmese troops came into village, they have always arrested the villagers for porters. And they also confiscated the villagers' belongings. The also took our clothes, pots, dishes, domestic raising animals and others. They came and climbed up every house and took everything what they met.
Have you ever been as a porter along with Burmese troops and how many times?
I have been as porter for many times. Last year, I had been as porter for eight times. When the Burmese troops came into village, they surrounded the whole village first and entered into village, then arrested every male villagers including elder persons. The most troops were from IB 61, 62 and 31. After the villagers were arrested, they had to carry ammunition and supplies for Burmese troops to Anan Gwin or Wae Ka Lee or Kyun Chaung and Three Pagoda Pass. I have carried the supplies for many times to Anan Gwin and Wae Ka Lee.
Often arrest of porters and mistreatments to them in the battlefields
When the Burmese troops came into village, they always shout the villagers not to flee. Sometimes, they shout "don't run, don't run, we will catch you with bullets". If they met you were running, they will shoot you. In October, I was also arrested as porter soon after I came back from working in motor road construction. At that time, there were 100 troops and about 80 porters. I had to carry one basket of rice (about 60 kilograms) to send it to Anan Gwin. It was too heavy for me. When I could not walk fast like them (soldiers) they shout me and sometimes beat me. When I was beaten by a soldier with his jungle boot, I was also hit with a bamboo and I got injury in my foot. Then I could not walk like others. But they didn't allow to stop. When we reached to Anan Gwin, .they released me.
Monthly demand of portering fees and conscription of forced labour for military encampment
You said you have to pay portering fee every month, if you could not pay them, how they will treat you?
Last summer in March, I had to work for one month in military camp of Anan Gwin. Because I could not pay portering fees for three months. At that time, I was working in border area as day labourer after harvesting, to get more income for my family. When I was in work, my wife did not pay for portering fees. When I arrived home back, village headman told me that I had to work in military camp in Anan Gwin. If not, I had to flee to border area under control of KNU with my whole family, he gave advice. Anyhow, at that time, I didn't want to leave my village and decided to work for military. Then, I took some rice and went to Anan Gwin. When I arrived the military camp and met military commander there, I told him for my absence paying portering fees, he said I had to work in military for one month. When I was in military camp, I had to work making fence, cutting trees and bamboo in the forest near base and digging earth for bunker and trench. But they didn't beat me and didn't give me any foods all the time I was there.
Besides the portering case, the military also forced the villagers to work in Three Pagoda Pass-Thanbyuzayat motor road construction. You said you have ever worked in construction, can you explain me?
In second week of October, the order from the military commander of Taung Zon reached to village headman and he had to send 10 villagers to work in motor road construction. When he selected the villagers, I was also participated in the group. And 10 men from our village and another 20 men from another villages went to work-site in Tha Nyin. We went by passenger trucks with our own expenses. If we walked we will be late and punished by soldiers.
In Three Pagoda Pass-Thanbyuzayat motor road construction, the work-duties are very hard and the military did not provide any assistance to villager labourers. But the maltreatment was also committed by the soldiers. The interviewee explained his experience.
Did the military provide the villagers some foods and if they became sick, were they treated by military? And how many days did you have to work in construction?
No, they didn't give us any food. We brought rice, fish-paste, and salt from home. And we also had to bring cash from home because we had to buy palm oil, seasoning, and vegetables when we were working there. At first time, I had to work in construction for five days, while some villagers had to work for one week or 10 days. It was different, but I don't know why. At second time when I worked in first week of November, I had to work for 10 days. In the last time third week of November, I had to work for one week.
Every time working in construction, I became weak and but luckily I didn't get sick. Some men older than me also got sick in work-sites but the soldiers didn't provide them any medical treatment.
Forced labourers in the construction with rotation basis of villagers' labour contribution
Did the military define piece of work for your villagers?
They defined pieces of work for a group of villagers who came from the same village tract and put them in the same work-site. But they didn't say how the villagers had to complete the piece of work and when the new group of villagers came, it replaced with former group and the old villagers could return.
Hard situation in the construction work-sites :clearing route and building embankment, and accompanied mistreatment
What kinds of work-duties did you have to work and were it hard?
Various kinds of works. Firstly, we had to clear all foliage along sides of the road. Each side of the former route, we had to clear foliage and trees up to defined width about 50 foot. We had to cut every tree that lied on the new route and carried it outside the route. At second time, we were put in a new work-site to cut trees, bamboo and clear the foliage, and continuously we had to dig the earth, carried dirt and making embankment. In the last time, we absolutely had to build the embankment. We had to fill with dirt and stone in the defined width of embankment route. The embankment is about 2 foot in height. All the
works were hard. When the working day lasted long, we became more tired and the works were more harder and harder.
If you could not work according to instruction of the military, what did soldiers respond on you?
They shout us all the time to hurry up and the complete piece of work that they defined daily. They always shout us, "why you are lazy, why don't you work like your farm to feed your wife". We worked as hard as we could. The works were normally harder than the works in our farm. In our farm, we could take a rest. If we took a rest in road construction, they will beat us.
If you could not contribute labour in the construction, what kind of punishment will the soldiers treat you?
If you could not work in the construction, it is better to hire a substitute for replacement. If you hired, you have to pay 250 Kyat per day and provide rice for that hired labourer.
When will you return back to your home village? Do you decide to stay here longer?
I don't know how to decide. But I am sure, I will not return back in this year. At the moment the soldiers still forced the villagers to work in motor road construction. But I don't enter into Thailand and I will make one rice plantation around here.
Name: U Tha Wai
Sex/ Age: "Male/ 56 years
Nationality/ Religion: Karen/ Christian
Native Place: Mae Za Lee village, Kya-Inn-Seikyi township, Karen State
Interview Date: December 16, 1996.
Because of conscription of forced labour of the local inhabitants and recent human rights abuses, several Karen villagers also fled into Thailand as immigrants while many of them are displaced inside Burma. The interviewee explained his experience:
you come this village (a Karen village in
I arrived here just two days ago. We are afraid of Burmese Army, then we had to flee. The soldiers forced us to work in motor road construction every day and sometime they also arrested us for portering. I left nothing at home to give them and that was why I fled here. I knew this area well. I ever came here last three years ago.
Refugee flux and displaced person in the border area
Did you bring all your family members along with you and why don't you decide to stay in refugee camp?
I fled with all family members and but now I put them in Palaing Japan village (a village under control of NMSP). Now I came here to find jobs for me and my son to work for income. I think I could not get good job in refugee camps and that was why I don't want to stay in refugee camp.
How difficulty did you face when you came on the way?
It was very hard. My nephew is only one year old. When we came here we walked straight along the way to Three Pagoda Pass. We also met with Burmese soldiers in Kyun Chaung (Kyun Chaung is a place where the SLORC troops taking base and about 5 kilometers far from Three Pagoda Pass) and they asked us where we went. We told them we would like to visit to our relatives in Three Pagoda Pass. They didn't make any trouble because we brought nothing along with us that they could suspect we were fleeing from our native village. We left all our belongings at home. After we put children and women in a safe place we will return back again to bring the left belongings.
Conscription of elder persons into as forced porters and brought to battle-field
What kinds of abuse did the Burmese soldiers violate to your villagers before you came here?
Whenever the Burmese troops came into village, they always arrested the villagers to use as porters. Last summer, I was arrested as a porter and was taken by troops for five days. When they came down from Three Pagoda Pass to Thanbyuzayat they also crossed into our village and arrested villagers. At that time, I was in bed as I was not so well and I could not escape from arrest of Burmese soldiers. I thought they will not arrest me as I was an old man. But they took me and forced to carry six motor shells. It was too heavy.
Did the fighting occur when you were along with troops?
Yes. The fighting happened after half a day we left from our village. First, we went to Ye Phaw. After we left from Ye Phaw when we reached Lone See, the Karen troops ambushed and fought the Burmese troops. The fighting lasted for half an hour. Because of the fighting, three porter got injuries, one soldier died and other two soldiers got injuries. When their soldier died and got injuries, the soldiers angered to us and shout to hurry up in walking. The troops also didn't dare to walk along the way. They passed into forest without using ways and all of us had to walk inside thick bushes and long grass fields. We had to walk for three day to reach Anan Gwin. After long difficult trip, the troops left small amount of rice and they didn't feed us for one day. I had to eat wild banana in the jungle. When we arrived Anan Gwin, they released us.
In construction of motor road, some villagers were continuously conscripted as forced labourers for more than one month. They were not sent to work-site far away from the home villages and just forced them to work in construction part close to their village.
Conscription of forced labour to the whole village community in building motorway
You said, you had to work in motor road construction, and in which part did you have to work?
I had to work in motor road construction for more than one month. The road part that passed through close to our village and in which, all our villagers were forced to work. We had to work every day. Every able body men and women in village were forced to work according to the order came from military base of Anan Gwin. In the morning about 7:00 a.m. we left to work-site and started to work and we could take a rest at lunch time about 12:00 a.m. And we left to work about 1:00 p.m. and returned home about 5:30 p.m. We have to take meals in our home. They didn't feed us any thing. Starting from October, when they started for construction, about 10 Burmese soldiers also came and stayed in our village. The villagers have to provide them rice and other supplement foods.
How many villagers altogether had to work in construction from your village? What kinds of work they had to work?
About 60 villagers including all men, women and children from our village have to work in construction every day. The soldiers also watched closely when we were working and they always checked in each house in the morning to force every villagers before all villagers left to worksite. There were also about 20 prisoners working together with us. The soldiers brought them from Yetagon detention center.
Harder conditions for prisoners in construction's work-sites
We had to work everything. We had to gather stone and rock from the streams and mountains and filled in the defined route to make embankment. We also had to fill some dirt in the holes and we also had to build bridges. We had to walk very far outside of route to carry stones and sometimes big piece of log. As the width of the embankment was very large, I think if they used just the villagers to complete it without using any machines it may last for many years.
Confiscation of villagers' land, other properties and, destruction of living stocks of the community
Did the military confiscate the lands of villagers which the route passes through?
We had also to cut down crop trees that were owned by villagers. The road was passed through villagers' plantations such as betel-nut, coconut, bamboo and lemon trees. We also cut a half coconut plantation close to village that the route passes through. Later the military ordered to cut more other fruit trees. When I left from village, the rest villagers and prisoners were still cutting many acres of fruit tree plantations. They also planned and ordered to cut down all coconut trees which were grown over 15 years. The villagers have also depended on those trees for their survival. As I knew, the military didn't pay any compensation to those whose plantations' were confiscated. The road also passes through coconut plantation near Kung Khun (name of a local area) and all coconut trees were cut down, the land was confiscated and the military didn't provide any compensation.
Can you explain me how the situation of the prisoner who worked close to you?
Yes. The prisoners had to work harder than us. They had to work for the whole day and the soldiers provided them very little food. They also locked their legs with chains and they had to work every works with tied chain. It was difficult for them to walk, carry materials and dig earth. They were always beaten by soldiers. The villagers were also beaten by soldiers with sticks but less times than prisoners. At the night time, they also tied the prisoner with home-poles or trees. They could not sleep well and because of physically weak, the prisoners also lost consciousness in work-site.
Will you return back soon to your village if the situation became better?
I don't think so. I don't know when the situation will become better.