Narinjara news

Prison labour in Western Burma

10th June 2003: Prisoners at Thabra (Thabya) Island prison camp under Pauktaw Township in the western Burmese state of Rakhine have been reportedly used in a privately owned salt works in the vicinity. 

Our correspondent quoting a source in the island said that the salt works is owned by Maung Tun Mya from Pauktaw Town who in collusion with the prison officers of the prison camp have been conducting the business for a couple of years.  The owner of the business is alleged to bribe the prison officers regularly for utilising prisoners’ labour.  Besides the prison officials and guards also confiscate the wages Tun Mya gives to the prisoners who work at his salt field.  There are approximately eighty prisoners in the camp and they are also engaged in the nearby state shrimp ponds and hatcheries as labour force.  

At present there are five prison camps in Rakhine State.

At Mrauk-u Township, in one of those prison camps at Lenyang-daung on the Lemro River, the prison labour is used to extract stones and pebbles widely utilized in construction of roads, bridges and military installations.  A recently released prisoner from the camp said to our correspondent that the prisoners there are also engaged in logging and timber extraction from the state-owned forests.  ‘Timber extraction has been done at an alarming rate, causing large areas of virgin forests to vanish in a few years, which could bring a natural disaster as the topsoil in the region get denuded,’ he said,  ‘Much of the money from forest products go for the upkeep of the families of the army, navy, police and other law enforcement agencies since the junta cannot pay enough for the subsistence of them.’

In another prison camp at Kyi-gan-braung (Kyi-gan byin) under Maungdaw Township bordering with Bangladesh, the inmates are engaged in the construction of roads, bridges and military camps.

There is yet another camp at Kyaw-zan-rwa Village under Ponnagyun Township, the inmates of which are engaged in construction works and pisciculture including shrimp cultivation, earnings from which would go to the ‘welfare fund’ of the Burmese Army and other law enforcement agencies.

The prison guards confiscate the wages given to the prisoners by the private businessmen and owners of the fish farms, and the food given to the inmates is also of poor quality and inadequate in amount, it was learnt. #