Narinjara news


Maungdaw, 21
st January 02:  Reports on forced labour being practised extensively across Rakhine State, the western member of Myanmar, have started to pour in to us through traders coming to this border town, reports our correspondent at  Maungdaw.
On December 20, 2001, a group of Japanese officials of BAJ (an NGO) and Myanmarese government executive engineer, U Aye Win, were supervising the roads and bridges constructed in the northern part of Maungdaw township.  At that time the Assistant Planning Officer of UNHCR, U Min Thu, followed them and discovered a group of about thirty Muslims were walking to the Nasaka Area  2.   On asking where they were going, the Muslims replied that, they were from Tamantha village and they were going on 'porter rounds'.  On further questioning about the wages, they replied that, they were not paid anything for their work besides they had to bring their own food and sometimes had to work for late into the night without any food.  They did not have clean drinking water, too. U Min Thu hearing the report went to the Nasaka Areas #1 and #2 headquarters where he had a heated exchange with the border security forces officials, and asked them to pay wages to the forced labourers.  He also assured that he would later pay the Nasaka from the UNHCR fund.  But the Nasaka officials never bothered to pay the forced labourers and they assured again and again that, these 'workers' were 'voluntary employees' of the government.  It is worth mentioning here that, the forced labourers are now called as 'voluntary employees' or 'wunthan' in Burmese as a new measure to cheat the public eye according to the higher official commands.
A Nasaka constable in the area told our correspondent that,  the forced labourers  had  to carry 29 cement bags to Ma-ji village from Mingalanyunt and Minkhamong police stations, then 55 cement bags from Tamantha village to Ma-ji village.  They also had to carry 7,500 cubic feet of bricks and 7 cement bags to Nasaka Area No. 2. 
Even in Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships where there are a number of UN and International NGOs, the practice of forced labour is rampant.  In such circumstances the extant of the use of forced labour in other parts of Rakhine State where there are hardly any international NGOs or UN bodies for monitoring, can easily be imagined.  A renowned businessman from Sittwe who recently came to Maungdaw told our correspondent that, villagers all over Rakhine State have to go for 'voluntary service' to work for the military, cutting firewood,   collecting bamboo, constructing army barracks, roads and bridges, and work in the confiscated lands and shrimp farms and fruit orchards.   #