News, Personal Accounts, Report & Analysis on Human Rights situation in Mon Territory and Other Areas Southern Part of Burma
The Mon Forum
Issue No. 1/99 January 31, 1999
(1) Mon National Schools in Kawkareik Township were Ordered to Close Down,
(2) Three Mon Leaders were Imprisoned with Hard Labour,
(1) The Conscription of Forced Labour on the Repair of Ye-Tavoy Railway Road,
Interview with An Escapee from Ye-Tavoy Railway Road Repair Construction.
Some Acronyms in This Issue
SPDC- State Peace and Development Council,
MNDF- Mon National Democratic Front,
CRPP- Committee Representing for People Parliament,
Ml- Military Intelligence (of SPDC),
NLD- National League for Democracy,
IB - Infantry Battalion (of Burmese Army),
LIB- Light Infantry Battalion (of Burmese Army),
KNU- Karen National Union, NMSP- New Mon State Party.
Mon National Schools in Kawkareik Township were Ordered to Close Down
On November 1, 1998, Kawkareik Township PDC authorities, Karen State called a meeting with all village headmen from Mon villages under township's administration and ordered them to immediately close down all 18 Mon national schools, which were both middle and primary levels. These Mon national schools were established since over 15 years ago while some new primary schools were established about three years soon after NMSP-SLORC/SPDC ceasefire, and have been operated and run by the local Mon community. These schools have been operated with Mon national education system, and are provided with teaching materials, school supplies, teachers and etc.. These schools have been operating with objectives to protect the role of Mon literature, culture and history, promote the children's education with their mother language and against the successive racist military regimes' adopted assimilation policy on ethnic minority in Burma.
When Township authorities met with village leaders, they also threatened them that if some village leaders or the headmasters or headmistresses of the schools failed to close down these schools, they must be taken actions by government and imprisoned to 7 years term in jails for their illegal support and activities against the government. They also instructed to village leaders to send the reports to Township PDC office on the day-to-day activities of Mon teachers and their students.
Because of this new order and accompanied threat against the Mon national schools, teachers, students and community leaders, the following 18 Mon national schools in Kawkareik township were closed down.
No. Names of village schools Levels of schools
1. Kawgo Middle school
2. Min-ywa Middle school
3. Kawbein Middle school
4. Kaw-ngat Primary school
5. Pawjugone Primary school
6. Kawgu Primary school
7. Min-ywa Primary school
8. KawpaukNo.l Primary school
9. Kawpauk No. 2 Primary school
10. Phaya-gyi northern Primary school
11. Phaya-kalay southern Primary school
12. Kawbein No. 1 Primary school
13. Kawbein No.2 Primary school
14. Kawbein No. 4 Primary school
15. Kawbein No. 5 Primary school
16. Kawbein No. 6 Primary school
17. Kawkayot Primary school
18. Lein-maw-gone Primary school
Following the forcible close down these schools, over 3,000 Mon schoolboys and schoolgirls have been stopped for the access to education and about 50 teachers from these had to stop their jobs. Almost these villages and schools are situating on the "Gaing River" bank and the river starts and flows from Karen State and then into Andaman Sea near Moulmein city, the capital of Mon State. The river provides well communication between Mon and Karen States and normally Mon local inhabitants stay and rely on this river by making livelihoods such as rice farming in plain land between the river and mountain range and as fishing along the river. The community, under the well and respected leadership of Buddhist monk, has accepted the Mon education system and established Mon national schools for several years before the government troops arrived into this area.
The oppression against the Mon education system and forcible close down the Mon national schools has intensified since July, 1998 (see in Special Report of "The Mon Forum", Issue No. 6/98). In July and August, Mon State PDC authorities and MI No. 5, had instructed to all village leaders in Mon State, to immediately close down the Mon national schools that operated in their own villages. During these two months, the Mon schools in Moulmein, Mudon, Kyaikmaraw and Thanbyuzat townships were effected by this instructed order and some schools were really closed down. During September and October, the oppressive target against Mon schools also turned to Ye township of Mon State and Yebyu township of Tenasserim Division. However, because of government troops' loose control, the area is still remaining as conflict zone that has regular fighting between a new Mon armed group and the Burmese Army, no Mon schools were closed down. The SPDC's Ye and Yebyu townships' educational departments themselves rely on the Mon community for security of their servants who are sent to these Mon schools as Burmese language teachers.
During November and December, the oppressive target against Mon schools also moved to Karen State. In Karen State, there are many middle and primary Mon schools in Kawkareik, Pa-an and Kya-inn-seikyi townships that has been operated by Mon community in there. Since the government did not have firm control during BSPP era, the Mon villagers in Karen State established and operated Mon national schools and many Mon teachers have been trained and provided by NMSP's education department. In implementing the forcible close down of Mon schools, only 18 schools in Kawkareik township were effected and schools in other areas of Karen State have remained in stable situation.
As previous experience, whenever SPDC authorities and MI No.5 came to the villages and tried to close down Mon schools, that they have believed as competitive schools to government schools, the community leaders such as senior Mon monks and village leaders decided to close these schools for a while and after the authorities returned, the schools were operated again. However, the teachers, students' parents and students have been regularly faced threat from the authorities, soldiers and MI personnel, and the operating of Mon national education is in unstable situation.
Three Mon leaders were Imprisoned with Hard Labour
On December 11, 1998, the District Court of Moulmein, Mon State, imprisoned three Mon leaders to 7 years imprisonment term with hard labour with emergency provision act 5(j), for their supporting the formation of Committee Representing for People Parliament (CRPP). They are prominent and key leaders of Mon National Democratic Front (MNDF), and Nai Ngwe Them (75 years old) is the Patron of the organization, Dr. Min Soe Lin (37 years old) is General Secretary, and Dr. Min Kyin Win (45 years old) is Joint-Secretary in the party. Dr. Min Soe Lin and Dr. Min Kyi Win are elected MPs in 1990 general elections and were elected by Mon people in Ye Township Constituency No. 1 and Mudon Constituency No. 2 respectively.
In June, on behalf of MNDF, Nai Tun Thein, the chairman of the party, also signed a letter that called to hold the people parliament and transfer power to elected parties according to 1990 general elections results. Later, MNDF officially supported the NLD's call to hold people parliament and the formation of CRPP. Because of their activities against the military government by means of non-violence, they were arrested in the first week of September and have been detained in Moulmein jail for about three months and at the end they were imprisoned with 7 years jail term with hard labour.
In the emergency act and accusation put to them by MIs and their puppet judges, they were accused to destroy the unified stable and peaceful situation of the country by participating in CRPP and attempt to break the ceasefire agreement between NMSP and SPDC. Since July, the MNDF leaders officially participate in CRPP by giving mandate to CRPP members, to represent their party and agreed with CRPP's escalated calls for holding people parliament. Similarly, in August, these leaders also wrote a letter to NMSP Central Committee members and analyzed the results of three years NMSP-SPDC ceasefire agreement. This was accused by the regime that the MNDF leaders were trying to break ceasefire between NMSP and SPDC.
While they were detaining in Moulmein jail, their family members were not allowed to meet with them and only when they put them to the court, they had opportunity to talk with their family members. When MIs arrested these leaders, they also got many correspondence letters with NLD and other organizations, and books and documents produced by organizations in liberated areas and overseas countries, they made all lists of the documents and forced the leaders' wives to sign on the lists to be acted as witness persons in their accusation against those leaders. In the court, they also forced the wives of those leaders to be witness persons for government lawyers and accuse their husbands contacting with other illegal organizations and planned to disturb the peaceful and unity of the country. At the end, these leaders were imprisoned with 7 years jail terms like many other political prisoners in many jails in the whole country for their freedom of political thinking and opinions.
The Conscription of Forced Labour on the Repair of Ye-Tavoy Railway Road
The Opening Ceremony of Ye-Tavoy Railway Construction
Since before the end of 1993, SLORC, by giving instructive order to its local military battalions, has constructed 110 miles long Ye-Tavoy railway which connects the southernmost town of Mon State, Ye, and the capital of Tenasserim Division, Tavoy. This railway is very important and uses as a strategic road for military regimes SLORC and SPDC to deploy more government troops in the area to strengthen its control in Tenasserim Division for the prevention the possible attack by rebels to the billion-dollar gas pipeline project of the Total Company of France and the Unocal Corporation of the United States. The military has used the local civilians from Mon State and Tenasserim Division for nearly five years to complete the railway construction. At least one person from every family in the region had to contribute their labour in the construction and they were forced to clear foliage and cut trees to get route, build embankment, find fire-woods and make bricks to build bridges, find stones and crash into small pieces to fill on embankment, collect •wooden rail sleepers and lay iron rails and etc.. Over 200 villagers died because of sickness and land collapse during building embankment and other works during 5 years period construction period.
On March 26, this Ye-Tavoy railway construction was opened by SPDC on the eve of Burmese Army's Armed Forces Day (Tatmadaw Day, which is celebrated by government annually on March 27), and the local authorities and army battalions have forced many thousands of villagers to attend the opening ceremony in Tavoy town. In addition, the authorities and soldiers also took about 200 passenger ferries and trucks from Ye, Yebyu and Tavoy townships to bring the civilians for attending ceremony. The civilians who could not attend the ceremony had to pay 500 Kyat per household fine to local military battalions. Similarly, although the authorities gave promise to provide gasoline for ferries and trucks, the owners or drivers of these vehicles did not receive any support after the ceremony. The ferry or truck owners also had to pay 2,000 Kyat fine for a vehicle if they failed to bring the civilians to ceremony.
SPDC'S General Secretary No. (2), Lt. Gen. Tin Oo, Maj. Gen. Thura Sit Maung, the commander of Coastal Region Military Command, U Pan Aung, the Minister of Railway Transportation Ministry and many other high rank military officers attended the ceremony. Lt. Gen. Tin Oo gave a long speech and praised their soldiers for their labour in constructing the railway and expressed thankfulness to their own soldiers. He also mentioned that the local civilians also actively and voluntarily participated helping the government project and built this railway construction by cooperating with tatmadaw members. He also opposed against the destructive elements, especially opposition political parties, local and international human rights groups, who had make the slogan "human rights" and "democracy", disrupting the unity between tatmadaw and the people. The opening ceremony was successfully completed and all government and army officials went back to Ye by train on the same day.
During May and June, 1998, because of heavy rain and the accompanied high flood in the southern part of Mon State and Tenasserim Division, many parts of
Ye-Tavoy railway embankment were destroyed and the iron rails were also thrown by flood. According to local source, most parts between Malawe-taung and Gagaw-taung areas were badly destroyed (See map and photos). Some bridges were also destroyed together with embankment. Therefore, the trains could run on this railway for only two months period.
However, this was not the end of the story. As a result, Mon State railway authorities and the local military battalions accused the villagers, who had worked in the construction by forces, that they were not so sincere in building the embankment. The accusation was somehow correct. Because of the consistent conscription of the villagers into slave labour in building the embankment, those villagers were required to complete their set piece of work within the set time. For example, they must finish digging 7 kyins of earth and bringing it to 15 feet height embankment within the set time about 15 days period and if not, they must have continuously to work on until this piece of work was totally completed. The villagers who were suffering from the conscription of forced labour were normally poor rice peasant farmers or fishermen, and so they could not spend extra time in the construction. Therefore, in many parts of embankment where the local military battalions could not put soldiers to guard the villagers, the villagers also filled grasses, trees' branches, small plants underneath and covered with earth. By using this way the Villagers could finish their piece of work within the set time and went back to their farms, fruit plantations, or to sea to do their own jobs for foods or income. Thus, the embankment was not strong enough to prevent the natural disasters especially water flow. The railway authorities did not use any machine to press on the embankment to be strong and dense.
The embankment, which was built only with manual labour without using machines, has been yearly destroyed by flood and the villagers were forced to re-build. However, the destruction of embankment in 1998's June/July was huge. Therefore, the local SPDC authorities and military battalions mainly from LIB No. 406, 407, 408, 409, 410 and No. 273 have given instructive orders to concerned village tract leaders to send labourers to the set construction site to re-build the embankment again. The using of villagers in the construction started since June/July, 1998, until the end of the year.
Constant Conscription of Forced Labour and Accompanied Payment
A total of estimated 3,000-4,000 local inhabitants - men, women, minors, and elder persons alike - have been subjected to contribute their labour without payment or foods, to re-build the embankment after rainy season ended in October. During rainy season from June to September, the military has used about 1,500 to 2,000 villagers to re-build in some parts where the water level did not reach on embankment. After June, the rain became lesser and lesser, so the military has gradually increased its use of forced labour to speed up the re-building process since October with plan to run their train before the end of 1998.
The military defined many construction sites depending on the embankment parts which were destroyed by flood. There have been many construction sites between Yebyu and Paukpingwin, which is about 75 miles long and depending on the huge or less destruction, the necessary villagers were sent to the sites. In some sites, where huge embankment was destroyed, the military put about 800 villagers and guarded and forced them to contribute labour.
When the military planned and started using the villagers, the respective local military battalion instructed every village tract headmen to send the lists of the total household and population numbers in the villages. After the battalions received households and population list, they could estimate the number of villagers they could get from each village to work in the construction. The methods of conscription of the villager labourers by the local SPDC authorities and military battalions have been very similar from village tract to another. As they already received the list of household numbers in the villages in a particular area, they just sent instructive orders to the village tract or village headmen that to send how many labourers to which work-site for how many days. After receiving the instructive orders, the concerned village headmen have to arrange to select the villagers to go to the worksite. Normally, the selection of labourers from the villages has based on a rotation basis. Almost villagers in any village in Yebyu, Longlon, Thayet Chaung and Tavoy townships have had to work in the construction sites about 10 to 15 days in every month.
When or if the villagers from some households or families could not contribute labour in authorities' set construction site for a set time, they must have to find their substitutes. They must try to hire villagers with payment of daily wages for the set days, 10 to 15 days. At least they have to pay 300 to 400 Kyat per day and so they have to pay their substitutes about 3,000 to 4,500 Kyat for two weeks time to replace them working in the construction. Depending on the decision of the village tract or village headmen, the villagers could find their substitutes by themselves or paid the same costs of hiring substitutes to headmen or to the nearest military outposts. The village headmen or army officers in the outpost had to take responsibility to find the substitutes.
There are two types of village headmen in every village tract area. The first type village headmen are the supporters of local military battalions, and they are also involving in corruption when conscripting labour from villagers. They must give the exact lists of village household or family numbers to the local military battalions and when the villagers could not go to the work-site, they will not let the villagers to hire their substitutes, but asked payment of the same costs of hiring substitutes. After the village headmen received money from villagers, they shared it with local military battalions' officers without hiring the substituted labourers.
The second type of village headmen are sincere to the villagers. They must give the lists of village household or family numbers without counting female-headed, disable, woman and children families. This type of village headmen did not give the exact numbers of village households to military battalions, so the village could have more time to work their own jobs than working in the construction. Sometimes, they also requested the battalions to reduce the number of labourers during all villagers were busy with their jobs. They did not give payment to battalions for substitutes but did find their own villagers to work and replace with villagers who could not go and work in the construction.
Under the different circumstances from one area to another, the people in different areas may have to pay different price for substitute labourers. Normally, the villagers who stay in the villages close to main roads or in fishing villages have to pay more price for hiring substituted villagers, because the villagers in these areas could get easy and regular jobs for income and most would not like to be substitutes working in the railway construction. Similarly, where and when there was a difficulty to hire the substitutes, the price of hire of labour is relatively high. As most local inhabitants were rice-cultivation or fruit plantation farmers, the prices of the hire of labour rise up immediately during the ploughing and harvest seasons. In addition, the hire of labour in these seasons was also impossible during these seasons and villagers themselves have to go to work-site to complete their work-duties for the military. Therefore, the villagers could not finish their own works on time, and sometimes they also lost their crops.
Work-duties to the villager labourers
The work-duties that distributed to the villager labourers were harder than the works they had in their own rice-farms or fruit plantation or fishing or etc.. The works were distributed by concerned military battalions and the battalion commanders gave a total piece of work to a village tract or village headmen. Then, these headmen would distribute a piece of work to every family. Depending on the length of embankment to re-build, the headmen must consider to distribute work-duties by pieces of work or by time. If or when the works were considerably too much to complete on time, these works must be distributed by pieces of work by the headmen. For example, each family member must had to complete digging 10 to 15 kyins (one kyin is equal to 100 cubic feet) of earth and filled it in the embankment or each family must collect about 10 kyins of stones, crash it into' small pieces and lay it on the embankment. If or when the works were not too hard to finish on the set time, the headmen must distribute by time. All labourers worked together and helped each other to complete the works on the set time. For example, one village had to complete digging 400 kyins of earth within 15 days according to battalion's instruction. If the headmen brought 60 villagers including about 40 men, so the villagers could easily complete the work-duties on the set time and the headmen would tell the villagers to work in the construction for 15 days.
In this embankment re-building process, almost work-duties were distributed by pieces of work. Within the set 15 days period, one family must have to complete digging and carrying 10 to 15 kyins of earth to embankment. This was a hard work even for a man. Therefore, when the men could not come to the worksite, because they were busy with their own works in rice-farms or fruit plantations, the women could not complete this pieces of work, to dig and bring 15 kyins of earth. The women always brought children along with them to complete the set work-duties within the set time. That was why the women and children numbers were more than men in every work-site.
Almost the villagers had been subjected to work in the construction site for 15 days as one round and other remaining villagers would replace them after 15 days. By using this rotation basis, the village headmen could arrange to contribute work-duties to every family in the villages to send one or two of family members to the work-site for 15 days once a month to contribute labour. Regardless of age range, the battalions need every body to work in construction, however most village headmen did not accept old men and women over 60 years to go to the work-sites. Because these over aged villagers could have health problem in the work-sites. But they accepted even 10 year old children who came along with their parents and helped to
complete their work-duties within the set time.
In every work-site, the authorities or the soldiers also instructed the villagers via headmen to not dig the earth close to the embankment, to not take soft or muddy dirt, to not put grasses and trees' underneath of embankment and etc.,. Although the digging of the earth "was not so hard for villagers, most hardest work for them was to carry all earth dirt from the holes to the top of embankment. They had to carry at least 15 to 20 feet from the holes they dug earth to the bottom of embankments and had to climb at least 5 feet to get the top or surface of embankment. In some hilly and mountainous places, the embankment is high about 20 feet. Thus, the villagers had to spend a lot time in carrying the earth to reach to the surface of embankment.
After the embankment became straight and earth was fully filled on its surface, the villagers were contributed with other work-duties. They were subjected to collect stones, crashed these stones into small pieces and then lay them on the embankment. This sort of work-duty 'was also very hard. The villagers had to carry the stones a far place from the embankment and gathered it at the bottom of the embankment. They crashed these stones at the bottom of the embankment and then brought it to the surface. Sometimes, the villagers were subjected to find stones in the forest or along the streams far from embankments and crashed there to get small pieces of stones. Then the military trucks or oxen-carts, that were similarly conscripted by soldiers, came and brought stones to the embankment.
At the same time, some other villagers were subjected to cut trees and brought it to the bridges to use it in repairing the bridges. Normally, railway engineers and skill workers who worked with salary payment or daily wages, took responsibility to repair all destroyed bridges. These trees were used to be poles to support the bridges. Besides forcing the villagers to cut trees, they were also ordered to carry iron rails that were thrown from embankment and put them on the right place.
If someone did not finish their work-duties within the set time, he or she must be instructed by soldiers to work on in the construction. Almost the villagers
helped each other to complete the defined work-duties for their village and so they could return homes together. In the re-building of this railway embankment, not only the local villagers but the oxen, carts, and trucks were also constantly subjected the local military battalions to carry stones, trees and other materials that needed in re-building the embankment. Thus, the concerned village headmen had to provide oxen, carts and trucks according to instructive order gave by local battalions.
Appalling Working Conditions
In August until September, because of rainy season, the villagers were working regardless of cold and wet rain for the whole day in the construction sites. Similarly, in October, until the end of November, the villagers were also subjected to work in the construction site under appalling circumstances. They accepted very short time just to take lunch at mid-day and had to work in tiredness situation for the whole day, and if not, they could not complete their work-duties within the limited and short set time, that were instructed by the headmen according local military battalions. Most works in the construction sites such as digging earth, carrying dirt and climbing embankment, collecting stones and crashing it, and others were considerably hard and the villager labourers have been still subjected to work backbreakingly and regardless of weather. While they were in the work-sites, they are always required to complete their work-duties within the set time. Normally, the time "was always relatively short if compared with their own jobs, and if the works were not completed within the set time they could be punished to work on and lost to work their own jobs.
As always, the village labourers have had to bring their own foods, own tools, own shelters from their homes and paid traveling costs to construction sites. They also had to bring their own cash from homes, at least about 1,000 Kyat which was used normally for buying vegetables, supplement foods and medicines whenever they went to the construction sites. Soon after the villagers arrived to the work-sites, first, they built their temporary shelters, with the leaves and bamboo they got from the bushes near the construction sites. Since the villagers had no enough time to find the best leaves and bamboo, they just built small huts without a proper roof and walls. Therefore, these huts could not prevent the worst weather conditions such as hitting rain water in rainy season and extreme cold in cold season. Normally, in the rainy season, dirty water from mountainous and hilly areas flowed into streams and so the villager labourers who built shelters along the streams could not get pure water for the whole rainy season. Most villagers faced shortage of pure water and shortage of fire woods under wet rain. Since the villagers did not have enough time to build latrines, and accompanied water, they also suffered from diarrhea and other health problems in the work-sites. Similarly, due to sudden weather change from rainy season
to cold season in September and October, the villagers also faced worst health problems such as extreme cold and fever.
Although the working time for every day was not defined by the authorities or battalion officers, the set work-duties were considerably hard to complete within the set time and therefore, the labourers left to worksites early morning and went back in late evening. They started working in the work-site, about 7:00 a.m. in the morning and then left from the work-site about 6:00 p. m. in the evening. They could take a rest only half an hour or an hour time in the mid-day to take lunch. The labourers had to wake up early morning to make foods for both breakfast and launch meal. Similarly, after they left from the work-site in the evening, they have to make food again. Thus, the labourers had very few hours for sleeping at night time, whenever the worst weather condition occurred.
If or when someone was sick, he/she had to replace with a substitute and then he could go back homes or was brought to the hospitals or clinics. The local military battalions did not provide any food and medicine for the villagers who were facing food-shortage and health problems. Besides food provision from local battalions, they also took the rice from villagers by changing with their bad rice received from their headquarters. Similarly when the villagers were getting serious sick, the village headmen had to take responsibility to find the substitutes or paid to local battalions to hire the substitutes to complete the rest work-duties of those sick villagers. Under this circumstances, the villagers had to contribute not only labour but their money for the construction.
In most work-sites, the respective military battalions that taking responsibility for the site had put security forces (SPDC soldiers) who had main duties to guard the labourers or monitor the working situation in every the work-site. The practices of the beating of the labourers by soldiers at the construction sites have been reduced if compared during 1993 to 1995 conscription of forced labourers. However, it was not completely ended in 1998. The practices of shouting the villagers and verbal threat to the labourers to kill or to beat have been still remained in almost work-sites.
The participation of women and children in the construction site
The local SPDC military battalions continuously forced the local villagers to provide not only in the repairing of railway embankment, but also used them in other military purposes, such as civilian porters to carry ammunitions and other logistics and permanent labourers in the respective battalions to do daily jobs. Whenever the tatmadaw soldiers conscripted the civilian porters and permanent labourers for the battalions, they always took the able-bodied men from the families. In the orders, they already instructed the local village leaders to send only the able-bodied men from villages to serve in the battalion's daily work.
The able-bodied men who is mostly the breadwinners of the families also have most responsibility for the survival of their families. They are the main persons to do jobs for income, do farming or planting for crops and etc.. Since they are the family leaders, they could not abandon their own family jobs, which is almost too heavy and difficult for women to do and complete it. Because of constant demand the able-bodied men to be civilian porters or permanent labourers by local military battalions, and additional responsibilities to keep for the survival of family members, so the men have no extra time and the women and children have been necessarily required to work in the construction site.
Among about 3,000 labourers daily working on the repair of railway embankment, the numbers of women and children are always more than men. In any order from local military battalions or from village tract leaders in taking conscripts, it have never instructed to not send women and children to the worksite and it means the authorities and soldiers everyone who reached to the work-site. They just have required and instructed the villagers to complete their work-duties within the set time.
During the paddy harvest season, from November until the end of December, most able-bodied men have been busy in the rice farms and so many hundreds women and children went to work-sites to complete their work-duties. As they had to complete the work-duties within the set days, the women also brought their sons and daughters under 18 years together with them for helps to complete their work-duties. For an able-bodied man, although he could easily complete the set work-duty within the set day, that work-duty needs at least one women and one child to be completed in time.
Because unemployment and low labour cost in the whole Burma, the able-bodied young men have constantly entered into neighbouring countries, such as Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, to seek jobs for better income to support their families who are in Burma. This is another reason, there are less and less able-bodied men in both rural and urban areas. Therefore, instead of the men, the women and their children have to work in the construction sites. Regardless of age ranges, the authorities and soldiers take everyone who arrived to the work-sites. However, the village
tract or village leaders did not allow very old persons to go and work in the construction, because they could not fulfill or complete their work-duties that were instructed by the battalions or the old persons could face health problems. But the old men with age range between 60 and 70 years were in the work-sites.
The Villagers' Hardships for Survival and Population Displacement Problems During Conscripting of Forced Labour
For the local inhabitant families, they had only two choices whether to go and work in the construction or to pay the local military battalions as labour dues. Under the common slogan of "self-reliance" for all projects in the whole country, the local population have direct responsibility to complete any kind of infrastructure development projects to contribute with payment or manual labour. The government authorities and the local military battalions have main responsibility to complete the instructed projects within the set date. In this Ye-Tavoy railway construction, the local military battalions have more responsibilities than the local government authorities or railway ministerial staff to complete it within the set time. The Ye-Tavoy railway construction was instructed by the government via Southeast Military Command to complete it before the Golden Jubilee of Armed Force Day (tatmadaw Day) and thus, the opening ceremony was held on 26 March, 1998. The local battalions by coordinating with government and railway authorities have had main duties to force the villagers to contribute labour or to give payment to complete the construction within the set time. Therefore, the soldiers have had chance to directly coordinate with village tract or village leaders to get the needed numbers of labourers, and fund from the respective area.
After the road was badly destroyed in June/July, 1998, the local military battalions, who had main duties for the security of the railway road, had looked along the railway and reported about road destruction to higher authorities. Then the higher authorities mainly from Southeast Military Command and State Railway Department instructed the local battalions such as LIB No. 408, 409, 410, and No. 273 to fix or repair the railway embankment with little numbers of labourers from villages, because the higher authorities would not like more news came out about the collapse of the road. Additionally, no news was heard about the government allocated fund for the repair of this railway construction and hiring soldiers to provide with that fund. It has been clear that only the local community has responsibility to complete the repair of the railway embankment.
While the government local battalions have been constantly conscripting forced labour from the local inhabitants, the villagers have very little time to do their own jobs for income or for crops to survive. Normally, the local inhabitants in Yebyu townships are making a living as farmers of rice farms or owners of a specified plantation such as betel-nut, lime, lemon, etc., or fishermen or others. Under the deteriorated economy situation in Burma, they are already hard to get incomes or jobs and the additional unceasing conscription of forced labour has effected more sufferings to them.
For an able-bodied man, if he gets a most good job and can earn about 500 Kyat per day, but it is a rare job in the community. For the men who have slightly good jobs could earn about 10,000 Kyat per month. Like a fisherman, he could earn about 8,000 Kyat per month. However, when the able-bodied man or any
one from a family could not go to the work-site, they have to hire a substitute labourer with at least 5,000 Kyat per round of work-duties for 15 days or more than 10 days. When the men did not work his own jobs like in the farms or plantations, they also have to hire labourers to complete their own works with payment at least 200-300 per day wage and at the same time, while they were working in the construction, they took at least 1,000-1,500 Kyat from their homes to buy foods and medicines besides rice brought from homes.
Besides payment for the construction or loss of income during they were working in the construction, the villagers also had to pay many other kind of tax to
the local troops such as pottering fees, cash payment for permission letters to go work-site, foods and liquor costs for soldiers and other costs. These mean whenever the villagers went to their own farms and plantations, they have to pay the local battalions' commanders to have a permission to work in their work-places safely. The villagers have to pay 50 Kyat per day to village headmen or local military commanders to get permission letter to go and work in their work-places safely. When the soldiers met someone without permission letter to stay and work in the farm, he could be accused as rebels or rebel-supporters and could be killed or tortured. Every village in Yebyu township also have to provide porters for the military operations because the local tatmadaw went around in the area to attack the rebel groups such as KNU, MUDF and a new Mon armed group. Thus, every family in many villages have to pay about 500-1,000 Kyat portering fee for every month. Hence, the villagers have a big burden to serve for the military. If a family which has income about 10,000 Kyat could not send someone to work in the construction, that family have to pay about 8,000 Kyat per month to local military battalions. For the villagers who gave away their money to the military have no chance to check how the commanders used their money such as whether the commanders really
hired the substitute labourers or not.
Because of unceasingly conscription of forced labour from the villagers, they have less and less chance to work in their own works and so the crops are sometimes too ripe and dropped to ground. Normally, if they could reap in time, they also lost their crops and have faced more and more difficulties to survive. Some farmers lost rice crops, while some farmers lost betel-nuts, limes and other foods. The fishermen could not get regular income, because they could not go to the sea for some weeks while they were working in the construction. Since most villagers had less of income, they had to go the construction work-sites themselves and could not pay to hire the substitute labour and so they lost crops or income that support for the survival of their families.
The increasing burden for the survival has make many families to leave from their the native homes and displaced in various situation. Some families moved to the town and have stayed with their relatives. Considerably, they faced less conscription of forced labour in the towns or if they were as guesses in towns, they could escape from the instruction adopted by the government authorities and the military battalions. However, the town SPDC officials' regular check on the strangers or guesses in the respective town, and those escapees could not stay longer in a specific ward of town and had to move to another ward if they have more relatives or moved to another villages and then came back again. Particularly, the heads of the families had to work as day-labourers in the towns to get income for survival.
More numbers of population of other displacement is the villagers are hiding in forests or in farms or in plantations. Many thousands have gradually left from their native area and also moved into forests nearby where the troops have never entered into it. Or, for the villagers to stay in farms and plantations is not so safe enough because the SPDC troops always travel around to these places to find the rebel troops and they could be accused as rebels or rebel-supporters by soldiers. But they could stay in farms and plantations that far from the main road. While these villagers are displacing in farms or plantations, they could find foods more easier than displacing in the forests.
On the other hand, thousands of villagers have also fled into rebel control areas such as KNU and NMSP control territories and have displaced there with various kinds of difficulties. The concerned rebel groups also have not enough fund to feed these IDPs and could help them with short-term food supplies and managed for them to do farming or growing rice accordingly slash and burnt method. And, the deforestation and the related problems has also happened in these forestry region.
While comparing with IDPs, very little number of families could move into Thailand's refugee camps. Because of Thai government restricted policy on the Burmese refugees, the escapees could not have access to enter into Thailand. Thai government has adopted its policy that the refugee camps will allow the new arrivals only whenever the fighting near the borders is serious. It means that Thai government will not recognize the refugees who escaped from various kind of human rights violation and systematic persecution committed the military regime, SPDC deep inside Burma.
Interview with An Escapee from Ye-Tavoy Railway Road Repair Construction
To ensure how the SPDC local military battalions in Yebyu township have forced the local villagers to work in the repair of Ye-Tavoy railway embankment and our human workers also conducted interview with a woman who fled and sought into NMSP control area.
Name: Ma Tin Htwe
Age/ Sex: 35 years/ Female
Nationality/ Religion: Tavoyan/ Buddhist
Native Place: Payathonzu village, Yebyu township,
Date of Interview: December 12, 1998.
When did you arrive to this village (a village in NMSP control area) and why?
I arrived here about one week ago. I came here with my two sons and one daughter together and my husband will come behind. We had to flee from homes because we could not work for army longer. While my husband was bringing by Burmese soldiers as a porter, the army still instructed our family to work in repairing the embankment of Ye-Tavoy railway. How could I work? My youngest son was only 3 years old. The elder son was only 5 years and I said to village headman that I could not work in the construction. But he said to pay 4,500 Kyat for 15 days work in the construction work. I had no choice and could not wait for my husband and decided to flee from homes.
How do you contact your husband because you already leave from village?
I told to my neighbours that I fled to this area and I hope they will tell my husband when he arrived to village. I didn't know for sure how many days he would last with the battalion that brought him.
Why did the soldiers take your husband? How many porters they took together with your husband?
They took altogether three porters including my husband. Actually, they did not want to take my husband but asked porter fees. We have no 1,000 Kyat amount money and then he was arrested and taken by the soldiers.
How many times did you work in the construction and in which work-places did you have to work for?
I have worked two times in the construction. It was in October and November. In both times, my husband left for fishing as a labourer for the boat owners and earned about 300 Kyat per day. While he was in the sea, the village headman came and instructed our family to go and work in the construction. At that time, my parents were in the village and let them take care my sons and I and my 11 years old daughter went to the work-site for both times. Although my parents were elder persons, the battalions instructed to contribute labour in the construction and since they could not work in there, they had paid for each round of their work-duties to hire the substitute labourer. Therefore, my parents moved to Ye town and left me behind. Before the end of November, when the soldiers came and instructed our family to work, I had nobody to take care my sons and decided to flee. I had worked in two worksites. They are Ngwelein and Paukpingwin. Each time, I worked there for 15 days.
In the construction site, what kind of work did you have to work? Were these works hard for you?
These works were always too hard for me. Even for the men, the works were hard. Normally, in the repair of railway embankment, first we dug earth in the places about 20 meters far from the embankment and brought the outcome dust to embankment and fill in many holes on it. The villagers made bamboo stretchers and put dust on it and brought to embankment. Sometimes, we have to climb about 15 meters high embankment like a small hill and fill dust on it. Second, after we completed filling earth and embankment became as normal level, we had to find stones and brought on the top of embankment and crashed stones. Then, we had to carry iron rails and rail sleepers and lay them in the right places. In some places, the iron rails and rail sleepers were thrown from the embankment and disappeared or covered by earth. So the soldiers also instructed villagers to find them under earth and mud.
Can you tell me what was the time-frame to work in the work-site? Did the authorities give a rest time and were the soldiers guarding labourers?
Normally, we waked up about 4:00 and made foods for two meals, breakfast and lunch. We took some little rice and left to the work-sites about 6:30 or 7:00 p.m. The time to begin the work was not instructed by authorities or soldiers but we have a lot of works to do and took a lot of time to complete it with the set period. We work until noon time and then took lunch for half an hour and a rest for another half an hour. We went back to worksites again at 1:00 p.m. Then we went back to make dinner at 5:00 p.m. In mid-day, the soldiers were guarding us and so we could not take much time for a rest.
Did you meet the soldiers beat the villagers?
Yes, I met. A man about 20 years old got sickness in the work-site and he could not work very well. Two soldiers came and shout to work in a hurry, but the man said he was sick. The soldiers angered to him and kicked him with their jungle boots for many times. One soldiers also took a tree branch and beat him. He seriously injured and on the next day, the village headman brought him to hospital. I didn't know from where he came from. But he came from a village in Thayet Chaung townships.
While you were working there, how many villagers did you meet in a work-site? Did you meet many women and children in each work-site?
In every work-site, there were at least 500 villagers altogether. Depending on how much the embankment was collapsed, there were about 700-800 villagers in a work-site. I think about half of villager labourers were women and children. There were many children under 15 years in the work-site.
How have the authorities and soldiers conscripted the villagers to work in these work-sites? From which areas have they taken the villagers to work for construction?
They just gave order to village headman and he informed the villagers on which day they have to work in the work-site. On a rotation basis, our family have to work about 2 weeks in every month. There have been many villagers from various villages of Ye, Yebyu, Longlon, Thayet Chaung and Tavoy townships were taken by soldiers to work in the construction.
When will you return your home?
I don't know. I am waiting for husband and when he arrived he will decide for our future plan.