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Mizzima: Forced labor still go on i

Forced labour still go on in Burma, despite ILO ultimatum

Imphal, August 18, 2000
Mizzima News Group (www.mizzima.com)

?Because of the pressure given either by America or ILO, in some places
in Burma, forced labour is lifted for face-value but in Naga Hills areas
forced labour is definitely still carried on? said a Burmese Naga, Mr.
Laung San, General Secretary of Naga National League for Democracy
(NNLD), whose headquarter is now established in an India-Burma border

Naga Hills is situated in northern Sagaing Division of Burma.
Communication there is poor and contact with the people outside can
hardly be made. Human rights abuses are a day to day reality for the
villagers. And Naga nationals who escaped into India form Leshi township
of Burma will tell you these bitter experiences if you happen to reach
at some of the Naga villages in Manipur and Nagaland states of India.

In June this year, the 88th International Labour Conference held in
Geneva sent a strict notice to the Burmese authorities that forced
labour be stopped unconditionally and on the 30th of coming November,
the International Labor Organization (ILO) would see whether the
military regime follows its decision or not.

But, forced labour, giving different names in pretension such as
"voluntary labour" and very little or no fare giving labour and so on
are still going on, at least, in Naga Hills. As it is, people here have
no chance to work for their livelihood.

A top leader of the ruling military junta, State Peace and Development
Council (SPDC) General Maung Aye, after his visit to Shillong in India,
toured to the Chin State and Naga Hills areas in January this year.

He said the junta would transform the Chin State and Naga Hills ? Leshi,
Lahe, and Khanti regions - as tea plantation regions. In addition, he
promised for the regional development, building motor roads and
Tele-communication facilities like television towers in the region.

Then, forced labour is sought from the villagers for a 5-mile high way
construction between Leshi and Summara in Naga Hills.

Not surprisingly, it aims for the military personnel who stationed at
Summara, the border city with India.

For Leshi?Summara highway construction, twelve villages in the area have
to supply hundred laborers in rotation with their own food and clothing.
Each family is asked to make 6' x 6' x 1½' trench of split rock of stone
35 trenches. Women and children carry the split rocks to the
construction site, the distance being half kilometer. Anybody who can
not work the given "duty" has to pay Kyat 3,000 through head of village/
ward to township authorities concerned.

These villagers suffer from malaria and dysentery as the rains heavily
go on. "Laborers have to get up early, cook their breakfast and lunches,
go to work up to 5 p.m. in the evening" said a woman whom our reporter
met at a border place.

At present, Tele-communication and television sets are being placed in
Leshi town and for this purpose too, a family has to contribute one
trench of split rocks or Kyats 3,000.

According to figures of the government, the budget for "Development of
Border Areas" for this year is Kyat 7,00 lakhs while for defence and
military purposes, Kyat 9,530 lakhs is sanctioned.

And the strength of the army in the border is increased more and more
and the villagers, mostly ethnic minorities, are the ones suffer. The
villagers carry rations and all eatables for the soldiers, of course,
free of charge. One villager is always on daily for carrying army
ration, reports and other purposes apart from the villagers cut tree,
bamboo, tatch, stumbling blocks for the army personnel.

Unable to bear these hardship and difficulties anymore, some Naga
families have in recent months, fled to India, particularly to the Naga
areas in India. In Nagaland, there are about three thousand Nagas from
Burma and in Manipur, about six hundred Nagas of Burma are living in the
Naga villages, according to NNLD leader Mr. Laung San.

?It is easy to get treatment here when one is sick. Moreover, We could
save money by working here. There in Myanmar (Burma), we can hardy eat
to survive. We have to work for the army and we are always afraid of
them?, said a Naga-Burmese villager in Manipur.