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07-16-94 1611EDT
  (ART ADV: Photo of forced laborers has been sent to NYT photo
  clients. Non-subscribers can make individual purchase by calling
  212-556-4204 or 1927.)
  c.1994 N.Y. Times News Service
     MANDALAY, Myanmar  Gilding the great Lion Throne of the last
  kings of Burma, Aung Soe Min was looking a little gilded himself.
  The yellow-gold paint splattered on his arms and legs as he crawled
  up the ladder, moving his brush across the newly carved
  reproduction of the 18-foot-high wooden throne.
     ``Excellent,'' he pronounced his work, part of a five-year
  project to rebuild the 19th-century Gold Palace, the centerpiece of
  the last imperial capital of the country that is now called
     Aung Soe Min has special reason to be pleased, since he is being
  paid for his work  about $2 a day, an average wage in this
  impoverished country. Many others in Mandalay, the country's second
  largest city, are not nearly so lucky.
     In fact, tens of thousands of laborers here are being paid
  nothing, ordered by Myanmar's military government to work in a
  giant forced labor program that is producing some of the first
  public dissent to be heard in Mandalay since the junta's violent
  crackdown on Myanmar's democracy movement in 1988.
     ``We are angry that we are being ordered to do this terrible
  work,'' said a 50-year-old shop-owner. She bravely marched up to a
  foreign visitor, in full view of a band of soldiers, to complain
  that she and her neighbors were being forced to leave their regular
  jobs to work unpaid in the stifling 95-degree heat, dredging the
  6-mile-long, 11-foot-deep moat around the old imperial city.
     ``It is dangerous for me to say these things to a foreigner, but
  I am so upset that I do not care,'' she said, wiping thick mud and
  bits of slimy moss from her hands. ``We must use our hands to take
  this filthy, smelly dirt from the bottom of the moat. I have seen
  women collapse from the heat. And for this, the government pays us
     A tea-shop worker in his 30s was seated nearby on a tattered
  bamboo mat, forced to use a small hammer to break rocks for the new
  moat wall. ``The government is creating trouble for itself by
  making the people in Mandalay so angry,'' he said.
     The reconstruction of the Gold Palace  it was reduced to rubble
  by bombing in World War II  is part of a huge campaign by the
  military government to prepare tourist attractions for 1996, which
  the junta has proclaimed ``Visit Myanmar Year'' in hopes of
  attracting millions of hard-currency tourists.
     Mandalay is home to some of the country's most impressive
  Buddhist shrines, and many of the city's people are pleased about a
  revival of the long-dormant tourist industry.
     But they are outraged that the restoration work is being carried
  out with forced labor, their labor. And to a remarkable degree in
  this police state, they are willing to express their fury to anyone
  who will listen.
     Several months ago, the junta announced to the city's 500,000
  residents that each family in the city would have to contribute at
  least three days a month of free labor. And those are not regular
  workdays. Often, the labor begins at dawn and stretches into the
  evening  work so long and tiring that people complain of not
  recovering until several days later.
     Prison inmates have it worse. They are required to work every
  day, and bands of denim-clad prisoners can be found each morning
  climbing hundreds of feet to the top of Mandalay Hill, the city's
  natural landmark, where they spend the day laying down
  pastel-colored tiles for a new sightseeing platform.
     Many military families were exempted from the free-labor
  requirement, as was any family that agreed to pay a monthly fine of
  about $6, equal to a week's wages for some families.
     Forced labor is common in Myanmar. It is described by the
  Government as ``self reliance,'' and it has long been a concern to
  human rights groups. According to the State Department's most
  recent annual report on human rights abuses in Myanmar, the
  military ``routinely'' employs forced labor ``for its myriad
  building projects,'' especially large road and railroad
     Far worse, human rights group say, is the Myanmar army's policy
  of abducting young men and women in rural areas to serve as porters
  for the military, carrying weapons and other gear to travel to
  malaria-infested war zones along Myanmar's borders, where for
  decades the army has been battling ethnic insurgents.
     The State Department report says hundreds of porters are thought
  to have died just last year ``from disease and overwork, though
  reports of mistreatment and rape were also common.'' It added,
  ``When porters are wounded, ill or unable to continue their work,
  some have been reportedly left unattended to die.''
     By comparison then, the forced laborers in Mandalay might seem
  to have no complaint at all.
     But this is the first time in years that city-dwellers here have
  been forced to do government labor. Mandalay is known as the most
  politically charged city in Myanmar  far more so than the capital,
  Yangon  and the junta's decision to turn this city's residents
  into forced laborers carries a political risk for the junta.
     What is most remarkable about the dredging project along the
  huge moat around the imperial city is how much of it could be done
  easily by machines but is instead carried out by the most basic
  human labor. ``The trucks and the machines use gas, but we are
  free,'' said a young woman, her head wrapped with rags to absorb
  the sweat.
     Thousands of people climb up and down the banks of the moat,
  lifting handfuls of dirt that could be removed far more efficiently
  with a single forklift. At the top of the moat, the dirt is passed,
  handful by handful, down a long chain of people clearly miserable
  under this oppressive sun.
     ``This is the arrogance of the government, that they will force
  poor people to interrupt their lives to do this sort of work,''
  said a 28-year-old teacher who identified himself as a student
  leader of the 1988 democracy movement. ``This is silly work, stupid
  work. It is reminding people of why we rose up against the military
  before. People could rise up again.''