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Burma Issues report
Subject: Burma Issues report
OPERATION DRAGON KING
The Forced Relocation of Burma's Village Peasants
BURMA ISSUES, September 1993
The intention of this report is to describe some of the Burmese
Army's military operations in the ethnic Karen State and highlight
a series of events which resulted in a variety of human rights
abuses throughout the region. The operation under discussion was
called "Operation Dragon King" and was started by the Burmese Army
on December 12, 1991. Earlier, on November 1, a Rangoon Radio
broadcast had announced a halt to all military operations in the
Karen State in order to prepare for the National Convention and
"peace" in Burma. In fact, the Burmese military only temporarily
slowed down their offensives, but the suffering of the people
Since the early 1950s, the Burmese Army has been carrying out many
operations against the Karen insurgency. In 1960, a new military
strategy known as the "Four Cuts" program was initiated as a
counter-insurgency program designed to isolate the insurgents from
the masses and cut the Karen's four main elements, i.e. food,
funds, new recruits and information. Subsequently, the Burmese
Army methodically drove the Karen rebels from the Delta area to the
eastern remote border areas.
In the 1970s, the momentum of the Burmese Army's offensive to
absolutely uproot the Karen rebellion in the frontier areas was
slowing down. The Karen rebels were stubbornly resisting the "Four
Cuts" program in their areas. The Burmese Army subsequently re-
evaluated their entire operations which relied on the Four Cuts
strategy. They found that the Karen rebel base camps on the Thai-
Burma border were major sources for arms, food and finance to the
frontier zones. The Karen headquarters at Manerplaw was also in
good communications with all other frontier areas and could easily
manage the frontier Karen operations.
As a result of this re-evaluation, the Burmese Army changed their
strategy to focus on annihilating Karen strongholds along the Thai-
Burma border in order to cut these strategic channels which the
Karen rebels used to bring resources to the frontier. At the same
time, in order to cut financial resources to Karen rebels, the
Burmese Army also initiated attacks against Karen trade routes and
areas rich in natural resources areas such as mines and timber
extraction areas. The "Four Cuts" program was still maintained in
the frontier areas in order to continue putting pressure on Karen
rebels deep inside Burma, as well as to pressure the villagers to
end any support for the rebels.
Before the 1970s, the frontier lines were deeper inside Burma away
from the Thai-Burma border so the issue of internally displaced
people was only a problem deep inside Burma. In 1980, the Burmese
Army started military operations along the Thai-Burma border which
resulted in civilians living near the border having to flee into
Thailand to seek refuge. This created a refugee problem in
Thailand which has grown in size and seriousness.
Whenever military operations are carried out, civilians suffer the
most. The resulting consequences create a mass of internally
displaced people, thousands of refugees, and a vast variety of
human rights abuses and lost of lives.
I. OPERATION DRAGON KING
Following the 1988 September uprising throughout Burma, many urban
political dissident groups moved their central offices to Manerplaw
which was originally the jungle headquarters of the Karen National
Union (KNU) and several other ethnic nationality groups aligned
together as the National Democratic Front (NDF). These political
dissident groups also aligned themselves with the NDF and formed
the Democratic Alliance of Burma (DAB).
This 1988 urban to jungle migration of dissidents increased the
number of armed groups fighting against the military regime. At
the same time, the various dissident groups managed a large number
of infiltrations into the urban areas which threatened the regime's
power and stability. The regime was able to arrest some of these
cadre who were sent from Manerplaw, but still the opposition to
military rule continued.
The 1988 uprising also drew the world's attention to the plight of
the Burmese people. Since the regime strictly prohibited foreign
journalists from entering Burma, the jungle headquarters of
Mannerplaw became the center of news and information for the
international community. Thus the headquarters became a very
important channel through Thailand for the various foreign groups
to learn about Burma.
These various circumstances forced the regime to launch fierce
attacks against Manerplaw. The military's "Dragon King" operation
was created partially with the objective of taking over Manerplaw
and eliminating this serious threat to their rule.
1.B. The Operation Plan in Brief
Several months before "Dragon King" was started, the Karen rebels
realized that there would be fierce attacks in their area. The
late vice president of the KNU, Saw Than Aung, once stated that the
Burmese regime had allocated US$1,380 million for the offensive.
The Burmese Army poured 25,000 troops from 70 infantries into the
area. The commander of their South East Command, Commander Maj Gen.
Maung Hla, personally took charge of the entire operation.
According to a notebook belonging to Burmese Major Hla Myint who
was killed in fighting with the Karen, the strategy of "Dragon
1) applying a scorched earth policy to the region, and
2) getting rid of any suspicious persons found on the area.
2. FORCED RELOCATION AND INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS
2.A. Background of Forced Relocations
People living in the frontier are affected the most by the forced
relocation policy of the military. The problem resulted from the
regime's "Four Cuts" military strategy and developed in 1975 when
the regime stepped up forced relocations in the eastern frontier
area of the Karen state where rough terrain provided military
advantages for the Karen guerrillas. At that time the present
Secretary (2) of Slorc, Gen. Tin Oo, was one of the active
commanders implementing the "Four Cuts" system. The Karen people
were forcefully moved out of their villages and down into
relocation camps which were situated under the watchful eyes of
Burmese military camps.
2.B. Types of and Reasons for Forced Relocation
The following information was reported by Maj. Joshu from the
headquarters of the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), Brigade
Since Slorc's militarization program started in 1991, many
suspected Karen villages in the flat lands have been rapidly moved
to relocation sites. The hill Karen villages, i.e. Karen living in
the mountainous areas, were also forced to relocate down to the
flat lands near Burmese military bases where they could be closely
watched. The hill Karen were totally isolated from their
traditional livelihood which is hillside rice cultivation and
livestock raising. Since these occupations could not be practiced
in their new villages, they suffered very much.
Aside from the "Four Cuts" system, if any fighting between Karen
and Burmese troops breaks out, the surrounding villages are ordered
by the Burmese army to move to new relocation sites. Such action
is also a way of punishment on the villagers for living near to or
possibly supporting the guerrillas. Sometimes, if the villagers
pay bribe money to army officials, they are allowed to remain in
their villages. Some of the villagers paid a lot of bribe money to
military officers, but were then cheated as they were later ordered
to move to a new relocation site.
On March 23, 1992, the two village of Hin Tha Wel and Mar Bi in
Kyauk Kyi Township of Pegu Division were ordered by the Burmese
army to move to the new relocation site due to fighting between the
KNLA and Burmese Army nearby. Later the village people went to
meet with army officials in Kyauk Kyi town and paid a bribe of
500,000 kyats. On April 13, 1992, after the army officials
received the bribe money, the people were again order to move to
the new relocation site.
Although the regime provided some education in the relocation sites
established in early 1975, the curriculum was only in the Burmese
language which is totally different from the Karen language. Now,
in the present relocation camps, the regime has stop providing
education unless some volunteer teachers from inside the relocation
camps can be found.
The Karen inmates in the relocation sites have also been facing a
shortage of rice. These circumstances drove the Karen inmates to
take the risk of fleeing back to their homeland in the mountainous
areas designated as free fire zones.
2.C. Causes of Internal Displacement
The Burmese army considers all Karen living in the mountainous
areas, or those returning to the mountainous areas from the
relocation sites, as collaborators with the Karen guerrillas.
These areas are called "Black Areas" according to the Burmese
military term. The civilians living here are humiliated, executed,
torture, and/or raped on sight by the Burmese soldiers. Thus the
people are frightened to even be seen by the Burmese army and move
around from one place to another in an attempt to avoid the army.
This creates the situation of internally displaced persons, or
those who no longer have a permanent and secure home. These people
are reluctant to move to refugees camps on the Thai border because
they stubbornly want to remain in their homeland where they have
been for generations. Thai government policy also restricts them
from farming in Thailand in order to protect the environment. As
refugees in Thailand, they are therefore far away from their homes,
and are unable to farm in order to feed their families.
2.D. Areas of Displaced Persons
During the Burmese Army's "Dragon King Operation", Papun, Taung
Ngu, Nyaung Le Pin and Tha Ton districts of the Karen State were
devastated. An estimated 600,000 people living in the area were
affected by the military operation. Geographically the districts
are located nearby primary defence posts of the Karen which protect
their headquarters of Manerplaw.
When the Burmese Army initiated the operation on December 12, 1991,
the Karen villagers had fortunately just harvested their rice. If
the Burmese Army had started the operation earlier, the people
would have immediately faced desperate starvation.
Due to their experience during the past four decades, the people
always put their rice in large sealed bowls and scattered them in
hiding places in the jungle in order to protect their rice from
being looted or burned by the raiding Burmese soldiers. During the
"Dragon King Operation", the people had to flee into hiding in the
jungle, but were able to survive on the rice which they had hidden
immediately after harvest.
The Karen head of the villages in Papun district, Saw Be Le who is
54, said that some of the people have move about 20 time since the
Burmese Army started the operation. He added that he and his
villagers have move more than 50 times since the "Four Cuts"
program was started by the army in 1975.
2.E. Affects on the Internally Displaced Persons
Unfortunately, the army's military operation continued for more
than a year. The villagers hidden stocks of rice soon ran out.
Moreover, most of the people had no time to plant rice for the 1993
harvest, although the fighting had abated somewhat by November
1992. By that time is was to late for them to plant a crop as the
rains were already ending.
This has resulted in a severe shortage of rice at the present time.
In some areas, starvation has started with an especially serious
effect on the children and old people. To solve this shortage of
food, the people mix rice with bamboo shoots, wild sweet potatoes,
and turnips in order to stave off starvation. Although it is not
common to see people who are dying as a direct result of
starvation, the people usually die from malaria and other diseases
because of lack of resistance caused by poor diet. Hundreds of
children and old people have already died from hunger and disease
as a result of the "Dragon King Operation".
It is very difficult to get accurate statistics regarding the exact
number of internally displaced people. However there is no doubt
that the military operation caused a rapid increase in the number
of internally displaced persons. Some observers estimate that
there are from 200,000 to 500,000 displaced people in the Karen
Currently, the internally displaced people are in desperate need of
food aid and health care for their survival. Rice, salt and fish
paste are their common food. For the time being, education is of
secondary concern to them. From May to October, heavy monsoon
rains wash the jungle creating more hardships and increasing the
threat of malaria.
3. THE REFUGEE PROBLEM
3.A. Background to the Refugees
Refugees began entering Thailand from the Karen State around 1984
when the Burmese Army attacked Karen rebel camps along the
Thai\Burma border. These military campaigns were carried out with
the aim of cutting off weapons and finance to the KNU. Much of the
KNU's resources were earned through border trade, so these main
trade routes were targeted. Civilians living in strategic areas
and around the trade routes were severely affected by the Burmese
Army's military operations. When the army unofficially declared
all people living in these areas as collaborators with the Karen
rebels, the people fled to Thailand in fear of persecution by the
3.B. The Creation of the Refugees
The Burma army's "Dragon King Operation" drove the civilians living
in the border area into a total of thirteen refugees camps inside
Thailand. The number of refugees rapidly increased from 55,000 in
1991 to the present number of around 70,000. The refugees are not
only ethnic Karen, but also include other ethnic nationalities, and
a large number of ethnic Burmans living in the Karen State.
The area most seriously affected was Papun District as it is
strategically located near to Manerplaw. This district is one of
the most productive rice cultivation areas in the Karen State. A
KNU administrative officer said that about 10,000 out of a total
population of 150,000 in Papun District, crossed into Thailand as
a result of the army's operation. Most of the refugees stay as
refugees in the camps, but some seek jobs as unskilled labors in
Thailand and thus become illegal immigrants.
Some family members of Karen rebels living in military-controlled
areas also fled to Thailand. Their lives are often threaten by the
Burmese Army's Military Intelligence agents (MI). Along with
conventional military operations, the MI also carry out clandestine
operations in the suspected areas. These Karen can not easily live
like internally displaced persons in the jungle as they do not have
experience in the shifting cultivation system which is most
appropriate in the mountainous regions of Burma.
4. ARBITRARY ARRESTS
4. A. Areas and Reasons for Arbitrary Arrests
When the Burmese Army began their attacks on Manerplaw, the Karen
rebel units in other frontiers penetrated into the regime's
controlled areas where arbitrary arrests were happening.
Eventually the number of arbitrary arrests increased in the areas
where guerrillas had infiltrated. A Karen rebel military expert
said that the objective of the Karen penetrations into Slorc
controlled areas was to ease the military pressure against the
Manerplaw area. In retaliation, Burmese MI agents also mounted
clandestine operations in these infiltrated areas to harass the
people living there.
The local people were subject to arbitrary arrests by MI agents
either to provide information to the MI or to intimidate the people
to stay away from the guerrillas. Families members of rebels were
particularly subjected to arrest by the MI agents. A large number
of young people were also subjected to arrest and accusations of
Aside from military objectives, both corrupted MI agents and
soldiers arrest village people in order to extract bribe money from
the family members in order to gain the release of detainees.
Since the farmers are poor, individually they can not afford to pay
the bribe money. Therefore the entire village must contribute
money for the release of the their village members. The heads of
the villages are responsible to negotiate with the military
officers for the amount of bribe money to be paid.
An unknown number of innocent civilians were arrested during the
military campaigns. It is almost impossible to get accurate
statistics concerning the number of arrests due to difficult
transportation, communications and a lack of awareness on the part
of the local people.
4.B. Subjects of Arbitrary Arrests
Most of the people arrested are simple farmers and even though they
may sympathize with the guerrillas, they are not directly involved
in guerrilla activities. The head of one Karen village testified
that only a few of those arrested are actually part of the "rebel's
backbone", as the Slorc labels suspected rebel sympathizers. Most
instead most are ordinary farmers. If a rebel, for example, even
slept overnight in a village house, either the house owner or the
entire family could be arrested and taken to one of the temporary
interrogation centers which exist in the military camps. Those
deemed "highly suspicious" are later sent to the central
interrogation center in Rangoon. Whenever the MI carry out
interrogations, various types of torture are usually applied to
make the suspects "confess".
As an example, on March 13, 1992, ten women from Taw Kyaw Pauk
Village in Kyauk Kyi Township of Pegu Division were arbitrarily
arrested by soldiers from Infantry Regiment No. 60 led by Capt. Tin
Aung. Their fate is still unknown. They were identified as:
Name Age Father's name Mother's Name
1.Naw Say Hel 22 Saw Mg Di Naw Ka Lay
2.Naw San Win 22 Saw Nhin Maung Naw Mya Thein
3.Naw Dar Dar 17 Saw Bauk Taw Naw Mya Sein
4.Naw War 18 Saw Maung Thaw Naw Sein Ngwe
5.Naw Pa Lu 17 Saw Bike Pu Naw Mu Ka Ri
6.Naw Hla Ngwe 19 Saw Maung Shwe Naw Pu Shwe
7.Naw Tar Mi Mi 30 Saw The Shwe Naw Paw Mu
8.Naw Ju Ju 19 Saw Dart Owe Naw War Pho
9.Naw Tin Kyi 54 Saw Pho The Naw Say Tha
10. Naw San Mya Htay 18 Saw The Pye Naw Maw Mo
5. UNFAIR TRIALS
During military operations, a number of alleged guerrillas were
sentenced by military tribunals without the right to a public
hearing. Some have been detained for long periods of time without
being sentenced. Though family members raised questions to
officials, accurate information was not given to them. Neither
those arrested, nor their families were allowed to defend
themselves against the charges.
A large number of people from Nyaung Le Pin District, Tha Thon
District and Mergui/ Tavoy District were sentenced by unfair trial.
6.A. Location of Detention Centers
Temporary detention centers exist in almost all the military camps.
On the frontier, a number of detention centers, aside from the MI
interrogation centers, are located in Kyauk Kyi and Shwe Kyin towns
in Pegu Division. The centers, commonly known as re-education
centers, are named Shwe Pyi Nyein (Peaceful Golden Country) and
Shwe Pyi Aye (Tranquil Golden Land).
6.B. Type and Subject of Detention
Family members of rebels, especially parents of rebels, are taken
to the re-education centers and detained for about three months.
The rest of the villagers are supposed to send rice for the
detainees to eat. The detainees are allowed to walk within
particular areas which are fenced by barbed wire.
On September 13, the four children of Pa Doh Sein Maung were
detained for a while in Shew Kyin detention center of Pegu Division
because Pa Doh Sein Maung is a member of KNU.
While in detention the Burmese Army brainwashes the people about
the aims and objectives of the present regime. The parents are
intimidate, and told to call their children back from the rebel
zones. Occasionally the detainees are forced to work in the
plantations owned by the military camps. This is one strategy of
the Burmese Army to demoralize the rebels. Since the rebels are
not concerned about their own suffering while in the struggle, the
army feels that by holding the rebels' family members hostage in
the re-education centers, rebel morale might be hurt.
6.C. Detention or Forced Gathering of Youths
During the military campaign, a lot of young men and women in the
villages of Kyauk Kyi Township were forced to live together in
particular areas within their village groups. These places were
basically in the middle of open paddy fields so that the army could
easily see the youths. The young people had to build themselves
tiny huts or stay in whatever shade they could find. At night,
they were allowed to go back home. Their families had to provide
them the necessary food during the daytime.
Control over the young people was not very strict because sometimes
family members could come and talk with them. It was very
difficult to understand clearly the purpose of the Burmese Army
doing this, but probably they simply wanted to discourage the young
people from sympathizing with or supporting the guerrillas. The
Burmese Army is especially suspicious that village youth will serve
as informers or voluntary labor for carrying loads for the
guerrillas. The program did not prove to be a very effective way
of controlling the youth.
At the moment, this program has been suspended, but it is one of
the reasons for the decline in rice production in the area. The
youth are a very important part of the village farming work force,
and during their detention, they were unable to help in the fields
with planting and harvesting.
7. TORTURE AND DEGRADING PUNISHMENT
7.A. Cause of Torture
During the military campaigns, torture and execution became a
common occurrence during the MI's clandestine operations and the
army's military operations. Physical torture was more common than
mental torture in the conflict zones and suspected guerrilla-
infiltrated areas. However, both physical and mental torture were
used in the interrogation centers.
7.B. Torture in Conflict Areas
Physical torture was common in the conflict areas. Family members
and close friends of guerrillas, ex-members of guerrilla groups,
and political activists were subjected to torture by the Burmese
Army. The most common types of physical torture were beatings,
cutting the skin of the victims, placing the people under the hot
sun for days, cigarette burns, and placing plastic bags over the
heads of the victims to cause suffocation.
The most serious torture of physical mutilation was also carried
out by members of the Burmese Army. Alleged guerrillas or
collaborators were subjected to mutilation by gouging out their
eyes, and cutting off ears and other body parts.
7.C. Torture in Interrogation Centers
In the interrogation centers, both physical and mental torture were
used by the MI agents. The most common types of physical torture
in the interrogation centers were beatings, drowning in a water
tank, and electric shocks.
During the interrogation period, detainees were not allowed to
sleep for days. Some people have mentioned other types of torture
such as drug injections, but during the fact finding period, nobody
testified of having such an experience.
8.A. Execution in Free Fire Zones
During the military operation, a lot of new areas were declared as
free fire zones. In these free fire zones, any one caught would
automatically be considered a rebel and arrested or killed.
These areas were generally slash and burn rice fields or gardens.
After the army declared the areas as free fire zones, most of the
people moved to the nearest guerrilla-controlled area because they
feared the army and also because they could no longer grow food.
Some of them moved to the army's new relocation sites which were
always near to army camps. However, the people sometimes tried to
sneak back to their home areas in order to harvest rice in their
farms or to pick up their belongings from their homes. When these
people were sighted by the Burmese Army, they were executed.
8.B. Execution in Conflict Zones
Most of the suspected persons in the conflict zones were subjected
to execution after being seriously tortured by the Burmese Army. It
seems that the Burmese Army does not want anybody left alive to
testify about the torture.
8.C. The Conditions of Torture and Execution
The various types of physical torture in conflict areas were based
on the following conditions:
a). Way of Punishment
Following battles which caused heavy casualties to the Burmese
Army, civilians from the surrounding areas were physically tortured
or executed as a way of punishment.
In this case, the Burmese Army suspects that the local people are
guerrilla agents who are providing detailed information about army
maneuvers and consequently the guerrilla attacks cause them heavy
causalities. The army is unable to easily find out who the actual
guerrilla informers are in the war zones during the short period
their units stay in the area, and this frustrates them. The
Burmese Army considers that the heads of the villages are
responsible for everything happening around the village. A large
number of the village heads were consequently executed.
On April 26, 1992, there was a clash between KNLA and Burmese
troops near Le Way Gyi Village in Kyauk Kyi Township of Pegu
Division. Subsequently U Kyi Nyo, the head of the village, was
beaten to death.
b). To Collect Information
Suspected persons from suspected villages were physically tortured
to provide information about rebel movements and activities. In
most cases, the people were executed after interrogation and
In this case, the suspects are usually family members and close
friends of guerrillas. Young people and leaders of the communities
are also automatically suspects. These people are often subjected
to severe torture in order to extract information about rebel
movements for the Burmese Army.
c). Prevention from Information Leaking to Guerrillas
Most of the porters who could no longer carry their loads were
executed. The main reason for these executions was that if the
porters were found alive by the guerrillas, the porters could
provide valuable information. Occasionally some of the porters
were released alive by the soldiers.
Sometimes when the civilians were found near the army's hideouts,
they were also executed to prevent information from leaking to the
d). After Women are Raped
Women who were raped by soldiers were very often executed.
Occasionally some of the women were released after being raped but
this seemed to depend on how the women were treated during the rape
as well as on areas in which the rape took place.
If the women struggled hard during rape, most of them were executed
following the rape. The soldiers appeared to want to make sure
that the women did not reveal the details of the rape to other
Most of the women in the free fire zones or the conflicts areas are
executed after being raped as the soldiers have already considered
that they are guerrilla sympathizers or collaborators.
e). After Capturing POWs
After the prisoners of war were captured, they were first tortured
to provide information and later they were executed for two main
reasons. The first reason is the army's hatred of the ethnic
nationalities. The second is that due to difficult transportation
in the jungle, the Burmese Army does not want to take the
responsibility to move the POWs back to the base camp.
During military operations, most disappearances happened after the
army had taken people off as porters. Family members of these
porters who disappeared believed that they were executed in the
In some cases, unidentified people disappeared during the detention
period but no detailed reports have yet been made on these cases.
10.A. Types of Porters
Due to the lack of motor roads in the jungle, hundreds of people
were used as porters by the army during their military operation.
According to the local people, there are two kinds of porters, i.e.
short term and long term.
Long term porters are gone for months. In this case, the army
rounds up people from villages far distant from the conflict areas
as these porter will have more difficulty escaping since they do
not know their way through the jungle.
Short term porters are used only for several days. The army used
the local people in conflict areas as they are easily and quickly
rounded up and basically these porters will not try to flee since
they know they will serve for only a few days.
On March 3, 1992, hundreds of women over 14 years of age in Mama
Yan village group in Kyauk kyi township of Pegu Division were
rounded up and forced to carry rations for the army to Shwe Kyin
town. They were forced to work only for one day.
The porters were forced to carry heavy loads of ammunition and
rations for the soldiers. The average weight of the loads was
about 40 lbs. These porters are apparently also used as human mine
sweepers or bullet shields for the Burmese Army during combat.
10.B. Female Porters
Women were also rounded up by the army to serve as porters during
the military operation. Most of these women were sexually abused
by soldiers during this time. During the day time the women
porters were forced to carry heavy loads for the army. Some of the
women were physically abused by the soldiers during the night.
10.C. Child Porters
Homeless children and child vendors were round up at night by the
police at public places such as rail stations and cinemas. Later
the police turned the children over to the army for use as porters
in combat zones. The actual number of children porters used during
the operation was not known. Several escaped child porters who
were able to flee to the guerrilla-controlled areas, testified that
they saw large numbers of child porters in military columns and
that they were also forced to carry heavy loads and serve as human
mine sweepers and bullet shields.
An escaped porter, Maung Aye Naing, 14, gave the following account
about his experiences as a porter:
Maung Aue Naing lives at No. (14) ward in Taung Ngu town. His
parents are Mr. U Soe Myint (deceased) and Mrs. Daw Mi Nge. He has
three sisters and brothers. He was a vendor selling snacks at the
Taung Ngu rail station. On October 13, at about 12:30, he and two
other child vendors were arrested by the police and later turned
over to Infantry No. 43 of the Burmese Army. He was one of about
1,000 porters, including children, men and about 50 women, in an
army column sent to attack Karen guerrillas. He was tied up
together with other four porters in a line. Maung Aye Naing was
forced to carry a 20 pound bag of soybeans. On the way he saw
about 5 women raped and several porters shot through the mouth by
a young army officer. Maung Aye Naing finally escaped on October
26 to the Tar Do War column of the KNLA in Papun District. He is
now staying with the Karen guerrillas.
11. FORCED LABOR
11.A. Type of Forced Labor
This is quite different from the situation of porters. These
people were forced to contribute their labor in work sites such as
constructing army defence posts, road and rail construction, etc.
in the so called "military development program".
Prior to and during the military operations, thousands of people
were forced to work at projects to support the offensive in the
Karen State. No wages were paid for the work. For long projects
such as road construction, people from various areas were ordered
to alternate their time of work.
11.B. Death and Disease
People were ordered to carry their own food to eat during the work.
The military did not provide anything for living in the work sites.
Thus the people had to set up make-shift huts by themselves. The
lack of a proper water sanitation system at work sites caused
serious dysentery and cholera for the people. A number of people
died from the diseases. Also, a large number of people died from
malaria in areas where the malaria mosquito breeds freely. Despite
these problems, the military did not provide any medical care.
INTERNAL LAW IN WAR ZONES
During more than four decades of civil war, internal laws have not
been applied in the war zones. The Burmese military has been
applying only force of military power to control and administer the
zones. Military orders and instructions by the military personnel
are used to control the civilian population in areas in and around
the war zones. Since the military considers all the civilians
living in the rebel-controlled areas as collaborators with the
rebels, these inappropriate orders and instruction have a direct
and negative affect on the lives of the civilians.
The United Nations Charter (1945)
Since Burma is a member state of the United Nations, the State has
an obligation to cooperate fully in promoting the Human Rights
which are articulated as the "Universal Declaration of Human
Article 1 of the United Nations Charter (1945) states that the
charter is promoted "to alleviate international problems of an
economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in
promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for
fundamental freedoms for all without distinctions as to race, sex,
language or religion."
Article 55 of the Charter also states that "the United Nations
shall promote universal respect for, and observance of, human
rights and fundamental freedoms for all with out distinction as to
race, sex, language, or religion.
Article 56 states that "all members pledge themselves to take joint
and separate action in cooperation with the Organization for the
achievement of the purposes set forth in these Articles."
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The United Nations proclaims Universal Human Rights as a "common
standard of achievement for all peoples and nations to the end that
every individual and every organ of society, keeping this
declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and
education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by
progressive measure, national and international, to secure their
universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the
peoples of member states themselves and among the peoples of
territories under their jurisdiction."
Article 3 says that "everyone has the right to life, liberty and
the security of person."
Article 5 expresses that "no one shall be subjected to torture or
to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."
Article 9 states that "no one shall be subjected to arbitrary
arrest, detention or exile."
Article 10 expresses that "everyone is entitled to full equality to
fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal,
in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any
criminal charge against him."
Article 11 says that "everyone charged with a penal offence has the
right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law
in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary
for his defence."
Declaration of the Rights of the Child (1959)
Principle 9 proclaims that "the child shall be protected against
all forms of neglect, cruelty and exploitation. He shall not be the
subject of traffic, in any form."
Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990)
On July 6, 1991, the present Secretary 1 of the Slorc, Maj. Gen.
Khin Nyunt. signed the "World Summit Declaration on the Survival,
Protection and Development of the Child."
Article 1 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child states that
"for the purpose of the present convention a child means every
human being below the age of 18 years unless, under the law
applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier."
Article 32 proclaims that "state parties recognize the right of the
child to be protected from economic exploitation and from
performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere
with the child's education, or to be harmful to the child's health
or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development."
Article 37, (a) states that "no child shall be subjected to torture
or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without
possibility of release shall be imposed for offenses committed by
persons below 18 years of age."
Article 38, stresses that "state parties undertake to respect and
to ensure respect for rules of international humanitarian law
applicable to them in armed conflicts which are relevant to the
On August 24, 1992, Burma ratified the Geneva Convention of 1949
concerning protection for victims of armed conflicts. Although the
Burma military has an obligation to apply this convention inside
Burma, they have not yet put it into action.
Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions
"In the case of armed conflict not of an international character
occurring in the territory of the High Contracting Parties, each
party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the
(1) Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including
members of the armed forces who have laid down their arms and those
placed "hors de combat" by sickness, wounds, detention, or any
other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely,
without any adverse distinction founded on race, color, religion or
faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.
To this end, the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at
any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above
(a) Violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds,
mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;
(b) taking of hostages;
(c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and
(d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions
without previous judgement pronounced by a regularly constituted
court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized
as indispensable by civilized peoples.
INTERNATIONAL LABOR CONVENTION ON FORCED LABOR, 1930.
Burma has ratified International Labor Organization (ILO)
Convention No. 29 concerning forced or compulsory labor. The
fundamental commitment made by States ratifying this convention is
to suppress the use of forced or compulsory labor in all its forms
in the shortest possible time.
Article 10 (1) - "forced or compulsory labor exacted as a tax and
forced or compulsory labor to which recourse is had for the
execution of public works by chiefs who exercise administrative
functions shall be progressively abolished."
Article 10 (2) - "where forced or compulsory labor is exacted under
the conditions stated in 10 (1), the authority concerned shall be
(c) that the work or service will not lay too heavy a burden upon
the present population, having regard to the labor available and
its capacity to undertake the work;
(d) that the work or service will not entail the removal of the
workers from their place of habitual residence;
(e) that the execution of the work or the rendering of the service
will be directed in accordance with the exigencies of religion,
social life and agriculture."
Article 12 - "for forced or compulsory labor of all kinds, the
maximum period for which any person may be taken in any one period
of 12 months shall not exceed 60 days, including the time spent in
going to and from the place of work."
Article 16 (2) - "in no case shall the transfer of workers be
permitted unless all measures relating to hygiene and accommodation
which are necessary to adapt such workers to the conditions and to
safeguard their health can be strictly applied."
Article 16 (3) - "when such transfer can not be avoided, measures
of gradual habituation to the new conditions of diet and of climate
shall be adopted on competent medical advice."
Article 17 - "before permitting recourse to forced or compulsory
labor for works of construction or maintenance which entail the
workers remaining at the work place for considerable periods, the
competent authority shall satisfy itself that:
(1) all necessary measures are taken to safeguard the health of the
workers and to guarantee their necessary medical care and ...
(4) in case of illness or accident causing incapacity to work of a
certain duration, the worker is repatriated at the expense of the
Article 18 states that:
"1. Forced or compulsory labor for the transport of persons or
goods such as the labor of porters or boatmen, shall be abolished
within the shortest possible period. Meanwhile the competent
authority shall promulgate regulations determining, inter alia,...
(b) that the workers so employed shall be medically certified to be
physically fit, where medical examination is possible, and that
where such medical examination is not practicable the person
employing such workers shall be held responsible for ensuring that
they are physically fit...
(c) the maximum load which these workers may carry...
"the maximum distance from their homes to which they may be
3. "The competent authority shall further provide that the normal
daily journey of such workers shall not exceed a distance
corresponding to an average working day of eight hours, it being
understood that account shall be taken not only of the weight to be
carried and the distance to be covered but also for the nature of
road, the season and all other relevant factors..."
This report is based on the facts that have been collected from the
victims of war and some KNU officials during the Burmese military
operation named "Dragon King" which took place from December 12,
1991 to November 11, 1992.
The civil war in Burma has already lasted for more than 45 years.
Almost every summer season (from the middle of May until November),
the Burmese military launches an intense offensive with the aim to
eradicate the ethnic nationalities armed movements and the
Civilians living in these areas are the most abused, and have
suffered interminably throughout the civil war. However, only a
few documents have come out from these areas which can chronicle in
detail the abuses they have suffered. In the urban areas where the
international media has at least some access, more information is
available, and at the same time fewer abuses are carried out
against the people.
The ruling government of Burma has changed several times during the
past decades, but the civil war and the problems it creates, still
remain. The present Slorc (military government) is pushing to
create a new constitution to rule the country in a more
"democratic" way. However, a sign that they truly wish to end
hostilities has not yet appeared. The number of their armed forces
is increasing yearly despite the fact that Burma really has no
international enemies to fear. For most people in Burma, this
simple indicates that the civil war will continue for an unknown
number of years more. Civilians, especially those in the
mountainous regions, will continue to suffer from the military
operations. Preventive actions are essential to finally bring a
halt to this cycle of death and destruction.
International support is essential to help bring peace to Burma.
The following are some issues which the international community can
build campaigns around.
1. A total arms embargo by the UN against Slorc.
2. The abolishment of all "free fire zones" in Burma.
3. The cessation of massive forced relocations of civilians.
4. The civilian and military populations must be clearly
identified, and the civilians not automatically treated as
5. An official announcement by Slorc that they will stop
considering civilians as rebel collaborators.
6. Humanitarian aid campaigns for civilians in the war zones
should be launched immediately, and international organizations
such as UN agencies and ICRC be encouraged to play a significant
role in this effort. These organizations should explore all
possible channels of getting relief aid to these displaced people,
including cross-border aid.
7. The United Nations, which has been monitoring the human rights
situation inside Burma for a long time already, should bring this
issue to the Security Council for immediate action.
8. Boycotts of all foreign companies investing in Burma should be
launched, until such time as Slorc calls a nation-wide cease fire
and begins a process of dismantling the ruling military apparatus.
9. NOG's considering opening work inside Burma should analyze
very carefully how they can carry out work there without directly
and/or indirectly supporting the military dictatorship which is
responsible for the suffering of the people.