Narinjara news

Slave labour in western Burma – at whose orders, after all?  


Mrauk-u, 20 January 03:  The Burmese armed forces deployed and stationed in Rakhine, the western state of Burma, have been issuing orders and decrees demanding more and more rice from the rice-growers, our correspondent quoted a village leader in the old city of Mrauk-u, in the northern part of the state.


For about three months since the beginning of the present rice harvest season, the farmers of Mrauk-u Townshp have been ordered to give rice to the armed forces for more than the one occasion in which each farmer is bound to give twelve bushels of harvested rice at one-fifth the price of rice in the open market to the coffer of the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) junta.  Soon after the official quota of rice has been collected by the State Agricultural Department the local armed forces came for ten bushels of rice for ‘consumption of the armed forces’.  The light infantry battalions 377, 378, and 540 stationed in the township came for the amount of rice from door to door.  Second Lieutenant Hla Win from LIB 377 and Second Lt Shwe Ku of LIB 540 came with their teams to collect rice from the villages of Parein, Khaungdung, and Pan-maw in recent days.


In Mrauk-u Township alone the total acreage of the confiscated land from the local Rakhine farmers is estimated to be at least 1200 acres, in which the armed forces have been using the previous owners of the lands as slave labourers, the source said. 


In the instance of harvest failure due to lack of fertilizer that the farmers have to buy on their own and unfavourable weather, all the blames are put upon the farmers who are verbally and physically ill-treated. In many instances the farmers are even arrested and their personal belongings confiscated on fictitious charges like obstructing officials from carrying out their duties. The confiscation of land in Rakhine State started   soon after the 1988 popular democratic uprising when the Burmese junta opted for setting up nearly sixty battalions of armed forces in the state.  Previously there were only three battalions, LIB 20 (Sittwe), 34 (Kyaukpru) and 55 (Thandway), stationed all over the state.


With price spiral out of control and the minimal amount of salary given, the members and families of the armed forces also face hardship, said a source in the army.  “Obviously the top generals of the SPDC junta have no other alternative than turn a blind eye to all the wide scale extortions and rules by decrees going on in Rakhine State that is slowly destroying the civil society, often to a dehumanising point,” said a retired doctor in the area.


Meanwhile, the crop failure due to inclement weather this year would put a heavy burden on the rice-growers of the state, told many of the farmers.   Soldiers have already come looking for more rice to other townships in the state including Maungdaw – the town bordering with Bangladesh, Buthidaung, Rathedaung, Sittwe, Minbra and Kyauktaw, our correspondent said. 


Recently in a press briefing just after her visit to the state, Daw Aung san Suu Kyi – the Burmese leader of opposition said that she was overwhelmed with the political consciousness of the Rakhine people, but she was heavy-hearted to see the ‘poverty’ of them.  #