News, Personal Account, Report & Analysis on human rights situation in Mon territory and other areas southern part of Burma

The Mon Forum

Issue No. 3/98††† April 1, 1998

 

The Publication of Human Rights Foundation of Monland (BURMA)

 

 

Contents

 

News:

(1)Thousands of Burmese Immigrants Return Burma,

(2) Cash Extortion for the Bridges along the Ye-Tavoy Railway,

(3) The Opening Ceremony of Ye-Tavoy Railway,

(4) Forced Labour in Southeast Military Commander's Gold Field,

 

Personal Account:

Stories of Forced Labour in SPDC'S Infrastructure Development Project - Ye-Tavoy Railway Construction

 

Report:

Plan for Forced Relocation of the Villagers from Kalar Goke Island.

 

Some Acronyms in this Issue

BSPP- ††††††††††† Burmese Socialist Programme Party,

SLORC- †††††††† State Law and OrderRestoration 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,

ABSDF-††††††††† All Burma Students Democratic Front,

NMSP-†† †††††††† New Mon State Party,

MDUF-††† ††††††† Mergui-Tavoy United Front.

 

 

News


Thousands of Burmese Immigrants Return Burma

(March, 1998)

 

Over six month long Thailand's economic crisis and relative decrease of work-opportunity in various industries, thousands of Burmese immigrants have constantly returned Burma voluntarily and over 2000 of them were every month deported back after arrest by the Thai authorities via Holockhani Mon refugee resettlement site, on a weekly basis. Among the deportees, over 60% are non-Burman ethnic nationalities including ethnic Mon people. After arrival of Halockhani, they can travel to Ye, the most southern small town in Mon State, and then to their native towns and villages.

Since 1988, in Burma, the economic conditions have been deteriorated and unemployment has sharply increased in both rural and urban areas. Low income from possible daily job, currency inflation and rocketed prices of commodities in The markets of-Burma have pressured the urban residents and rural villagers to leave their homes, and seek job Thailand. In Burma, the people faces much difficulties to feed their families under these hard conditions. But in Thailand, these illegal workers can get 5 times income than in Burma. Therefore, hundreds of thousands of Burmese immigrants have flowed into Thailand for jobs since then.

 

Additionally, besides the unemployment and low-income problems, the growth of immigrants also relates to human rights situation in areas where non-Burman ethnic nationalities are inhabiting. These areas are normally battlefields of five-decade-long civil war and mostly are recognized as "black areas" by the successive military regimes. The local inhabitants in these area are consistently accused as rebel-supporters by the government and whenever the Burmese Army's (tatmadaw's) troops arrive, they are faced cruel treatment.

 

After SLORC came into power, the military regime has hardly attempted to control more ethnic areas and the fightings have been more serious than BSPP era. During the SLORC's continued offensives against the ethnic armed forces, ten of thousands of non-Burma ethnic peoples have been displaced and many thousands of them fled into Thailand as illegal immigrants because they are not accepted in border refugee camps according to Thai government policy on Burmese refugees. When the tatmadaw troops controlled an area, the villagers are always forced to build the military encampment and roads. Because of constant use of forced labour, the villagers also have fled into Thailand. Tax extortion from the villagers also accompanied with local area development projects of the regime, thus the young villagers have to leave homes and seek more income to support their families.

 

Along the serial offensives, the forcible relocation of the villagers by the soldiers in grouping them around the military campsite has been also committed. The villagers who disagreed on to stay in resettlement sites of tatmadaw have fled into Thailand. Only little percentage of them are allowed to stay in border refugee camps and many others moved deep inside Thailand as illegal immigrants. These are other main reasons for the growth of Burmese illegal immigrants in Thailand.

 

While overall Burmese people and non-Burman ethnic nationalities faced hardship in their native country because of economic mismanagement of military regime and human rights abuses, Thai companies and industries also demanded cheap labour from Burmese immigrants. By focusing on its profit, Thailand also adopted a soft policy on Burmese immigrants in recent Banharn government and registered thousands of them and officially allowed to work in various industries across the country. While Thailand was facing economic crisis, the new government led by Chaun Leekpai was elected to save their country from crisis and since then the Burmese illegal immigrants have been rejected from some kind of recognition, arrested and deported back to the Thai-Burma border.

 

 

Cash Extortion for the Bridges along the Ye-Tavoy Railway

(January, 1998)

 

The Ye-Tavoy railway is under the construction and almost the construction of rail embankment is completed. However, the SLORC/SPDC have to continue building many bridges along the railway. To hire the skill labourers and buy facilities, the local authorities needed a lot of budget to complete the building of these bridges. Although the government had no much budget to provide complete payment for all bridges but ordered to its local battalions to complete building anyhow. The local authorities have extorted money from villagers in Ye township area to build about 26 bridges in the railway part of Mon State.

 

For instance, SLORC IB No. 61 extorted money from many Mon villagers in Ye township and the big village such as Taungpyin and Kawdort, north of Ye about 15 kilometers, were instructed to pay about 900,000 Kyat per each village to build a bridge near Koemine village. Even a small Mon village, they have to pay 50,000 Kyat for bridge building. However, IB No. 61 never showed and explained to villagers, how much money they have collected and how they use it. According to order, the village headmen must take responsibility in collecting the defined amount of budget. Thus the villagers have to pay about 1000 Kyat per household to the military.

 

According to the local source, the villagers were still used to be forced labourers for the railway construction in collecting fire-woods to provide the hired skill labourers in making earth bricks. These skill workers were brought from other area and hired with payment to make bricks and then build the bridges with these bricks. But they didn't have to worry for fire-woods, because the villagers must have to send defined amount of fire-woods on time according to military's instruction.

 

Because of this bridge construction, the local corrupt commanders could make a lot of money that collected from the villagers. This kind of cash extortion has taken place for over four years, since the Ye-Tavoy railway construction was started.

 

 

The Opening Ceremony of Ye-Tavoy Railway

(March, 1998)

 

On March 26, the SPDC celebrated an opening ceremony of Ye-Tavoy railway according to its plan to complete this railway construction on the eve of 51st anniversary of Armed Force Day (Tatmadaw Day). SPDC's General Secretary (2) Gen. Tin Oo attended and led the opening ceremony and gave a long speech by expressing thankfulness to his soldiers of the local battalions of Burmese Army for their labour contribution to complete the construction. He did not mention about any participation of local inhabitants who were constantly forced to work in the construction.

 

On the eve of ceremony, thousands of civilians in the area mainly from Ye, Yebyu and Tavoy townships were forced to attend the ceremony and instructed at least one person must attend from each family. When one family missed to attend, this family was fined 200 Kyat to pay to the local authorities. All trucks and private cars in the whole area were taken by forces to bring the local villagers and town residents to attend the ceremony. Before the trip to the ceremony in Tavoy, the truck and car owners were promised that they would get gasoline from the authorities which their cars were used to travel to ceremony ground. After ceremony, these truck and car owners did not receive any gasoline and it was sold by local authorities.

 

This railway construction was started before the end of 1994, and since then local inhabitants, Mon, Karen, and Tavoy ethnic villagers, have been constantly forced to build this railway construction in all steps, from finding and clearing route and completing building of embankment. In mid-1996, the military regime SLORC started to use its local soldiers in building the railway construction with payment, after the international community condemned for its use of local inhabitants to be forced labourers in the whole country's infrastructure projects.

 

After the authorities defined the route, the soldiers from local battalions from LIB No. 401 through LIB No. 410 forced hundreds of thousands of villagers to clear the route, build labour camps and make embankment. Among all processes of the construction, the building of embankment was the most hardest work for the villagers. The villagers had to dig out earth from about 50 meters height hill to get constant level of route and sometimes, they had to fill and build about 20 meters height embankment. In the whole years of 1995 and 1996, the villagers were used to build huge and long embankment of the railway without receiving any help by machines such as bulldozers. Over 200 villagers also died because land collapse, floods, accidents in building bridges, and sickness. This consistent conscription of forced labour had made thousands of villagers to flee homes and over 1,000 villagers arrived to Mon refugee camps and many thousands fled into Thailand to seek jobs and income for the survival of their families left behind in the native villages. The constant use of forced labour and mistreatment in the work-sites against the villagers by soldiers had well-known over the world and the international community condemned the Rangoon's regime for its human rights abuses. Thus, the government instructed the local battalions to use soldiers to build the railway in stead of villagers in mid-1996.

 

When some hundreds of soldiers started working in the construction, all processes of building the most hardest work of embankment is nearly completed by villagers. After building the embankment of railway, the works such as laying stones, wooden sleepers and iron rails were left and these were comparatively better than building of embankment. However, at the same time, the local civilians were still forced to provide free labour in the construction.

 

In this situation, the soldiers also forced the local villagers to collect stones and bring it to the nearest work-site beside the embankment. The villagers also had to crash the gathered stones in one place and these many kyins of small pieces of stones were brought to embankment by villagers' oxen-carts or military trucks. The hardwoods for rail sleepers were also requested by soldiers from every village or they also collected cash from some villages for payment to buy wooden sleepers.

 

Additionally, whenever the villagers could not go to work-site, they always had to provide payment to the local authorities and these corrupted authorities always took the cash and never hire the substitute labourers. For each time when one family missed to go work-site, this family must have to pay about 3000-4000 Kyat to the local authorities or commanders. Therefore many SLORC/SPDC officials were getting unusual rich by taking payment from local villagers or government budget adopted from Rangoon. However, the soldiers who worked in the construction received a complete payment, 200 Kyat per day, for their labour contribution while the villagers did not receive any payment and other assistance such as foods and medicines.

 

Since the construction of the embankment was not built with possible machines, it was not strong enough and it was always destroyed by water flow during rainy season and the local villagers were again forced to repair it. Even the construction was completed, the villagers have worried that some parts of embankment or some bridges will be destroyed during coming rainy season and they must be forced again to rebuild it.

 

 

Forced Labour in Southeast Military Commander's Golf Field

(March, 1998)†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††

 

In Moulmein, the third biggest city of Burma and the capital of Mon State, a hundred number of town residents have been conscripted every month to contribute their manual labour in building golf field for military officials in the gold field called "Commander's Golf Field" which close to Southeast Military Command of SPDC. This forced conscription of labour from the civilians is continuous following the punishment against the residents because of their manner breaking the current city's municipal laws. In doing so, many hundreds of hand to mouth poor labourers in the city are absolutely become as victims arrested by the local policemen and military officials while they are struggling to get income for the survival of their family.

 

The day labourers in Moulmein such as taxi drivers, tricycle-drivers, motorcyclist, workers in city's harbours are normally suffered from this conscription and the instruction was also initiated by the current Commander-in-chief

of Southeast Military Command, "General Myint Aung". Because of the poverty and sky-rocketed prices of commodities, the mentioned labourers could not fix their motorcycles or taxis with proper headlight, sidelight, indicator, side mirror and other equipment, and these unproper vehicles are against the existing laws of the city's municipal laws and they could be arrested anytime on the road by municipal policemen. Following the arrest, they must be punished with cash fine and then be sent to the Commander's Golf Field for three days to contribute their free labour. Similarly, the workers in the various city's harbours are also arrested by policemen whenever they broke the laws in carrying goods from the ships to markets situated beside the river bank. The municipal office instructed to workers to not move for one harbour to another and but since the workers have faced much difficulties to have daily income to cover buying foods for survival of their families, sometimes, they broke the instruction and move to other harbour where it has more goods to carry. Thus, such these workers must be punished to be forced labourers in golf field for three days.

 

The playing golf is widespread habit among the army's generals of Burma and each general have to create their own golf field, and play golf accordingly to practice adopted from Gen. Ne Win and other military commanders. In Moulmein, under the name of Commander's Golf Field, the ground field was enlarged before the end of 1997 and the military also confiscated some lands owned by civilians.Like other land confiscation conducted by the military in the whole country, no compensated cost was provided to the land owners.

 

In enlarging and making a proper golf field, the chief commander has no official budget adopted by government and he has to make it by his own way. Since the making of golf field in the city is excluded in government's local development projects, the commanders could not officially conscript forced labour from civilian populace to get a huge number. Therefore, the conscription has come up with a new approach and the punishment is described to be forced labour in making commander's golf field. When the civilians go and work in the golf field, they have to bring their own foods and tools and instructed to work from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The main works in the golf field are to clear the ground and adjust the land level according to instructions and grow grasses on it.

 

Whenever the most poorest and hand to mouth civilians are forced to work in the golf field, they lose work-opportunity and possible income. Their vehicles are also kept in the police station or in compound of Southeast Command Division while they are being forced to work in the golf field, and so the remaining family members also lose same opportunity. In conclusion, under the rule of the military regime, not only the rural civilians who stay close to government's development projects' sites, are suffered from consistent forced labour, but the town residents are also facing conscription of forced labour.

 

 

Personal Account

Stories of Forced Labourers in SPDC'S Infrastructure Development Project, Ye-Tavoy Railway Construction

 

 

Under the name of local and border area development programs, thousands of civilians in Mon State and Tenasserim Division of southern part of Burma have been unceasingly conscripted as forced labourers in various SPDC'S infrastructure projects and in constructing military camps for its new battalion deployment. However, the military regime always claims in their monopolized media that the Burmese people are willingly participating in these development projects by contributing their voluntary labour and rejects the international allegation on its use of forced labour.

To prove that how the military regime has conscripted forced labour from local inhabitants by using forces and the contribution of labour was involuntary labour, our human rights workers also conducted interviews with two victims who were repeatedly conscripted to be forced labourers in Ye-Tavoy railway construction. These victims have faced various kinds of abuses committed by the soldiers in the construction sites.


Interview # 1

Name: Mi Aye Kyi

Sex/Age: Female/ (48) year

Nationality/Religion: Mon/Buddhist

Occupation: Farmer

Native Place: Chaungphar village, Yebyu township,

Tenasserim Division

Interview Date: 3 March, 1998


When did you arrive this village (a village under administration of NMSP) and why did you escape from your native village?

Yes. I arrived here over one week. I escaped from the conscription of labour and regular tax payment to military in my village. I have no time to work my own work for income and have no cash to pay them (the soldiers). That was why I had to flee and abandoned my village. Our villagers have been constantly ordered to work in Ye-Tavoy railway construction and in building many military camps in the area.

 

Did you have to go to work-site under instruction of the military or village headman? How the village headman arranged to provide villager labourers to the work-site?

It was always the village headman told the villagers to go to the works-site. Actually, after the Burmese soldiers came to our village, they always instructed the village headman to do this and that, and then we were told by him to go to Ye-Tavoy railway construction or to build the military camps. I didn't know exactly what battalions came to our village. But there were various battalions such as LIB No. 406, 409, and 410 always arrived to village and instructed the order. Sometimes, the soldiers didn't come and sent an instruction letter to the headman, and he called meeting and gave work-duties to the villagers on a rotation basis.

 

For example, when the villagers worked in Ye-Tavoy construction, how many of them have to go each time and what kinds of work were instructed to work in the construction? And how many households in your village?

Before the rain started (in June 1997), our village had about 100 households altogether. Now, before I left from the village (second week of February, 1998), there were only 40 households left in the village. Many villagers moved from the village to escape forced labour and tax collection by soldiers like me. Every time we went to the work-site of Ye-Tavoy railway construction, at least about 20 villagers were instructed to go. So nearly half of the household numbers in the village became labourers.

 

In Ye-Tavoy railway construction, what kinds of work did you have to work and where your work-site were? Did the soldiers force you to work in the rainy season?

Our villagers always had to work normally in Yebone and Kalein-aung work-sites during both rainy and dry seasons. Before the rainy season (June, 1997), we had to build the embankment to complete it. The embankment was completed in June. Then the villagers were ordered to collect stones, crashed into small pieces and brought it to embankment. We had to collect several kyins of stones along the streams and at the bottom of the hills and gathered it in one place and crashed it again. The oxen-carts which were taken from other villages came and brought it to embankment. (One Kyin of stone is equal to 100 cubic feets.)

 

How many days did you have to work each time you went to the work-site and how did the military define the work-duty for the villagers?

Each time, we have to work at least two weeks in the work-sites to complete our work-duty. The soldiers or the village headman always instructed to collect about 10 kyins of stones and crash it into small pieces. This work-duty will take about two weeks to complete and so anyhow we have to stay in the work-site for two weeks.

 

Did the military provide some assistance such as medicines and foods to the villager labourers while they were in the construction site?

They didn't provide anything, medicines or foods. We brought our own rice, fish-paste, and salt along with us whenever we went to work-site. We also had to bring cash along with us to buy vegetables, meats, and other daily used facilities. At least you have to spend about 1,000 Kyat to buy foods and other materials in two weeks period in the work-site. When you were getting sick, you had to buy medicines and the soldiers did not provide you any treatment or medicines. If someone was sick in the work-site, the nearest authority came and told her or him to bring a substitute to the work-site and then the authority will allow her or him to go home. If a substitute didn't arrive, he/she was not allowed to go home. The soldiers didn't provide us anything, but they also took our food if they met it was better than their food. Normally, our rice brought from homes was better than their rice, and they changed it with their bad quality rice and took it away. Sometimes, the soldiers also took our dried fishes, fish-paste which they never received from their battalions' food ration.

 

Were the soldiers guarding the villagers in the construction and how did they treat the villagers?

Yes, the soldiers were always guarding the villagers in the construction. We started work in the morning about 6:30 p.m. and stopped 5:30 p.m. in the evening. They allowed some villagers in the group to make foods and so you can take a rest only about half an hour in mid-day. They didn't allow anyone to take a rest while the villagers were working and if they met someone took a rest or was smoking, he/she must be beaten. Or if they dissatisfied on someone, he/she must be kicked with their jungle boots.

 

Did the soldiers accept everyone who arrived in construction site and how many percentage of women, children, and elder persons were in the construction sites?

I think there were many women, children and elder persons in the construction. It covered about 60% of the total villagers. Normally, every man in each family had to find for regular income for the survival of his whole family and he could not work in construction site for a long period. While I was working in the construction site, my husband went into sea and catch fishes for income to feed the whole family. That was

why I always went to the work-sites. In some families, while father worked for income and mother cared the small child, the boys or girls under 16 years old have to go and work in the work-site. Similarly, in some families, while young sons or daughters worked for income in Burma or as immigrant workers in Thailand, the elder persons, father or mother, had to work in the construction. The soldiers didn't select the elder persons or children. They took everyone who arrived to work-site to work every sort of work defined by them. Even pregnant women were forced to work in the construction.

 

If you couldn't go to the work-site, how did the soldiers treat you?

You must pay 4,000 Kyat to the commander if you can't go to work-site. They told the villagers that if one family couldn't provide one labourer according to their instruction, this family must have to pay to village headman and then he must bring it to military commander to hire substitute labourer. So every time

we could not go to the work-site, we have to pay but we didn't know exactly that whether the commanders hired substitute labourer or not. No one dared to ask about it. If one family could not pay or contribute labour in the work-site, this family must have to flee from village and when the soldiers came into village, they climbed up this family's house and took the belongings left behind.

 

Did you hear someone died in the construction site?

Yes. In May, 1997, while the villagers were building a bridge in Yebone area, the earth and bridge collapsed and about 16 villagers died under the earth. Most villagers were Tavoyan and I didn't know for sure who were they and from which villages they came.

 

Now, the railway construction is nearly finished and do you think this railway will make profit for the local villagers in your area?

If the railway construction is completed, it make more chance for Burmese troops to easily move into area and demand more tax from villagers. We will be more sufferer than before, I think.

 

 

Interview #2

Name: Mi Tin Win

Sex/Age: Female/ (35) years

Nationality /Religion: Mon/ Buddhist

Occupation: Day labourer

Native Place: Paukpingwin Village, Yebyu township,

Tenasserim Division

Interview Date: March 21, 1998.

 

When did you arrive to this village (a refugee resettlement village inside NMSP territory) and why did you from your native village?

I arrived this village about one month ago. My sister arrived here for about three years (1995) and so I came here to stay with her. I fled from my village to escape from the soldiers and village headman's constant conscription of forced labour to work in Ye-Tavoy railway construction and cash collection. I left my village about three months and stayed in other village for two months and then I moved here because I could not stay longer in military control area.

 

How did the soldiers and village headman force your villagers to work in the construction and where were the work-sites?

Every month, at least about two weeks we had to work in the construction site. But the work-site was not so far from our village. It was in east side of our village and we left to the work-site early in the morning about 5:00 a.m. with our own foods and tools. In mid day, we could take a rest for one hour and have lunch. Then we continued to work and left from the work-site about 5:30 p.m. in the evening. I have been for several times in the work-site since

the construction was started in 1994. (Her elder sister's family also fled from forced labour of this railway construction since 1995 to a Mon refugee camp, Payaw, in Thailand and this camp was relocated into Burmese territory by Thai authorities after NMSP-SLORC ceasefire.)

 

What kinds of work did the military instruct to you and other villagers to work before you left your village? What battalions of Burmese Army stay in your village?

LIB No. 408 and 409 always took base in our village. The main work we were instructed was to collect stones and crash it. The places we collected stones were not so far from the railway. The soldiers and village headman told us we must finish one Kyin of stone each day. They also instructed other villagers like me. For example, within one week, we must finish collecting 7 kyins of stones and complete crashing it. These small pieces of stone were brought by military trucks and soldiers to embankment and it were used to lay on the embankment by soldiers. Before they took it and the soldiers measured these pieces of stone and checked who completed the work-duty. If you didn't finish your work-duty, they will instruct you to work for one week more.

 

How did you arrange to complete your work-duty which was instructed by the soldiers?

As I was a woman, I will not complete the work-duty they instructed me. I always brought my eldest son, 13 years old, to help me in the work-duty. I collected the stones and he carried and crashed it. If I was alone, I will not complete the instructed work-duty by the soldiers. Even a man, it was very hard to finish.

 

Did the soldiers forced the villagers to work during rainy season?

Yes. Every season, our villagers have been constantly forced to work. During last year rainy season's flooded situation, we were forced to work collecting stones for soldiers. We collected stones and crashed it along a small stream and when the flood came and it was taken away.

 

Did some people die during rainy season when flood happened?

Yes. As soon as the big flood came, the land also collapsed from the mountains and hills. The big amount of earth also flew with flood and it covered the whole area of farmland situated east of our village. At that time, we were also collecting stones and when we knew the flood came we fled from the work-site. One of our village, Pan Tin (25 years), was on the other side of a stream and he had no time to swim cross the stream. He was hit by flood and covered by earth and died. After three days when the situation became better, the villagers tried to find him. They got the dead body of him.

 

Did you hear some women were raped by the soldiers in the work-site?

Yes. My younger sister was raped by the soldiers when she worked collecting stones. She was a virgin. At that time, I was at my home and when the soldiers instructed work to my mother house, my sister went to work-site. At day time, one commander with rank Lieutenant from LIB No. 409 came to my sister and talked with her for two hours. He said he like her and would like to marry her. In evening, he went back to his base and then came to work-site with his two soldiers and guns again before the villagers returned homes. . They took her by pointing guns in front of other villagers. Nobody dared to stop the soldiers because of guns. The commander raped my sister in our village's primary school for nearly three hours and let her go back home. When she arrived home in mid-night she told us about the abuse and cried for the whole night. At the same night we told to village headman about the rape case. On the next day morning, the village headman went to the battalion commander and explained about the rape case happened the last night. The battalion commander also called Lieutenant and told him to marry her. He refused and said he would not like to marry her because she was not a Burman and different nationalities. The battalion commander also beated him with a stick only three times, and never took action to his man seriously. Then the case was prohibited by the commander not to talk more.

 

Did you come here with your whole family? What kinds of belongings you left in your village.

We were a poor family in our village. We belonged only one house. My husband died four years ago when he was taken as a porters by Burmese soldiers in a front line in Tavoy area. Because of consistent forced labour and portering fees, I sold 5 acres of rice farm after the death of my husband. And I left only one house and my son and me worked as day-labourers, but we were always forced to work in the railway construction. About four months ago, I and my son left to a village, Hangan, and worked as labourers in reaping paddy crops for income. When we were away, the soldiers instructed to our family to work in the railway construction. We didn't get this news and missed to go back home and work in construction. On the next day, the soldiers came and destroyed my houses. They took woods from my house and built their barracks in battalion base. The soldiers in our village also informed the soldiers in Hangan to arrest me. Then, the soldiers came and arrested me in a rice-farm and I was taken to work-site for another two weeks again. After I completed my work-duty, I decided to flee from my village and hid in Mon village for two months. But I felt I was not safe. Then I fled to this village.

 

 

Report

Plan for Forced Relocation of the Villagers from Kalar Goke Island

 

Since SLORC came into power, it has invited more multinational corporations to invest in Burma and tried to get more foreign currency to maintain its role in power. Many companies from US, UK, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand came into Burma and invested many joint ventures with the military regime. These multinational investments have also effected the local villagers. Thousands of villagers were forcibly relocated by the local SLORC battalions and many acres of their lands were also confiscated without compensation. For instance, before the US's Unocal and France's Total oil companies, many villagers were relocated from outlet area of the pipeline and then some lands of villagers were also confiscated to build the military barracks and other reasons for SLORC troops. The troops have been hired with payment by the companies mainly to take security of the pipeline. Similarly, in 1996, when a Thai company agreed to build an international airport in Pegu, the SLORC confiscated about one thousands acres of land of the local villagers without compensation.

 

After the NMSP agreed for a ceasefire deal with SLORC in June, 1995, the Mon area has been more peaceful and as a result, SLORC tried to put more multinational investment in Mon State since then. Similarly, the Thai companies also interest Mon State and Tenasserim Division which is rich with various kinds of natural resources, to take profit from trading, fishing, logging concessions. To create smooth communication between Thai border point and Mon State, the companies also interest to build highway roads. Since 1996, a Thai company, Power "P" Public Company Ltd., has launched several rounds of land survey and planned to build Three-Pagoda-Pass - Thanbyuzayat motor road.

 

After the building of this highway motor road, the company will plan to build an international deep seaport in an inland west of Ye township area. The name of the island is Kalar Goke. In building this international deep seaport, the Burmese Navy also has the same idea to deploy more their navy troops in the Andaman Sea, but the military government itself has no much budget to implement it. Anyhow, the government needs the outside help or multinational investment to complete the building. The Thai companies have interested to build deep seaport for the own profit from business and thus the military government also agreed with the plan of Thai companies. Then, the Southeast Military Command and Mon State LORC have instructed the concerning local authorities to implement forced relocation of the local inhabitants from the island. According to initial plan, another divided road from the half way of Three-Pagoda-Pass - Thanbyuzayat motor road will also proceed to this island and it will create better communication between a Thai border point and the island.

 

 

The Background of Kalar Goke Village

 

The village that situated on the island is also named as "Kalar Goke", the similar name to the island. This island is under the administration of SPDC's Ye township. This village was established by the Mon people for over one decade and the main occupation of the villagers is "fishing", in the Andaman Sea and almost villagers are fishermen. The other minor occupation in the island is "farming".

 

The main village situates in east side of the island along the seacoast from north to the south and is divided into three section, namely, up village, middle village and low village. The whole population in the village is over 7,500 and 1326 households in these three sections. As their main occupation is fishing work, the villagers has worked along the seacoast area and make dried fishes and imported fishes, prawns, and other seafood to the mainland. East household in the village own fishing boats and some rich villagers also own many boats and hired day-labourers for fishing.

 

In the British era, the authorities also came into this island and exploited some natural resources from the island and villagers were economically prosperous under the wise rule of Mon leaders appointed by British government. Their seafood products were bought by government and sent to Moulmein. When Burma regained independence from British and the civil war was happened, the villagers, like other local inhabitants, have faced various kind of suppression from the government.

 

In 1970s, the Burmese Army (tatmadaw) occupied more area and tried to keep control and the conflict in the area has been more serious. In the past, the NMSP could control and also took its navy base in the island for many years. Thus, whenever the Burmese Army sometimes reached to the island, the village leaders were severely tortured and sometimes they were killed or imprisoned. Until before the NMSP agreed for a ceasefire with SLORC, the Burmese Army could not control the island.

 

After the ceasefire agreement, the Burmese Army could have more chance to control the island. In 1995, the SLORC authorities came and planned for forced relocation with the following plan to build international deep seaport. Then in April, 1997, the Burmese Navy came to island and deployed and put some navy troops in the island. The villagers have been threatened to move from one-decade-long their native island and now they are waiting in fear to be relocated.

 

 

The Instruction for Forced Relocation

 

In December, 1995, a survey led by Ye township's LORC Chairman U Them Tun, Population and Registration Officer U Kyi Myint and State Land Management Officer came into three sections of the village, of the island, with 50 soldiers from IB No. 61, based in Motkanin village of Ye township. First, they conducted a survey and made various kinds of land measurement in village and around the island. They also measured the land of each household's garden and counted all trees and calculated the prices of the trees, according to government price which was three times lower than the market price.

 

Then, they called a meeting with the whole villagers and township chairman explained that one day the villagers must move from the island and said the military will take base on it. He also said when the villagers are ordered to move from the island, the government must pay for the prices of their houses, trees according to government price. The government will not pay for the price of land of each household's garden, because the land in the whole country is owned by the State government and it has full authority to confiscate any land in anytime.

 

And the authorities also instructed to villagers to not sell their houses and gardens to others and not allow to grow new fruit trees except vegetables. Similarly, the authorities also instructed to the village leaders not to allow any new villagers to come in and stay on the island with any reason. They also threatened that if someone broke their instruction, he/she must be punished by soldiers. After the return of survey team and authorities, the

Burmese Army or Navy came to island and checked the situation whether the villagers agreed with them or not.

 

Besides the regular military patrol on the island to give more restricted order against the villagers, at the beginning of 1997, the government officials also deployed a police station in mid-village to keep control the whole village. Later, in April, about 300-400 Navy troops and two big navy ships from Mawyawadee navy base of Moulmein, arrived to the island and launched patrol around it. Before the government adopted plan to relocate the villagers from island, the tatmadaw navy troops have very little activity around this area. But after it adopted plan, it sent more troops to island, to make threat to villagers that if the villagers refused to move, they must be forcibly relocated by troops. Since then, the threat against the villagers have been grown by the new deployed soldiers and their fishing activities were also widely restricted.

 

In an interview with a 45 year old local fisherman, he said;

I was born in this island. The fishing work is as a traditional work since my father was alive. Since 1995, after the Burmese authorities came and told us we must have to move from here, the situation has been unstable. We have no chance to repair our house or build new one and, we don't know how long we will have to stay in the old house. We also not dare to grow even banana trees because we worry for the punishment by the Burmese soldiers. The police also patrol around the island, if they met someone repair house or grow new fruit trees, he or she must be punished. And, when we went to sea for fishing, we also worried that we met with navy troops in the sea. The (navy) soldiers told us, they will not allow any fisherman to go far to the south (the military doesn't allow the fishermen to go dose to offshore gas-pipeline area). We also cannot go far to the west according to navy soldiers' instruction. Thus, we are facing more difficulties to get fishes because several water zones were restricted. When we brought some fishes to the island, we also have to pay tax to police station and the soldiers also asked to give them possible amount of fishes for their daily meals.

 

According to an authority from Ye township's SPDC office, the government also have found the new gas-field "Yetagun" in the west of the island and planned to exploit the gas by coordinating with a foreign company which it was unknown. The off-shore gas-pipeline must be constructed along close to the pipeline that connects from "Yatana" gas-field. Thus, the company field personnel always traveled around the area and the soldiers have not allowed any fisherman to go far to the west side of the area because of security reason. Due to its loose control in the area, the government always worries for the disturbance of their gas-pipeline in the Andaman Sea. In planning for the protection of the pipeline, the government always believes the villagers could bring or show the ways for rebel groups to make destruction.

 

When all joint ventures are in Andaman Sea, the government needs many navy troops to protect these projects and more troops to halt the activities of the rebel troops along the seacoast. Additionally, the government also needs to move all local inhabitants in any island that close to the projects and put more military deployment than before. The military government also worry about the unstable ceasefire situation and if the agreement is broken out the rebels could take base easily because of the support of islanders and make trouble to their multinational projects. This is other reason they try to move the villagers from the island and to absolutely control it in the future.

 

 

The Situation in the New Resettlement Site

 

The SLORC/SPDC planned to relocate all these island inhabitants to an on shore area situated on the east side of the island. The new resettlement site for relocated villagers was designated in a place northwest of Ye town. The area is far about 25 kilometers from Ye town and 10 kilometers from Moulmein-Ye railway in the straight west (see map). The land was grown with some rubber plantation and other fruit trees by Thapyay an Htitkayin villagers. All lands with valuable trees were confiscated by authorities and soldiers from IB No. 61, without compensated costs. Over 1,000 acres of land were taken by soldiers and the authorities and land management officials came and measured the land in August, 1997. They measured the house garden with 60 feet length and 40 feet width. These space of land must be distributed to all villagers who moved from island according to official plan of local authorities.

 

All rubber and other fruit trees in the plantation were cut down by the soldiers from IB No. 61 and after cutting, they did not give these hardwoods to the plantation owners and but sold it for the battalion fund. Thus, the local villagers lost hundreds of thousands of Kyat when SLORC local authorities and its troops made new resettlement site. At the same time, the military battalions could also make a lot of unofficial income for their battalion fund.

 

In the new site, besides a space of land to each family, the villagers are not provided with farming land or other work-opportunity to get income for reconstruction of their life. After the villagers learnt the situation in the new resettlement site, most of them would not like to join in there because of less of work-opportunity and no assistance from the government officials. Since they are traditionally fishermen, without a good harbour, it make them to be difficult to survive. But they have no choice except to move and thus some villagers have tried to move other area and refused to stay in the new resettlement site. According to villagers, even the official relocation is not started, the villagers can stay in the new site if they would like. But no villagers go and stay there.

 

When we asked one whether he would like to stay in the new site or not, he said,

Besides fishing, I don't know how to survive with other works, such as, farming or as day-labourers. To make farm in the surrounding area of new site, we have no land. The soldiers told us that the villagers who refuse to stay in the new site must be punished. In this situation, we don't know how to decide. But anyhow, I may decide to move another village that close to sea where I can go to the sea for fishing. But I am afraid of punishment and so I may move to new site and let my family stay there. Then I will find a job in fishing industry as day-labourers. This is my plan.

 

As long as the companies are not ready to construct international deep seaport, the villagers can stay longer but in fear. However, because of new planned foreign investment in the island, both villagers from island and owners of land in the resettlement site have been suffered from the various restrictions by the local troops and land confiscation of the villagers. The company who would like to invest in the area will not consider about such human rights violations and forced an ethnic community to be helpless and to face difficulties for survival.

 

 

Strategic Island for Regime and Companies

 

This island is militarily and economically very important for regime. Since the withdrawal of the Mon troops from the area, it has tried to keep more and more control of the whole island. Because of less of strategic island ,in the Andaman Sea, the regime could not control the seacoast area for several decades and could not guarantee for the safety of its navy forces and off-shore investments. In most southern part of the sea, off-shore area of Tenasserim Division, has been control by KNU, MDUF and ABSDF, and the area of Mon State is mainly controlled by NMSP.

 

Actually, Andaman Sea and its coastal area is rich various kind of natural resources that was owned by the respective ethnic groups. Since 1962, after the military took over power by arms, it didn't care the desires of ethnic nationalities who own the various valuable resources and planned and looted these valuables. When BSPP was in power, even it was a military dictatorship, because of its isolation policy, it had not invited many multinational corporation to invest in Burma. The national resources in Mon State, Tenasserim Division and Andaman Sea were not sold or exploited.

 

After SLORC seized power in 1988, the urgent demand of foreign currency encouraged the regime to sell the country's resources at low price to the multinational companies. A hundred number of fishing companies and over 25 logging companies came into Mon State, Karen State and Tenasserim Division to exploit the resources. The Rangoon generals and local commanders got enormous profit from these resources and they could maintain themselves in illegitimate state power. Then, in 1994, it invited the multinational companies such as US's Unocal, France's Total and Thailand's PTTET to exploit natural gas from Andaman Sea's "Yatana" gas-field. The income from these investment make SLORC or SPDC to grip in their power for longer.

 

Therefore, Kalar Goke island is strategic off-shore place for the regime to protect the foreign investments along the seacoast and in off-shore areas. The protection of the regime also make trust and encourage the foreign companies to come into Southern part of Burma for new investments and are reliable on regime and provide foreign currency to maintain in their power.

 

Thai companies also has looked for this island to create a center for fishing and trading. According to an staff who participated in surveying Three-Pagoda-Pass-Thanbyuzayat motor road, the island is very convenient for a center to keep cargo from international companies and brought into Thailand by trading companies via new motor road to Three-Pagoda-Pass. If the road from Three-Pagoda Pass to the onshore point and the international deep seaport is built, they can make a lot of profit for regime and the people in Burma. However, the current imposed investments and their foreign currency only support the military regime, but net the people.

 

The Thai companies expects if the international deep seaport in Kalar Goke island completed their fishing trawlers can harbour in the island and gathered seafood in the stores and brought it via Three-Pagoda-Pass road by passing the border point and then into Thailand. At the moment, the Thai trawlers have to bring their seafoods to their industries by twisting Malaysia peninsula and Singapore island and then into Gulf of Thailand. This way make time-waste and the Thai trawlers could not send flesh seafood to their fish-canning industries that mainly establish in Sumut Sakon and Sumut Prakan area, near Bangkok. At the same time, Thai goods must be easily transported from industries of Thailand into Burma along Three-Pagoda-Pass -Thanbyuzayat road and it can put its materials in island's market with plan to use Burmese markets to sell their goods to South Asia countries.

 

Since the military regime and multinational-national corporations have the same interests for business profit, they have tried to build the international deep seaport. If this deep seaport is came into existence, the regime will accept thousands of foreign currency from collecting tax and selling Burma's national resources. However, before the planned project is implemented, the local inhabitants in the area have felt in fear for their uncertain future.