News, Personal Account, Report & Analysis on human rights situation in Mon territory and other areas southern part of Burma
The Mon Forum
Issue No. 1/98 January 31, 1998
The Publication of Human Rights Foundation of Monland (BURMA)
(1) Conscription of forced labour on the repair of Ye-Tavoy motor road,
(2) New kind of taxation in Mon State and Tenasserim Division,
(3) The Mon refugees were repatriated,
Forced Relocation in Kya-lnn-Seikyi township
Some Acronyms in this Issue
SLORC - State Law and Order Restoration Council,
SPDC- State Peace and Development Council (new name of SLORC),
IB - Infantry Battalion (of the Burmese Army),
LIB - Light Infantry Battalion (of the Burmese Army),
KNU - Karen National Union,
KNLA - Karen National Liberation Army,
NMSP- New Mon State Party,
MAMD - Mon Army, Mergui District.
Conscription of forced labour on the repair of Ye-Tavoy motor road
In August 1997, during mid of rainy season, while the rain hardly fell in lower part of Burma, mountains and hills along 100-miles-long Ye-Tavoy motor road collapsed onto many parts of the road. In one part, near "13-mile" area (13 mile far down south of Ye town) about half-mile-long road was covered by earth and rocks and one bulldozer owned by railway authorities of SLORC was also covered with huge amount of earth.
To move all these huge amount of earth and rocks from the road, the local authorities did not use the possible machines but have conscripted many thousands of villagers from Ye and Yebyu township to contribute labour on the repair of this motor road during September and October, 1997. The local SLORC battalions, namely, IB No. 61, LIB No. 106 and No. 408, have coordinated with township and village tracts' LORC leaders and conscripted forced labour. Since the beginning of September until the end of October, the villagers from all villages in Ye township and northern part of Yebyu were ordered to go to work-site.
The villages in northern part of Ye town, namely, Lamine, Taungpyin, Kawdort, Htitkayin, Duya, Ahbaw, Eindin, Ahrutaung, Kyaungywa, etc., and in southern part of Ye town, namely, Kalort, Hangan, Khawza, Yinye, Yindein, Kyonkanya, Koemine, etc., were instructed by the local battalions, to contribute labour on a daily basis. According to instruction, the villagers from Ye township had to complete in repairing the motor road in the part which situated in Mon State. Similarly, the villages in Yebyu township, namely, Aleskan, Natkyism, Paukpingwin, etc., were instructed to send many hundreds of villagers in repairing this road in the part of Yebyu township, Tenasserim Division. The main works in the road repair were to dig the earth and rocks out of the route and re-build the embankment. They were also ordered villagers to dig earth and move it to get the military's bulldozer back. Considerably, these works were normally hard.
In the instruction of the military, the village as an example with 500 households must have to send at least 100 labourers to the work-sites for two weeks. On a rotation basis, the villagers from some villages went and worked in the construction for two weeks and then other villagers came and replaced in those workers. In the work-site, there were reportedly about 3,000 villagers working daily without any payment and provision of health care. When the villagers came to work-site, they had to bring their own foods and tools, and built a temporary camps along the road and stay there until they completed their work-duties.
The corrupted SLORC military officers also made money from this road repair. Ye town's residents were not conscripted by authorities to contribute labour but they were requested by IB No. 106 to provide payment to hire substitute labourers. Each family from the town were demanded to pay 2,000 Kyat for about one week period to avoid contribution of labour in the motor road. Otherwise, the villagers who were unable to work in the construction had to pay to the nearest battalions at least 3000 Kyat per family for two weeks period work-duty.
New Kind of Taxation in Mon State and Tenasserim Division
In the most southern part of Mon State in Ye township and Tenasserim Division, the villagers are forced to pay a new kind of taxation to the local SLORC/ SPDC military battalions or village leaders to get permission to go outside of their village. This kind of tax is instructed to pay everyday whenever the villagers leave from their villages even for a while. Such kind of taxation was initiated by IB No. 106 and LIB No. 273 in Ye and Yebyu townships' rural area (these areas are also described as black area, by SLORC). If a villager has purpose or daily work to go outside of village or to farms, he/she must take permission from the commanders or village headman by paying 50 Kyat per head for one day.
Normally, in the rural areas, the military always suspected the villagers as rebel-supporters and the authorities allowed them to go to their farms and gardens in the morning and return in the evening. Before the end of 1997, some members from KNLA have been active in area northeast side of Ye town and a Mon robber group also similarly have been active in Yebyu township area respectively. Thus, to cut support from villagers to these groups, the military adopted this instruction and at the same time, they could made a lot of money from villagers. Thus, the farmers have to pay the military commanders or village headmen 50 Kyat per day since October, 1997.
During paddy harvest time of Burma, in November and December, the villagers had to work in their farms daily and requested the military to allow them more days to stay in their farms. The military agreed but collected tax about 300 Kyat per head and allowed farmers to stay for one week in the respective farms. Even they stayed in the farms, the farmers had to hold the permission letter and when the other SLORC troops met them, they could show it. Without permission letter, the villagers must be accused as rebel-supporters or robbers and he must be either killed or tortured by the soldiers. Under this circumstance, the villagers cannot freely work in their farms and their income rate have been decreased. Additionally, they also lost their crops as they could not go to their farms on time when the paddy was ripe.
This new kind of taxation also forces the poorer villagers to leave their native village. Some of them have been hiding in the jungles and plantation, where the Burmese soldiers could not reached and have been internally displaced for several months.
The Mon Refugees Were Repatriated
On November 21, about 60 Mon refugees who fled into Prachuab Kirichan Province of southern part of Thailand were refused to take refuge and repatriated to Halockhani resettlement site of Mon refugees. Before this repatriation, the Thai authorities including 9th Division of Royal Thai Army in Thapsakae district area of the Province arrested these escapees, detained them for some days in police stations and then, repatriated them. Thai army arranged in the whole process of repatriation without informing the concerned international body such as UNHCR based in Bangkok, the capital of Thailand.
The story of the suffering of these villagers has been long. The MAMD group, led by Col. Aung Seik Hing, split from the NMSP in December 1996, after the SLORC pressured NMSP to transfer its control area situated in eastern border of Mergui district, Tenasserim Division, to SLORC. A group of Mon soldiers and commanders dissatisfied on this decision and declared the formation of MAMD group and war against SLORC.
Thus, at the beginning of 1997, in the dry season, the SLORC's local battalions have continuously launched offensives against the MAMD and the villagers who were taking refuge under the new group had to flee into Thailand. In April, over one thousand of Mon refugees fled into Thai territory. Because of serious fighting in Burmese side of the border, the Thai authorities allowed them to take temporary shelter in Thai soil.
On May 27, the MAMD group surrendered to SLORC after they could not fight more. Following the surrender, the Mon refugees in the camp were forced to return their former villages. The SLORC's LIB No. 358 already took bases in their villages and the refugees in temporary camp refused to return and some hundreds of them disappeared in Thai territory before repatriation. These refugees had experience that whenever the SLORC troops were there, the civilians must be suffered with various kind of abuses, such as forced labour and portering, cash extortion, etc.. On June 6, the remaining about 600 refugees were repatriated within one day with UNHCR monitoring. This forcible repatriation was happened as a result of discussions and agreement between the Thai and Burmese armies. Therefore, the refugees refused to return and the forcible repatriation without inquiry was happened after the fighting ceased in Burmese territory.
The human rights abuses against the returnees have been constantly violated by the Burmese soldiers under the name of border area development program. The soldiers have conscripted the returned villagers to build roads and to be frontline civilian porters in battle fields against the KNU's 4th Brigade. Additionally, they were also forced to build new military encampment in the area and lost chance to make farms in the surrounding area. Because of the consistent conscription of forced labour, many hundreds of villagers fled into Thai territory again in July and August, 1997. When they arrived inside Thailand, they faced unwelcome conditions by Thai authorities and most of them became illegal immigrants as a result.
The dissatisfaction of villagers and ordinary Mon soldiers against the Burmese Army has been gradually grown up since then and in mid of November, a group of Mon soldiers revolted against their leaders who close to SPDC troops and SPDC again. Because of a resume fighting in a border area of eastern Mergui District of Burma that bordering Prachuab Kirichan Province of Thailand, about 200 Mon villagers including women and children fled back into Thai territory again. Only about 60 of them were arrested by the Thai authorities and repatriated to Halockhani resettlement site.
Besides the repatriated refugees, many other escapees became illegal immigrants inside Thai territory and displaced. They were not provided any assistance and protection from the international community even though they fled from systematic persecution of the government in their native homes.
Forced Relocation in Kya-lnn-Seikyi Township
Forced Relocation Process
Kya-lnn-Seikyi township is situated in Karen State and most of its rural areas are controlled by the ethnic armed resistance groups, namely, NMSP and KNU. After the NMSP agreed for a ceasefire with SLORC, only KNU have continued fighting with military regime. Ten of thousands of Mon and Karen local inhabitants in Kya-lnn-Seikyi township, have been suffered from the regime's military operations against the KNU and at the same time, the relative four cuts campaign operated by the Burmese Army.
In early 1997, from February to June, the SLORC, by coordinating with its local military battalions, had conscripted about 30,000 villagers and town residents from the whole Mon, Karen States and Tenasserim Division as frontline civilian porters in launching offensives against all KNU brigades. Under the command of the Southeast Military Command, thousands of SLORC troops launched a dry season offensives against the KNU and have attempted cutting support from villagers to rebel forces.
Even in the rainy season, from June to September, the SLORC military operation was continuously launched in Kya-lnn-Seikyi township's area and the villagers were always arrested by the soldiers as porters to carry ammunitions and supplies along the military operation. After the rainy season, in September and October, the SLORC troops in the area prepared to launch a military offensives against the KNU and its military faction KNLA again.
To initiate this operation, the SLORC local battalions LIB No. 355 and No. 356 planned to push the Karen soldiers to not take bases in Karen and Mon villages along Zami river (see map). In fact, the SLORC troops ordered about 13 Mon and Karen villages to move from their villagers and relocated into SLORC designated villages. This forced relocation order was instructed by SLORC's LIB No. 355 in the third week of September and the following process of forcible relocation of villagers by pointing gun was continuously implemented by LIB No. 356.
In the third week of September, the troops from LIB No. 355 launched a military operation along the area and went into each village, and arranged meetings with villagers or instructed through the village headmen to inform their villagers, to follow their order for relocation. Strategic commander Col. Zaw Lin Htun was a main instructor in forcing the villagers to move from their villages. The deadline for this forced relocation was October 15.
The relocated Mon and Karen villages and the estimated households were described as below:
Name of villages Estimated households
1. Lakepyort 64
2. Kalortort Chaung 120
3. Thar-shay 40
4. Htiphohut 80
5. Kyaik-round 105
6. Ahkyar 46
7. Htiparlay 76
8. Htipartaw 45
9. Yele 82
10. Tharyagone 43
11. Chilaungchi 38
12. Taungale 60
13. Shwemaungsakan 45
Because of this forced relocation, over 10,000 Mon and Karen villagers were displaced. A little number of villagers agreed to move into SLORC designated places and thus, thousands of them internally displaced. They had no enough time to collect all their belongings and abandoned houses, livestocks, gardens, plantations and rice-fields. Most villagers in the area were farmers and since they were forced to move they also lost their crops. In October, when they were forced to move from villages, their crops were nearly riped and the harvest time was close.
The SLORC troops also set up three resettlement sites for these relocated villagers. The sites were designated at the surrounding area of three villages, namely, Taungbauk, Waitharlee and Htipaukhlo (see map). These new resettlement villages were surrounded with villagers' plantations such as rubber, betel-nut, fruit and rice-fields. The lands with these plantations and rice-fields were forcibly confiscated by soldiers without any payment and they also measured and gave the land for each family who move into these sites. Besides the small piece of land, the villagers were not provided with other basic needs such as water, foods and facilities to build new houses.
Other Cruel treatment against the local inhabitants
The local villages were ordered to vacate with accusation of these were used as rebel-bases and similarly, the villagers were always accused as rebel-supporters. In the past, these villages were controlled by rebel groups and later since 1995, when the SLORC tried to control the whole area, the suffering of the local Mon and Karen inhabitants have been worst and intolerable.
In 1997, after its attempts to control more area, the SLORC's local troops have been constantly attacked by the KNLA troops which based in this area. Thus the accusation against the villagers as rebel-supporter have been more serious than before. Later, SLORC's local battalions mainly IB No. 32, LIB No. 355 and LIB. No. 356 have cooperated in launching the four cuts campaign against the villagers with objective to halt their support to KNLA.
In this situation, the treatment to villagers was inhumane and were also forced to leave their native villages by the Burmese soldiers.
In second week of September, 1997, one column of SLORC troops from LIB No. 355 led by Col. San Lwin went into Kawma village and arrested all young villagers. These all villagers were accused as rebels and rebel-supporters and the Burmese soldiers forced them to show the KNLA's arms hiding places. Additionally, the soldiers told the left villagers that these arrested villagers were Karen rebels and the village must arrange a surrender ceremony and then they must be released. The village headman told to the commander that these villagers were not rebels and because of his complaint, all arrested villagers were put in a trench and covered with earth up to their necks for three hours. Then the soldiers beat them and covered their heads with plastic bags and poured water on it. The soldiers burnt bushes at surrounding of these men. After three hours' torture, the village headman agreed to arrange a surrender ceremony. The commander also forced village headman to gather cash from the whole villagers and bought two guns from them for ceremony. After the villagers paid possible amount of cash, these villagers were released.
Similarly, in the third week of October, a Mon man, Nai Kyaw (54 years old) from Kalortort Chaung severely beaten by the Burmese soldiers. While he was hiding in his rice-filed to avoid moving resettlement sites, he was arrested and accused rebel-supporters by soldiers from LIB No. 356. They tied his body and brought with their military operation with reason to show the KNLA bases. He was brought for three days and he was beaten every day for his inability to show KNLA bases. After he was beaten severely and nearly died, the soldiers left him in a stream close Thayargone village. The villagers saved his life.
In the first week of February, the fighting between LIB No. 355 and KNLA troops happened near Kyaik-roung village. In the fighting, two Burmese soldiers died and other two got serious injuries. After the fighting lasted for one hour, the Burmese troops moved into Kyaik-roung village. On the way before they reached village, they met two villagers. These villagers were arrested and were consistently asked with same question how they brought the Karen soldiers. They refused that they didn't bring the Karen soldiers and they were tied under the rain for the whole night and suffered with various beatings. In the morning while the Burmese soldiers were sleeping, one man escaped. On the next day, the other man was brought by soldiers. Until now, the second man have disappeared.
This cruel treatment was aimed by the Burmese Army to force the villagers to leave their villages. Besides the serious torturing, some Karen villagers were also killed because of suspicion on them as rebel-supporters.
On 24 December, two Karen villagers from Yele village were arrested in jungle while they were cutting bamboo, and brought by LIB No. 230 and tortured them in Htipaukhalo's military camp. After they were seriously beaten, the soldiers shot and killed them. Because of disappearance of these two villagers, the left villagers knew they were killed.
Besides the killing and cruel treatments against the villagers by Burmese troops because of suspicion of rebel-supporters, the villagers have been constantly suffered from the conscription of frontline porters. In conscription of civilian porters for their use in military operation, the Burmese Army instructed two types of conscription. The first one is the local commanders give official instruction to respective village headman to provide requested villagers for porters. In such case, the village headmen have to arrange to send villagers for porters on a rotation basis. In Zami river area, even a small village, it has to provide at least three villagers to be porters for local battalions every week. Thus big village with over 100 households many have to provide about 10 villagers. The porters must have to stay with troops temporarily and when the substitute villagers reached they will be released.
The second type of conscription of forced portering is permanent porters. Sometime, the Burmese troops rushly entered into villages and arrested all men in the villages and they were brought with troops for long period. Some villagers are continuously used as porters for at least two or three months. The local battalions have mainly launched offensives against the KNLA guerrilla along Zami river and up to Three-Pagoda-Pass. These porters are more sufferer than the temporary porters. Sometimes, if the villagers are arrested outside of villages, they must be accused as rebel-supporters and the treatment on them is more cruel and inhumane, and then they must be taken with troops as permanent porters.
A villager from Kyaik-round village who had experiences as a porters for tow month along LIB No. 230 explained:
One day (on 12 October), when I was in my farm, about 60 soldiers came to my hut. As I was afraid of being arrested, I fled to hide in a bush at behind of my rice-field. Three soldiers followed behind me and shot with guns. The bullets were flying on my head and they shout me to stop. They also shout, if I didn't stop, they shot me to die. Then I stopped. They tied me and brought me to Tharshay village and detained there for two days. They beat me with various kinds, with gun butts, jungle boots and hit me with fists. They asked me many questions why I fled and accused me as a Karen soldier. I told them I ran to escape from the arrest, not because of I was a Karen soldier. After two days detention, they trusted me. But they brought me for one week as a porter along with their troops. Later they sent me Kyunchaung village's military outpost. In there, they forced me to make foods, find fire-woods, carry water and other daily works. I was there for nearly one month. They didn't allow me to contact my family and no chance to flee as the soldiers checked where was my village and if I fled, they could make trouble to my family. Then, when LIB No. 230 arrived into Kyunchaung village, I was transferred for this military operation as porters again. They used me to carry ammunitions and foods everyday. We walked everyday, sometime straight along the roads and sometime without roads in the jungles. They didn't allow anyone to stop on the half way before reaching destination. When I was with them for one month, there were three fightings happened with Karen soldiers. The Karen soldiers ambushed and fled. One porter also died on the spot near Apalon village and he was hit with a bullet shot from Karen soldiers. When I arrived in a Mon village "Thar-dain", I hid in a house and when the troops left from village, I escaped.
Related to the forced relocation, the local commanders also made money from the villagers. The forced relocation order was instructed in September, 1997 and before the deadline on October 15, all villagers had moved from their native villages. Normally, the villagers would not like to abandon their villages. Some village headmen also approached the military commander which were active in area to return to their villages again.
Some villagers were re-allowed to return to their native villages by paying ransom to military commanders. But the village headmen must give promise that to not allow any Karen troop to enter their village and to stop the Karen troops to not create any fighting near their villagers. Even they already provided payment, if the fighting or military movement of Karen troops happened near their villages, they must have to suddenly move from there.
Actually, when the villagers reached to their resettlement villages, there was no assistance provided by local troops. Thus, the villagers have always tried to move back to their native village again. By the way, these villagers would not like to abandon their rice-fields, plantation and other belongings. After payment, some villagers were also allowed to move back to their villages.
At the beginning of November, after the villages were forcibly relocated, the village headmen from three villages namely Bedagyi, Yele and Lakepyort discussed with military commanders for the return of their villagers to native villages. The commanders from LIB No. 230 and No. 355 agreed for the return of their villagers to former villages. But they instructed to village headmen to pay 200, 000 Kyat for each village to the military for their return. Since the villagers really would not like to abandon their rice-fields and other belongings, they collected cash from every family and paid to commanders. Anyhow, the village headmen promised to not allow any activity of the Karen soldiers around the area and if the fighting near village, the villagers must suddenly move from villages.
After the villagers reached into villages after paying many thousands Kyat, they were similarly suffered from conscription of forced portering and various kind of payment to Burmese Army. At the same time, the village leaders also discussed with nearby Karen soldiers to halt their activities in the area. Then the villages can remain in stable situation.
Population Displacement and Refugee Flux
In comparison with the villagers who moved into resettlement villages, more villagers were displaced inside the area. Most villagers went into their rice-fields and jungles for hiding. Some villagers also stayed on the river bank and grew vegetables and crops for survival.
When they were ordered to abandon their villages, most villagers tried to reap their crops in the rice-fields. In December, some villagers also reaped their crops and didn't return to their villages. After the relocation, the soldiers also came to vacated villages to check whether the villagers were hiding in the village or not. They also collected the left belongings and foods from these villages. Thus, the hiding villagers didn't dare to move back their villages. They could be arrested and punished, if they were met in the villages.
When the villagers moved into resettlement villages, they were not provided with foods and other basic assistance. Hundred acres of rice-field and rubber plantation outside of Waitharlee, Taungbauk and Htibaukhlo villages were confiscated and no compensation was paid to villagers. When the new villagers reached to resettlement sites, besides the designated land space, they were not provided with other basic building facilities. Since, most of them were farmers, when they could not obtain lands for rice farming and it was impossible for them to survive in these resettlement sites.
After the new villagers arrived to resettlement sites for few week, they refused to stay longer and moved to another area again. Some of them also moved into their relatives' villages. Considerably, these displaced villagers have been homeless and loss of land for farming, and have faced various hardships for survival.
One farmer from Yele village said,
I didn't know how to stay in rice-farm of Taungbauk village. The soldiers told us to clear land and stay there. It was about one kilometer to carry water and it was a hard job for new villagers. When we tried to cut bamboo to build a new house, the soldiers didn't allow us. They said we would flee from the resettlement site. After five days in there, I tried to flee. Then I moved into Taungbauk main village and stayed in my friend house. I stayed in his house for one week and then I went to Kya-Inn-Seikyi town to work as a day-labourer. But I could not get job there and I don't know how to find jobs. I could not survive if I stay in village. Then I moved to another village, Thanpayar, again. I didn't get job for income. Later, I tried to stay in my rice-fields close to my native again. But the Burmese troops were always active in the area and I was not dare to stay in rice-field. Then I moved to Three-Pagoda-Pass area and stayed there. I have day-labourer in finding bamboos and sold it to traders.
Because of this forced relocation, many thousands of villagers faced various kind of difficulties for survival. Without land, it was difficult for farmers to survive. Besides displacement inside area close to their native places, many thousands of them have gradually moved to the border area, group by group.
Most escapees fled into NMSP control area and take refuge in there. Because of the activities of Burmese Army, the villagers could only stay in some border area which has safe situation like NMSP control area. Many villagers tried to reach to refugee camps or resettlement sites. Since the beginning of September, 1997, many hundreds of the Karen villagers arrived to Hteewadoe, a Karen section of Holockha-ni refugee camps.
Besides the escapees moved to border camps, there were several of them have been internally displaced. They moved one village to another. When the situation was better or the Burmese Army could not get access to their native villages, they also secretly moved back to their villages again. Sometimes, when the troops were changed in their area, the new battalion changed its policy and allowed the villagers to return their homes. But human rights abuses were unstopped. Besides forced relocation, other abuses were constantly remained.