News, Personal Accounts, Report & Analysis on Human Rights Situation in Mon Territory and Other Areas Southern Part of Burma

 

The Mon Forum

Issue No. 5/99 May 31, 1999

 

The Publication of Human Rights Foundation of Monland (BURMA)

 

 

Contents


News:

(1)     SPDC local authorities enjoy in illegal tax collection and corruption,

(2)     Village headmen are tortured by commander,

(3)     Tax collection from passengers, buses and trucks by SPDC'S military, police and servants in Ye

 

Report:

(1)    Forced Labour in Ye-Tavoy Motor road construction and the sufferings of local inhabitants,

 

Personal Account:

(1) Interview with an escapee from Ye-Tavoy motor road construction

 

Some Acronyms in This Issue

SPDC-   State Peace and Development Council,

SLORC- State Law and Order Restoration Council,

USDA-   Union Solidarity and Development Association (of the SPDC)

IB -        Infantry Battalion (of Burmese Army),

LIB-       Light Infantry Battalion (of Burmese Army),

KNU-     Karen National Union,

KNLA-   Karen National Liberation Army,

NMSP-  New Mon State Party,

MNLA-  Mon National Liberation Army.

 

 

News

SPDC Local Authorities Enjoy in Illegal Tax Collection and Corruption

(May, 1999)

 

Since April 30, 1999, SPDC'S Kyaikmayaw township authorities has collected 500 Kyat from each household in the whole township area, to build a 15-20 feet wide and 4 miles long water canal to distribute water the nearest government rice farming lands. This water canal connects two Mon villages Khayone and Kawbawe, and the government farmlands are situating in both sides of the canals. According the instructive orders by the township authorities, they require money to pay for labour costs, hire machines and other expenditures to complete the construction of this water canal.

 

As the whole township has about 30, 000 households and the authorities could receive about 15 million Kyat totally after they completed gathering fund from civilians. The local villagers and town residents have accused that the authorities will take a lot of that civilians' fund into their pockets and if they actually build a proper water canal, all costs for construction must not reach to 15 millions and could be spent around 7-10 millions Kyat. Then the authorities will share the extra income quietly for their own profit.

 

Due to the SPDC's new policy for "self-sufficiency" among their government servants including army and police, the local authorities have confiscated lands from traditional farmers and explored new lands to grow rice in the whole Burma. Related to this policy, last year in 1998, before the cultivation was started, the Kyaikmayaw Township local authorities confiscated many hundreds acres of rice farmlands from local farmers between Kyayone and Kawbawe villages.

 

In 1998 rice cultivated season started in May, the authorities by hiring the labourers and sometimes, forced the nearest farmers, and had grown rice as named their farms as "cooperative farms". Because of less of skill and experience in farming, the authorities did not received the expected amount of crops in the harvest season in November and December. Thus, they decided to build a water canal to distribute water regularly to their rice-farms.

 

Additionally, because of crop reduction in their confiscated farms, the authorities also ask paddy from local farmers without payment except their yearly forced buying of paddy from farmers. In Kyaiknayaw township, the farmers were instructed to sell their paddy, 10 baskets per acre of rice farmlands, to the government paddy-buying centers and at the same time, a basket of paddy was asked to give free to authorities to replace their reduced crops. If one farmer could not give them paddy, they must give them with cash, 350 Kyat. In Kyaikmayaw township alone, there are totally about 40,000 acres of rice farmlands and so the authorities could receive about 40,000 baskets of rice or 14 millions extra Kyat from farmers. Although some farmers from some villages refused to pay such illegal tax to the authorities, the deadline was set on April 30, 1999 and most of them were threatened to be arrested.

 

Additionally, to have enough food supplies for the local army, police and government servants, Kyaikmayaw police stations also confiscated 100 acres of land from Kawthut village's farmers. When they confiscated that land, they also took crops and did not give them to farmers, and so the farmers lost both crops and lands.

 

According to villagers, the Township authorities always have enjoyed with this illegal tax collection, because they are corrupting and took a lot of civilians' fund into their pockets. Although the local civilians knew about the corruption committed by the Township authorities very well, they had no place or justice court under the rule of military regime to summit several cases of corruption happened in their township

area.

 


Village Headmen are Tortured by Commander

(May, 1999)

On April 30, 1999, the village chairman and secretary of Tarana village, Kyaikmayaw township of Tenasserim Division, were severely tortured by a SPDC back-line tactical commander, Col. Tin Win and his soldiers from Light Infantry Division No. 22 for the headmen's failure to organize a meeting with them.

 

On April 29, when the commander and about 100 troops came into village , he asked the Tarana village headmen to organize a meeting to meet with farmers who failed to sell the full amount of paddy to government paddy-buying centers. On that day, because of a sudden appearance of the commander, the headmen could not manage a well meeting with farmers.

 

Many farmers who were in the rice-farms missed to attend the meeting. Thus, the headmen also apologized the commander and said that he will encourage the farmers to sell the remaining paddy to paddy buying centers. But both village chairman and secretary missed to give him and his soldiers with some liquor and other foods, and so the commander did not satisfied to those headmen. The two headmen did not really know about dissatisfaction of the commander.

 

On the next day, the commander arrived to the villager again. The headmen did not expect the coming of the commander and they did not go and meet him immediately because they were busy at monastery connecting electric wires for monastery and houses for electricity in the village. Because of no salute and respect from the headmen and he angered to them. So he sent his troops to ask the headmen to immediately come and meet him. Then the village chairman came first. Soon he arrived close to commander, he was slapped six times by commander. The commander also ordered one of his soldiers to beat the chairman with a stick. He also shout to the chairman for his failure to treat him as special guess and respect him as a army commander. After beating, the chairman also run away from scene to escape torturing. The angry commander also shot 3 rounds to air with his pistol and threatened all villagers about the punishment to headmen.

 

Then when the village secretary arrived, he was slapped three times. Then, the commander, himself, took a stick and beat the secretary. Because of such cruel treatment, both village headmen decided to resign from their poses.

 

The beating and torturing to village headmen by the army commanders normally and always happen in rural "Black Area", due to accusation of rebel-supporters or other cases. Tarana village is in "White Area" and the village headmen never thought the commander would beat them. They have never been tortured for many years. However, some commanders have not cared about the recognition of the area, Black or White, the treatment to the village headmen are the same.

 

 

Tax Extortion from Passengers, Buses and Trucks by SPDC'S Military, Police and Servants in Ye

(May, 1999)

Since April 20, 1999 until the end of May, the local SPDC battalions, such as, No. 5 Military Intelligent Unit, IB No. 61, LIB No. 343, and LIB No. 106 by cooperating with other government departments from police stations, USDA and others have collected huge amount of tax payment from the passengers, buses and trucks that have traveled between Ye and Moulmein with reason they have taken security along the road, after the KNU officially closed the road.

They have gathered about 300, 000 Kyat tax every day from the passengers, buses and trucks for over one month period and they had shared these illegal income among their departments and military battalions. The buses and trucks drivers also had to pay 2, 000 Kyat, 3, 000 Kyat and 5, 000 Kyat respectively depending on the passengers in buses and weight loaded in trucks. After paying these unofficial taxes to army, all buses and trucks were allowed to run on the road in order as a group and the soldiers have not allowed for a separate bus or truck to go alone.


At the beginning of April, after SPDC local battalions that took bases in Karen State and Mon State ordered and planned to relocate many Karen villagers from the villages situated along Three Pagoda Pass-Thanbyuzayat motor road, KNU also made a response to protect the planned forced relocation. On April 20, KNU officially declared to close many main roads, including Three Pagoda Pass-Thanbyuzayat motor road, Moulmein-Ye motor road and Mudon-Kya Inn Seikyi motor road. Due to this order, KNU could totally close Three Pagoda Pass to halt the entering of SPDC troops to this area. Therefore, the forced relocation plan and the implementation by SPDC troops was not succeeded until the end of April, the deadline of the relocation declared by Southeast Region Military Command.


By mentioning the reason that KNU has closed the road and necessary to provide security along Moulmein-Ye road, mainly on the part of Thanbyuzayat to Ye, the SPDC local authorities has not allowed any bus or truck to travel separately and their soldiers also followed with those cars. Later, many drivers opposed the accompanying of SPDC soldiers with their buses and worried the attack from KNU, and so they agreed to pay, but to not accompany with their buses or trucks. Because of this tax collection, the civilian passengers who needed to travel on this road had to pay more price for the same trip.

 

However, the KNU did not close Moulmein-Ye railway road and many civilians chose to travel with train. Later on, the railway authorities also sold nearly half of train tickets to privates and the passengers who were necessary to travel along the road, bought tickets with black-market prices. The price of one ticket increased up to 10 times than the normal costs.


In mid-May, although KNU declared to re-open this Moulmein-Ye motor road, the SPDC army and authorities still restricted and pressured the buses and trucks to travel in order as a group, and continuously collected tax from them. Even before, the KNLA troops actually have not make any trouble to civilian passengers and trucks, but did not allow the SPDC troops to pass on this road. At the end, because of the complaint by most bus drivers, the SPDC authorities allowed them to travel on this public road as before.

 

 

Report

 

Forced Labour in Ye-Tavoy Motor Road Construction and the Sufferings to Local Inhabitants

The Background of the Motor Road and Conscription of Forced Labour

Since mid-November, 1998, under the command of Coastal Region Military Command in Mergui, the capital of Tenasserim Division of lower Burma, the local SPDC battalions were ordered to widen the Ye-Tavoy motor road. The implementation of this road widening has been continued until May, 1999 and some thousands of local Mon, Karen and Tavoyan inhabitants were constantly conscripted to contribute free labour in>the construction. Due to this motor road construction and other use of forced labour such as in building of various dikes and civilians porters for military operations, the local villagers faced much difficulties to have enough time to do their own jobs and some villagers has also fled from their villages.

 

This motor road is about 95 miles long and it also connects Mon State and Tenasserim Division, and it was built during British colony era. This road has not been repaired or re-build until NMSP-SLORC ceasefire

agreement was reached in 1995. After the NMSP-SLORC ceasefire, under the name of border area development program, the SLORC/SPDC has planned to build many new roads and widen some old roads. Due to financial shortage in government's budget, the authorities could not spend enough fund in all constructions in the whole country and the local military battalions has used only local people to contribute unpaid labour and collect fund from them again. Similarly, the local inhabitants in Ye, Yebyu and Tavoy townships were conscripted to construct this Ye-Tavoy motor road and additionally, the local battalions also collected fund from them.

 

Among many roads in Mon State and Tenasserim Division, this road is a strategic road and it poses very important for military regime militarily and economically. To induce more military activities in this area, SPDC's regional military commands, both Southeast Region Military Command which bases in Moulmein of Mon State and Coastal Region Military has actually required the better communication between Mon State and Tenasserim Division. Although the government has built Ye-Tavoy railway with many hundreds of thousands of forced labourers since over five years, the railway has often collapsed by flood and rain, therefore, this road is not used by trains properly and the local troops still could rely on motor road.

 

Militarily, whenever the government launched military offensives against KNU's 4th Brigade which has taken bases in some eastern mountain range of Tenasserim Division, the Burmese troops have normally used Ye-Tavoy motor road to send their troops. The

SLORC/SPDC troops also take base in various part of motor road and have kept as strongholds since NMSP-SLORC ceasefire agreement. During NMSP and its military faction MNLA were operating military operations against the government troops, the Mon troops also controlled some parts of this road and so the government troops could not move down from Ye town to Tenasserim Division easily. NMSP-SLORC ceasefire was a good opportunity for the military governments to send more their troops to Tenasserim Division and re-build this road for smooth communication. More and more government troops have deployed in the area and take permanent bases and additionally they could launch more effective military offensives against KNU's 4th Brigade. Accompanying with offensives, the rural villagers have been constantly suffered from various types of abuses by government soldiers.

 

The second reason to build this motor road is to get economic profit from the area and to provide security for multinational investment. Due to foreign investment in the area, the military government receive a lot of tax or income from Tenasserim Division. The multinational investments of exploiting natural resources, such as US's UNOCAL and France's TOTAL, Thai logging companies and fishing companies; Thailand-Burma joint venture in tourism industries, and other foreign investments also provide a lot of income to SPDC. To protect all these foreign investments and companies, the Burmese Army's local troops needed to move from one area to another area very quickly and so the local battalions have required good roads in the whole area. On the other hand, the companies in the area also really required possible good roads for smooth communication. On a daily basis, the four-wheels trucks owned by France's TOTAL company have traveled and used this road by carrying facilities that needed to use in onshore company's industries and bringing the company's field personels forth and back between the cities such as Rangoon, Moulmein, Ye and company onshore office in Kanbauk area. Other Thai logging and fishing companies also have used this road.

 

Due to the urgent requirement of smooth communication, SLORC also adopted plan to re-build this road soon after ceasefire. In dry season of 1996 (from January to May), SLORC local troops from LIB No. 404, 408 and 409 also conscripted many hundreds of villagers from many villages along motor road and forced them to repair the road. During that dry season, the local battalions just ordered and forced the local villagers to collect stones, crashed these many "kyins" of stones into small pieces and laid them along the road.

 

Because of the government troops' lack of security provision and they were quite busy to complete the Ye-Tavoy railway construction, this motor repairing construction was stopped after few months with little number of forced labour. During the beginning of 1997 and 1998, there was no conscription of forced

labour for this motor road. However, for the necessity to protect from the approach of rebel soldiers to the motor road, the use of local villagers in clearing the bushes both sides of the road has been conducted every year. Instead of working in this motor road, thousands of villagers were subjected to work in Ye-Tavoy railway construction.

 

The Initial Conscription of Forced Labour in Late 1998 for Motor Road

 

Since this road was strategically important for military regime and more and more cars including many companies' trucks has run on it, the government decided to resume the building of this road again. Since they already built Ye-Tavoy railway, it was an opportunity for the local battalions to use more villagers as unpaid labourers in this motor road widening construction. In November, 1998, the SPDC ordered its Coastal Region Military Command to start widening the Ye-Tavoy motor road. The budget for the widening this road was also adopted by government and military command received about 20 million Kyat budget to complete the widening of this road. According to the sources from inside, France's TOTAL gas and oil company also provided fund for some parts of this road. The Coastal Region Military Command has also shared budget to the local battalions, from LIB No. 401 to 410, if they completed one mile construction, they will receive 200, 000 Kyat


In mid-November, Brigadier Maung Maung Oo, the second-commander of the command, called a meeting with all village headmen in the whole Yebyu township area and explained and shared the work-duties to all villages. He also shared duties for the local battalions in which part they must have to take responsibility to complete the construction and to get the necessary number of villagers to work in the construction. It meant he allowed his local battalions to conscript the required villagers to complete the construction in time. In the meeting, he refused to listen any complaints or questions from the battalion commanders and village headmen and he said that was the order to be implemented. He also threatened that the ones who did not follow according to the order must be punished.

 

Then all village headmen went back to their villages and had to arrange to regularly send the requested villagers to the construction sites. Since the road construction duties were already shared for each battalions, the battalion commanders also have to agree each other from which village tracts they had to conscript villagers. At the same time, the soldiers have also worked in the construction as paid labourers 300 Kyat per day by the respective battalions while they were forcing the local villagers to contribute free labour.

 

One battalion has a chance to conscript all villagers from a village tract. Depending on the number of villages in one village tract, the number of villager labourers requested by the battalion were also different. For the village tract which has few villages and less villagers in comparison with other village tracts, the villagers faced more rounds of contributing labour in the construction. On a rotation basis, the villager headmen have to carefully managed in sending the requested labourers to construction site. If they failed to send the need the needed numbers of villagers, they must be punished by the commanders.

 

In some case, the villagers who stayed in the villages near motor road suffered more than other villagers who stay far from the road. Whenever the soldiers needed to complete one specific jobs or to complete some part of construction quickly, all villagers in some village which was situating on the motor road were forced to work in the construction for many days. The battalions' soldiers did not wait arrangement by village headmen, sending the villagers on a rotation basis and took all villagers from the village.

 

The second-commander, Brigadier Maung Maung Oo, had regularly visited and if he dissatisfied on the construction, situation, he also beat the commanders in the site as a punishment. Whenever he visited to the construction site or before visit, more and more villagers were asked by local military battalions to contribute labour in the construction site to complete some specific works.

 

On the other hand, because of condemnation by international community for the use of forced labour in Burma, the SPDC also carefully had used the villagers to hide their conscription of forced labour. The military command also ordered the respective battalions which were on the road, to not put a crowd of villagers in one construction site. Therefore, the local battalions have cleverly put not more than 20 villagers in one place and those villagers were looked like as paid labourers. While some villagers separated into small groups, were working in the construction site, many others gathered stones in the forests or streams that needed to lay on the new widen track of the road. Therefore, about 3,000-4,000 villagers were at the same time requested to work during the local battalions urgently needed a lot of labourers during January and February. Later from April to May, the number of the villagers gradually less down after a lot of work-duties in the construction were completed.

 

 

The Work-Duties in the Construction Site

The villagers in the whole Yebyu township area, except the government servants, USDA members and village headmen, have been subjected to be labourers in widening Ye-Tavoy motor road. Under the management of the village headmen, some villagers had to work in the construction one round or two rounds in the construction site and as described above, some villagers have been constantly forced in the construction for the whole month.

 

Generally, the works in the construction were first, the villagers must clear 3 feet wide land, each side of the road (so totally 6 feet in width in both sides), and secondly, they must lay small pieces of stones on it. Then they have to dig water canals in both sides of the road. The last process was the villagers were additionally asked to clear about 50 feet bushes and small trees outside of the widen road in both sides.

 

According to villagers, the work-duty for each family in Yebyu township was shared with a quota to complete the construction of 60 feet long widening motor road. In clearing three feet width land each side of the road, the villagers had to clear all grasses and took all big or small stones from it, and they had to dig the earth to get a same level of embankment. The embankment in new widen space must be lower than the former road and then they had to fill stones. After they complete the first process, they had to go into forests or along streams to collect stones. Thus, most villagers who collected stones were like the hidden labourers. After they received some kyins of natural stones, they had to bring them to the construction site by oxen-carts. They also crushed all of stones to get small pieces with 1.5 or 2 inches diameter shaped stones. Sometimes, the villagers crashed these stones in the stone gathering places and brought them to construction site. Then they laid the small pieces of stones on the widen embankment. These were the construction processes of a rough embankment and excluded tarring the embankment.

 

Although Brigadier Maung Maung Oo initially declared to complete only construction of a rough tract of widening motor road, later at the beginning of April, he ordered the local battalions to complete the construction of smooth tract and tar the road. Thus the villagers were continuously forced to crush the stones into 1 inch or smaller diameter of shaped stones to fill above the previous stones, and then the soldiers came and tarred the widen road. The villagers were also required to help the soldiers in boiling tar to get liquid and carried it for them to pull onto the surface of the road. And some villagers were also instructed to collect fire-woods in the forests and brought to the construction sites to use in boiling tar.

 

Normally, when a villager cleared the 3 feet width (in both sides) and 60 feet long of land for new widen road tract, he had to take at least five days to complete the work. He must have to clear the grasses, small trees, take trees' roots and big stones, and balance the land level. To complete gathering stones and carrying to the construction site, a village must need about 2 weeks to complete. They had to stay in the forests for many days and gathered the stones in one place. Then they took the oxen-carts from villages and bring to the construction. During a villager crushing the stones into small pieces and laying them on the cleared tract, he/she must have to spend for another two weeks. Later when the villagers were forced to crush more smaller stones and filled tar onto new widen road's embankment, a villager had to take at take about ten days in the construction.

 

Considerably, all of these works were hard and the villagers also worked over defined working hours every day in the construction, because all these works are required to complete on time. The villagers who were conscripted to work in the construction wake up about 4:00 a.m. in the morning and made foods, and left to the work-site about 6:00 a.m. They worked in the work-site until noon time and took a rest for lunch and then left to work-site again about 1:00 p.m. and worked until 5:30 p.m. in the evening. When the villagers were gathering stones in the forests or streams, they received more time to take rests if there was no soldiers' guard. In some places, the soldiers are also guarding the villagers in forests. However, since the local battalions required these stones within the set deadline, the villagers also tried hard to complete their work-duties.

 

Most villagers who came far from the road construction also made a temporary shelters in the worksites until their work-duties "were completed. For the villagers whose homes were close to work-sites came in the early morning with foods and went back to their villages in the evening.

 

 

The Conditions in the Work-sites

Every time when the orders of conscripting labourers reached to village headmen, one third or half of households in the villages have to provide one labourer from each houses. The local military battalions also set up many temporary labour camps in the construction site and the villagers themselves had to build their own shelters. The villagers found bamboo and leaves nearby to make these shelters. Therefore, the shelters were not proper enough to protect sometimes worst weather conditions.

 

In the instructed orders, whenever the villagers went to the construction site, they have to bring their own foods, tools and cash to buy supplementary foods. Due to constant conscription of forced labour and regular tax extortion by soldiers, the economic situation of the local villagers has been deteriorated and so they could not have enough income to buy foods. They could have plain rice and no other enough supplementary foods to take in the construction.

 

At the same time, during January to April, the weather condition was terribly hot and the villagers were too tired. However, they tried to complete their work-duties because they needed to return as soon as possible and do their own jobs. According to villagers, many of them were sick after two or three rounds working in the construction site. Unlike to their own works in rice-farms or fruit-plantations, the villagers have no rest time and has continued working until they finished an specific works. In the work-site, if the villagers faced food-shortage problems or became sick, they never received any assistance from the battalions nearby.

 

Since many men worked for income for the survival of the whole families, many women and children worked in the construction instead of men. Thus, about 50% of villager labourers in the construction site were •women and children under 18. According to instructive order to the village headmen, the local military commanders mentioned that they just did not want children under 12 years old, because they worried these children could not complete their work-duties on time and they might make complication to the officers and headmen who took responsibility for defined works. If the children (between 12 and 18 years) were working with other villagers in the construction, although they could not complete their work-duties, the other villagers could help them.

 

Among many villagers were conscripted to contribute labour, the villagers who were staying in the villages along the motor road suffered more than the other villagers. The soldiers regularly went into their villages and forced all villagers when the soldiers urgently needed to complete some specific works before their higher commanders came and inspected the construction processes. Most Mon villagers from the villages on the motor road, such as Yapu, Lawthaing, Kwethalin, Kyaukadin, Aleskan and Paukpigwin, have been constantly conscripted and the soldiers have not followed according to rotation basis. After three weeks or one month continuously worked in the construction, many villagers were tired and sick when they arrived to their homes.

 

 

The Corruption in the Road Construction

 

In the construction site, the local battalions that have taken responsibility to complete the construction, instructed that the villagers themselves must find the stones, crush into small pieces and bring them to the work-sites, and the battalions would not give them any

help. For each family to complete laying 60 feet long and 6 feet wide (3 feet wide in each side of the road) widen tract, they needed about 10 kyins of small pieces of stones (one kyin is 100 cubic feet and the local battalions measure as a gathering of the small pieces of stone with 10 feet in square and 1 feet in height). Sometimes, when the local battalions gave work-duties to the villagers, they just instructed them to only gather stones and crushed into small pieces of stones, while they ordered other group of villagers to lay stones on the widen embankment. After the previous group of villagers went back to their homes, the new group of villagers arrived to the work-sites. Then, the battalions that took responsibility for work-sites also sold the small pieces of stones which were collected and crushed by the previous villagers with price 800 Kyat per kyin. Some rich families who would not like to end their valuable times in the work-sites also bought many kyins of stones from soldiers and went back homes earlier than others. Depending on the distance between the stone gathering places and the work-sites, the battalions also asked the transportation costs from those who bought the stones and the soldiers brought the stones to the work-sites, where the villagers needed to lay them. The transportation costs for one kyin of stone was about 500 Kyat to 1000 Kyat. If the villager has no oxen-carts to bring his/her stones to the work-site, they also have to hire the soldiers' lorry trucks. Actually, the government has provided necessary gasoline for transporting and the soldiers might not have to buy gasoline for their lorry trucks to bring facilities that needed in the construction. From selling the stones and transportation costs for bring stones, the battalions received a lot of income.

 

Although the government paid about 20 millions Kyat fund for a complete construction, these cashes have not reached to villagers and they never paid for their labour contribution. To propagandize the road was being built by soldiers, some battalions, LIB No. 404, 408 and 410 has hired their soldiers from some columns to actually work in the construction with payment. Those soldiers received about 300 Kyat per day. The battalions anyhow have used a very little of soldiers and only some parts of the road were built by soldiers while many parts were built by the villagers. For each one mile, the respective battalion received about 200, 000 Kyat for labour cost from government. Thus, the battalion have to pay full labour costs for only some parts in which their soldiers were working and the commanders did not to pay for parts that were built by villagers. Only less than one-third of the whole construction was built by soldiers and so all battalions received over 10 millions Kyat extra income from this construction.

 

Sometimes, when the village headmen could not send the required number of the villagers to the construction site, they have to pay cash to commanders to hire the substitute labourers. The income for one day for a villager is around 400-500 Kyat and so the villagers who could not go to the work-sites had to pay about 400 Kyat per day to hire a substitute labour. For example, if the work-duty was needed to complete for 2 weeks, the villagers who could not come to the worksite had to pay about 5000-6000 Kyat to the commanders through village headmen. According to most village headmen, after the commanders took the ransoms, in most situation they did not hire anyone for replacement and put the cash into their pockets. Sometimes, some corrupt village headmen also collaborated with commanders and tried to get various kind of ransom from the villagers. He would tell to commanders to take many villagers from his village and so many of them could not go and paid him to hire labourers. Then he and the commander would share the cash.

 

In a rare cases, sometimes, the soldiers also took the villagers' good quality rice and changed with their bad rice. The soldiers have received old rice supplies that were kept for almost two to three years in Military Command's warehouses and themselves always tried to get better quality rice. Hence, whenever the Burmese troops entered into a village, they also looted rice or paddy from villagers.   The similar situation also happened in the construction site.

 

 

The Population Flight to other Areas

After the villagers were forced to work in the construction unceasingly for over four months to build a rough widen embankment and other illegal tax payment to the army such as portering fees, accommodation costs for soldiers and others, the economy situation of the local population has been gradually deteriorated. Initially, the rural villagers expected the construction will be completed after the building a rough

widen embankment and then they could resume their works again in May, because the rice cultivation season is close. However, in May, the villagers have been continuously forced to crush more smaller stones to lay the final layer on the embankment to be ready to lay tar above. Each village has been asked many kyins of stones for the road and so the local villagers really lost their time to start their own works. After the villagers could not tolerate the constant conscription of labour, they had to decide to flee from their homes. Among the villagers, many poor families have gradually fled after they have no foods at homes.

 

During the massive conscription of labourers in the construction from December to April, the villagers who stayed along the motor road had been suffered more than the others who stayed far from the roads. While the villagers close to the road spent two weeks in the construction in one month, the other villagers spent for one week in the construction. The villagers from Yapu, Lawt-thaing, Kwethalin, Kyaukadin, Aleskan, Paukpingwin and other villages on the motor road have been more suffered from this forced conscription of labour. Thus, about 20% of the whole village's population in these villages have abandoned their villages and moved to other areas. These escapees generally moved into two areas, such as SPDC control towns

or NMSP ceasefire zones. Some people decided to move and stay in SPDC control towns, because the government does not conscript the town civilians into forced labourers very often like the rural villagers. Some villagers moved into NMSP to take a safe refuge, to find new lands to make farming and to receive some food assistance. Generally, the people who were punished for their failure in the construction or were abused because of other reasons by

government soldiers moved into NMSP protected areas. If they stayed in the SPDC control towns, they could be arrested and punished again. Therefore, many headmen who failed to manage for labourers at the end had to flee into NMSP area.

 

When they left from the villages, they have to abandon all their possessions such as rice-farms or fruit plantations, houses and gardens, live-stocks and other belongings. As a conclusion, the villagers in these Ye and Yebyu townships areas had to flee from their native villages not only because of accusation against them as rebel-supporters but also because of constant conscription of forced labour.

 

 

 

Personal Account

Interview with An Escapee from Ye-Tavoy Motor Road Construction


Name: Mi Sein Ngwe

Sex/Age: Female/ 46 years

Nationality/ Religion: Mon/ Buddhism

Occupation: Farmer

Native Place: Paukpingwin village, Yebyu Township,

Tenasserim Division

Interview Date: May 4, 1999

(This interview was conducted in a Mon village under the protection of NMSP)

 

Q: When did you arrive here? Are you alone or with your family or with your relatives?

 

A:  I arrived here about 10 days ago with my family. When we fled from our village, we were altogether 10 families and 45 people. We came together to here. Some are my relatives and some are not.

 

Q:  Why did you flee from your village?

 

A: We fled to escape from mistreatment of Burmese soldiers (SPDC troops), because they used us to build railway and motor road.

 

Q: When did the Burmese soldiers force you to work in these constructions?

 

A: Before January (1999), we were forced to rebuild Ye-Tavoy railway for nearly three months. After working for railway construction, we were informed by village headmen to work in Ye-Tavoy motor road again.

 

Q: How the village headmen managed to get villagers to work in the railway and what types of works did you have to work in the railway construction?

 

A: Our village had about 300 households and whenever the headmen said to work in railway construction, about 100 villagers from 100

households went and worked in the construction. In the railway construction, we were instructed to re-build the collapsed embankment during the last rainy season. In the construction site, we collected stones and filled them in the many holds of the embankment, and crushed stones into small pieces and laid them on the surface of embankment. In some places, we dug earth and filled it in many holes in the embankment to regain the proper embankment again. Then, we found grasses nearby and grew them besides of the embankment to protect water and land collapse.

 

Q: Did some villagers from your village die because of this construction?

 

A: I remember one man died after he returned from the construction site. His name was Pha Lay, about 17 years old boy. After he returned from construction, he was seriously sick. In the construction site, the weather condition was worst. During day time, when we were working in "Malawe-taung" construction site sunshine was hot and at night, it was too cold. Even in the night time, the soldiers forced us to work and then we could not sleep very well because of cool. Many villagers were sick even in the worksites and at their homes after return, So the young man, Pha Lay, got high fever when he arrived homes and his parents were poor to sent to hospital in town and treated with herbal doctors in the village. But he died.

 

Q: Can you tell about your experience in motor road construction?

 

A: Every time, about 50 villagers from our village were conscripted to work in the construction. Our family had to work for four times, before I left from home. My husband worked two times, myself and my son (about 12 years old) worked another two times. We were brought by village headmen to "Malawe-taung" and "14-miles" construction sites. In the construction site, we worked together with soldiers from LIB No. 408. One column of soldiers about 40 men and other 100 villagers were working together. According to the news from soldiers they received 300 Kyat per day for their labour and the commanders would give them monthly.                              

 

Q: What types of work did you have to work in the construction?

 

A: When me and my husband worked four times, we had to work four different works. First, when I worked, the soldiers instructed us to clear lands about 3 feet from both sides of the former motor road. We cleared grasses and small trees, moved out all big stones and dug 2 feet wide and 1 feet deep water canals both sides of the road. Second times, my husband went and worked, he was instructed to gather stones nearly work-site in the forest and streams. The soldiers were guarding them. The soldiers took some oxen-carts from the nearest villages to carry the stones. Then the villagers were forced to crush the stones near the work-site to get many kyins of stones In the third time, when my husband went and worked, the villagers were instructed to lay small pieces of stones on the widen track. In the last time when I went the work-site, we were instructed to clear the small trees and bushes outside the roads for 50 feet each side.

 

Q: How many days did you last in the construction each time?

 

A: When we went to the work-sites, we were not said exactly by headmen how many days we would be lasted in the construction. Depending on the sharing of work-duties, and how the burden of the works, we lasted in the work-sites for 5 days to two weeks.

 

Q: Did the soldiers beat the villagers or how the conditions in the work-sites?

 

A: I did not meet the soldiers beat the villagers. But the punishment was to turn a somersault. When a sergeant met a villager he was taking a

rest under a shady tree, he punished that man to turn a somersault for 15 rounds on the ground. If you don't flee, no problem. If you flee, the soldiers must shoot. We had to work regardless of the heat of sunshine.

 

Q: While you were working in the construction, did you meet other villagers?

 

A: When I go to the work-sites, we also met many villagers working like us. They are divided into many groups. One group has about 15-20 villagers. They were from many villages, such as Aleskan, Kyaukadin, Kywethalin and Yapu.

 

Q: If you couldn't go to work-site, how you can manage for a substitute?

 

A: If we could not go to the work-site, we might have to pay 500 Kyat to village headman for one day labour. If the works lasted for 10 days we might have to pay 5, 000 Kyat. Nobody would like to pay except about 10 rich families in our village. We never paid or hired a substitute. When we worked in the last time, my husband was sick and he could not go, and then me and my son went to work.

 

Q: Do you expect to go back your village soon?

 

A: We are poor family in the village and while we were in village, my husband was day-labourer and we belonged only one house and two oxen. We received some paddy from hiring the two oxen and the income from my husband could make a survival in village. At the end, when my husband was seriously sick because of the hardship in the construction site, I went to worksite. Then I had to work in a betel-nut plantation instead of him to have income. And we heard about another conscription and so we decided to flee. Since nearly 5-6 years, our villagers have been constantly force to work in various construction and if we go back now, we will be subjected to work again. I will stay here longer because we escaped from the construction works.