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KHRG #95-26 Part 1/2
- Subject: KHRG #95-26 Part 1/2
- From: smith@xxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Mon, 07 Aug 1995 00:58:00
[Note: this report has been posted by KHRG, not by A. Smith. =20
Please ignore any reference to A. Smith in the message header.]
=09 YE-TAVOY RAILWAY AREA: AN UPDATE
An Independent Report by the Karen Human Rights Group
=09=09 July 31, 1995 / KHRG #95-26
[PART 1 OF 2 - SEE SUBSEQUENT POSTING FOR PART 2]
[SOME DETAILS HAVE BEEN REPLACED BY 'XXX' FOR INTERNET DISTRIBUTION]
This report focusses on conditions for civilians in the Ye-Tavoy
railway line area through the 1995 dry season. In order to give
a better idea of the lives of people in the area, the report includes
not only testimony specific to the forced labour itself, but also
other abuses and living conditions experienced by villagers in
areas which must provide railway labour. As though the forced
labour on the railway itself were not enough to make them flee,
they also have to face monthly extortion demands by SLORC troops
which far exceed what they can earn, looting, threats, and forced
labour as porters and at army camps. The report also includes
testimony from two former SLORC soldiers in the area and two prison
convicts who were brought to the railway as forced labour.
The Ye-Tavoy railway route runs 110 miles north-south from Ye
in southern Mon State to Tavoy in Tenasserim Division, running
roughly parallel to the Andaman Sea coast of southern Burma.=20
It is to be an extension of the existing rail line from Moulmein
southward to Ye. Construction began in late 1993. SLORC troops
were moved into the area, sent orders to villages and rounded
up tens of thousands of Mon, Karen, Tavoyan and Burman villagers
to do forced labour clearing the route and building the railway
embankment, on 15-day rotating shifts under gruelling conditions.
They had to bring their own food and were beaten for any lapse
in work. Many died of illness, beatings, or landslides. The
elderly, children as young as 10, and pregnant women were not
excluded from the labour quotas. Details on the work in 1993-94
can be found in the KHRG report "The Ye-Tavoy Railway", 13/4/94,
as well as reports by several other human rights groups.
In the 1994/95 dry season labour began as before, but in early
1995 work suddenly began slackening off in the northern sections
of the railway despite the fact that it was far from complete.
One reason for this may be that the foreign oil companies working
on a gas pipeline to cross the railway halfway along its route
had insisted that they would not use the railway, and pipeline
support was one of the railway's main purposes from the beginning.
Another reason is a possible change in the railway route. There
are reports that SLORC has decided to shift the route between
Ye Pyu (12 miles north of Tavoy) and Yah Pu (60 miles north of
Tavoy). Currently this section of the route runs along the east
side of the Tavoy River, but reports from the area are that SLORC
has decided to shift it to the west side, which would require
fewer bridges to cross the Tavoy's tributaries. The plan would
involve building a large bridge across the Tavoy river north of
Ye Pyu. SLORC has reportedly already surveyed this new route.
If this happens, not only will all the abuse, death, and destruction
of farmland which occurred in clearing the eastern route have
been for nothing, but it will all be repeated on the west side
of the river. Already, some of the northern segments of the route
cleared last year are becoming overgrown. Whatever the reason,
the result this year has been a decrease in the number of people
demanded for labour from some areas. However, this has been accompanied
by an increase in the amount of extortion money demanded to "avoid"
the labour. People in towns no longer provide labour anywhere
along the route, but are forced to pay 500 Kyat or more per family
per month. In villages, people are forced to provide labour (usually
1 person per 5 or 10 families on a rotating basis, compared to
one person per family last year) as well as money (500-1,500 Kyat
per month per family).
SLORC has focussed this year on finishing the southernmost section
of the railway, 12 miles from Tavoy to Ye Pyu. In this area demands
for labour have been as heavy as ever, although townspeople from
Tavoy are only forced to provide money, not labour. Villagers
from the area have been told that SLORC wanted to finish this
segment of railway in time for "Visit Myanmar Year 1996", so that
tourists coming to Tavoy would think a railway runs all the way
north to Rangoon (they would only be allowed to come in by air,
not to travel overland). However, to date tourists are not allowed
to go to Tavoy. Now the Tavoy-Ye Pyu section of the railway is,
according to SLORC, complete. An opening ceremony was held on
May 30th, which all the wives of SLORC officials were forced to
attend in matching clothes.
Since 1994 thousands of the villagers have been forced to stay
in labour camps during their work periods: the main labour camps
between Tavoy and Ye Pyu this year have been at Maung May Shaung,
Kyauk K'Nya, Hnint Twe, The Pyay Chaung, and Zahar. Each of these
holds several hundred to a thousand or more labourers at a time.
Nothing is provided except guards; they must bring their own
food, buy their own medicine, and build and maintain their own
shelters. SLORC's New Light of Myanmar newspaper on 15/9/94 reported
the Army's Southeastern Commander Maj. Gen. Ket Sein as saying
about the Ye-Tavoy railway "that labour contribution camps were
all equipped with medical and welfare facilities and amenities
like TV shows and video shows. Work that was to be completed
in a month's time was therefore completed in reality in a fortnight.
Those who had contributed labour were reluctant to go home even
after completion of the work." The villagers say otherwise.=20
This year more and more convicts from Moulmein, Insein and other
prisons have also been brought to work on the railway, generally
in chains. Political prisoners are included, generally those
sentenced to 5 years or less under Article 17/1 for associating
with illegal or opposition organizations. Political prisoners
with much longer sentences are not taken to forced labour sites
outside prisons for fear they might escape.
Unable to face the continuing labour, and even less able to face
the spiralling demands for extortion money, thousands of people
continue to flee their villages for the forests, Mon or Karen
camps, or the refugee camps at the Thai border. The population
at Payaw (Mon) refugee camp is up by 50%, over 700 people since
January 1995, with other camps seeing similar increases. The
interviews in this report were conducted with displaced people
inside Burma and those in refugee camps. All of their names have
been changed and a few details of their stories omitted in order
to protect them. False names are shown in quotation marks; all
other details are real. Conditions and treatment can differ under
different Battalions and at different places and times, and their
stories reflect this. LIB is Light Infantry Battalion, IB is
Infantry Battalion. All numeric dates are given in DD/MM/YY format.
TOPIC SUMMARY: Railway labour (Story #1,2,4-10,12,14,15), abuse
of the elderly (#8,9,10,13), abuse of children (#1,4,6,8,10),
abuse of women (#1,2,4,6,8,12), rape (#6,12,15), beatings on the
railway (#1,2,4-6,8,12,15), other beatings (#1,3,4,5,10,13,15),
deaths on the railway (#5,6,8,9,15), other deaths/ killings (#4,11,13,15),
extortion (#1,2,6-9,12-14), looting (#1,2,3), land confiscation/
destruction (#1), forced labour for commercial logging (#3), convict
labour (#5,15), political prisoners on the railway (#5), prison
conditions (#5,15), porters (#1-4,9-11,13), testimony by SLORC
soldiers (#4,11), abuse of soldiers (#4,11), natural gas pipeline
NAME: "Maung Kyi" SEX: M AGE: 32 Burman Christian
FAMILY: Married a Karen Christian, then converted to Christianity
ADDRESS: XXXX village, Ye Bu Township INTERVIEWED: 17/5/95
I've been here [the refugee camp] more than 20 days now. We had
to face so many difficulties because they always asked for free
labour, that's why I'm here. They're building the railway so
we have to send "volunteer" workers every day, we also have to
pay many taxes and our families are very poor. We have to work
every day just to eat on that day, that's why we can't pay their
taxes anymore. Pay or not pay they don't care, you still have
to work. When we go we have to take our own food, pay our own
money for transport and everything. The problems for our families
are all increasing, food, taxes, everything.
In our area we have a mobile column of SLORC. They demand tax
from every village because they say they're providing security
for the area. And when they rest in the village they say the
village has to give them money for their food. They come very
often, all the time, several times a week. When they're in the
village, if you have to go to your farm or orchard they won't
let you go. They don't allow us to go to our orchards, but they
stay in the orchards and take all the fruit - betelnuts and all
kinds of things. Some of them trade the fruit for alcohol, some
sell it and when they get the money they make a big party for
themselves. At the time to harvest the fruit they just go to
the orchards, and they tell all the villagers "You're not allowed
to come here because our troops are deployed here." No other
reason. Then when they leave they take everything with them.
When they come into the village they demand chickens, pigs, ducks,
everything, and they just shoot them with slingshots. They don't
care about the owner. When they want to abuse us, they accuse
us of cooperating with the KNU. Then they beat us and kick us.
We have so many difficulties. When they come they ask for people,
but the people have such trouble getting a living so they aren't
there, they are in the fields or orchards or in the stream to
get fish. But the soldiers say if they're not there then they've
gone to contact insurgent groups, and then when the person comes
back the next day he receives beatings, blows and kicks from SLORC.
This year at harvest time they beat 10 of us at once. They came
and called us one by one to come to them, then they asked "Where
did you go? Where did you stay?". One started beating and kicking,
then the others all joined in. For 5 minutes, some hit us with
the butts of their guns, some kicked us with their jungle boots
and some punched us with their fists. People hit with the rifle
butts suffered the worst. Their flesh was split. People hit
with boots and fists were bruised and swelling up. This has happened
several times. That time it was 409 Battalion, but 403 also comes
to our village.
Our village has to go work on the railway, and in our area there
is a mobile column so we also have to keep 3 people on standby
for use by this Column. They have to cook, find firewood and
carry water for the column. When we're on this duty they don't
think of giving us time to rest. We have to carry water, then
as soon as we get back they send us for firewood, then when we
get back they look at their watch and say "Now it's time to cook."
If we don't finish in time or get back from wherever they've
sent us [as messengers] on time, then sometimes they beat us and
punch us. We never get a rest, and we also have to take our own
food for the day. Every time the Column comes into the village,
if they ask for "50" then every house has to pay 50 Kyats. We
have to pay it almost every week now. Moreover, we also have
to pay labour fees. Some of the villagers can't go to do railway
labour because they're ill, so if they say that will cost 3,000
then we have to pay 3,000 to the mobile column. Whenever they
find young girls along their way they take them by force. I don't
know what they do to them because I never saw it with my own eyes.
We have to give 3 people as standby porters, rotating every 5
days. We have to do this for both 409 Battalion and 403 Battalion.
We have a village head and he gives us a list of who will go
on standby for which days. Suppose a husband has to go work on
the railway and it's his turn, then if he has a son his son will
have to go as a standby porter; if not, his wife or daughters
have to go.
At the railway, first we had to clear the forest - cut down the
trees and dig out the stumps. Later we had to carry the stones
that they brought on trucks and put them all along the route.
The work is very hard. Then we had to carry logs [sleepers]
to make the railway. We had to cut down trees near our village
to make sleepers - they even made us cut down our durian trees
to make sleepers. The railway is about 5 miles from our village.
Our village has 60 houses so 20 people have to go, for one month
at a time. It's arranged by the village head. We have to take
our own food. We have to start at 6 a.m. and we can only stop
at 6 p.m. At 12 noon we have time for lunch, but as soon as we
finish our lunch they blow the whistle and we have to go back
to our assigned places. The youngest people there are 8 or 9
years old, and the oldest are over 70, nearly 80. If you're sick
when your time comes you have to send someone else from your house.
If you can't, you have to hire someone to go in your place.=20
There's no way out! You just have to find some way to go. I've
been there 3 times myself. We built small shelters by a stream
to sleep. We were always guarded. At night they wouldn't let
anyone go anywhere, and in the daytime they always had sentries
during working hours. Nobody tries to escape. If you try to
escape, the next morning they send an order to the village head
to pay a fine.
People are punished for not working well. The soldiers say, "You
didn't come here to rest or to get ill. You came here to work.
Get on with your work!" They beat and kick people. Some people
have worked there a long time and they're old and tired, so they
just try to rest for a minute, but the soldiers come yelling "You're
not here to rest! Get on with your work!" and beat and kick them.
This happens all the time. Even me, I've received their blows.
Sometimes I was too tired so I tried to sit down and rest, so
three or four times they came and punched and kicked me. Sometimes
they hit very quick, pa-pa-pa-pa-pa! I don't know how many punches
I got. Even if you can't work after that, you have to work.=20
I saw some people seriously wounded from beatings by the soldiers,
because they hit people on the head with rifle butts and their
heads were cut open. When you go to the railway you have to take
some medicine, because if you get sick they never give you any.
If you're too sick to work anymore someone has to go work in
your place. #403 Battalion is in charge of the work. There are
about 4,000 villagers from our area working there in Ye Bu Township.
Every village has to send people according to SLORC's demands.
We'll have to work on this railway until it's finished. I can't
guess how long it will take. Eight or nine people's orchards in
Ye Bu township have already been destroyed for the railway. Pati
XXXX, K'XXXX, U XXXX, U XXXX, U XXXX, and Saw XXXX =20
from my village have lost all, their orchards completely
destroyed. [Villagers often have fields a few miles from the
village, as in this case.] They got nothing for it. Because
of that some of them fled to the border, some went to stay with
relatives in other villages. There used to be more than 80 houses
in our village, now just over 30 are still left. Our village
had Karen and Burmese, no other groups. I don't know where all
of them have gone, but about 7 families have arrived here. Our
family took 3 days to get here with our small children. Now we've
decided to stay here in the camp.
NAME: "Nai Ba San" SEX: M AGE: 43 Mon Buddhist, farmer
FAMILY: Married, 7 children aged 6-22
ADDRESS: XXXX village, Ye Pyu Township INTERVIEWED: 5/6/95
I arrived here [the refugee camp] in February because of the oppression
by the Burmese soldiers. I don't want to stay in Burma, so I
came here with my family. First I worked on the railway, and
then while I was working there the soldiers arrested me to be
a porter. The soldiers came to our village and took the people
to work on the railway. They took 20 people for 5 days, then
they took another 20 people for the next 5 days. If a villager
didn't want to go he had to pay money to the soldiers. They beat
people who didn't go with sticks and guns, and if people didn't
go, the soldiers arrested them and held them for 2 or 3 days,
then when the villagers went and gave money they were released.
The railway is very near our village, so we slept in our village
while we worked there. We worked from 6 a.m. until 11, then we
got a rest and then finished work at 3 p.m. We had to dig and
carry the ground to make an embankment. We had to carry the dirt
about 30 meters. We didn't receive food from the soldiers. I
had to bring food and tools from my house. The soldiers didn't
pay us either. LIB 410 was on the railway. There were 10 soldiers
guarding 20 people. Sometimes they beat us. They always had
a stick. I was beaten. While I was carrying dirt, the soldiers
kicked me with their boots and I fell down. I was hurt. I also
saw people punched, beaten with sticks and sometimes with rifle
butts. I heard that some people died because of beatings, but
I didn't see it. Some people got very sick, but they didn't get
any medicine. They could go home and buy some medicine in their
village. Then as soon as they were getting better, they were
called to work again. When I was sick, the soldiers didn't say
anything but they came and checked me every day, and when I was
better they called me back to work on the railway.
They took both men and women. There were women working on the
railway. They didn't take children, but they took old men and
women. People all went with their children. Sometimes women
with babies were allowed to come back to the village, but their
husbands had to stay at the worksite the whole day. In our group,
there were 20 people led by a Buddhist monk. We had to work for
5 days, then we could rest 2 days, then work for 5 days again.
Then after 2 weeks they changed the workers.
In February while I was working on the railway, a soldier came
and arrested me to be a porter. He said "Follow me!" They took
5 of us. I had to follow the soldiers through the villages for
10 days, carrying rice. Those soldiers were LIB #410 also. In
the villages, when the soldiers stole chickens and pigs we had
to carry those too. I carried continuously and it was heavy,
over 20 viss [32 kg.]. The soldiers ate the chickens and only
gave us a little bit. We didn't get good food. I got sick with
malaria. They said to me "You are lazy!", and beat me. They
kicked me with their boots. I saw them hit other porters on the
neck with sticks. They shot them in the back, shoulders, and
legs with slingshots, and beat their legs with sticks. Some porters
were badly hurt, but later they could walk again. After 10 days
I came back to my village. They called 5 more people to go as
porters, and they called me to work on the railway again. I didn't
go. The soldiers arrested me and took me to their camp. They
accused me of being a Mon soldier. They wanted money from me.
I was there for 3 days. Then my daughter and my wife had to
sell their earrings to get money, and my wife gave the soldiers
1,500 Kyat so they released me. Then I fled and came here. This
place is better than my village - there are no Burmese soldiers
here. In my village there are always Burmese soldiers, so I couldn't
Last year it was worse, but this year is still not good - last
year the villagers had to work 10 days without rest, then they
changed the people. This year we work for 5 days, then get 2
days to rest, then 5 days more, then they change the people.=20
Last year I had to work about 7 weeks on the railway. I also
had to pay taxes on my farm, 4 baskets of rice per acre. SLORC
gets everything for free from the villagers, and whenever they
want money the villagers have to pay. I don't think this railway
is good. I don't agree with it. By the time it's finished, the
soldiers will have taken everything from the villagers for themselves.
I don't agree at all.
NAME: "Nai Lon" SEX: M AGE: 33 Mon Buddhist, farmer
FAMILY: Married, 4 children aged 3-12
ADDRESS: XXXX village, Ye Pyu Township INTERVIEWED: 4/6/95
I came here [the refugee camp] 2 months ago because of the Burmese
troops. I had to be a porter and I had to work on the railway,
and if I didn't want to go when they called me I had to give them
money. Our village has 400 houses. Some people had to work on
the railway line, some had to cut wood, and some had to be porters.
Last year I worked on the railway for one month After each 10
days' work, I had 2 days' rest and I could sleep at home. Since
then I had to work for one whole year cutting wood for them.=20
I had to work all the time, every day. I had no time to work
for my family, so we didn't have anything to eat anymore. That's
why we came here.
I worked for one month, then I could take only 2 days' rest and
then they called me again to cut the wood. It was expensive hardwood.
We were ordered to cut ironwood, all hardwoods, all wood with
an expensive price. I don't know all the names in Burmese. Sometimes
they [the soldiers] used it to build their houses and sometimes
they sold it. We had to cut the wood into planks. After we finished
cutting it, the soldiers took it away on carts. I don't know
where they took it. There were 6 people in each group cutting
wood. There were many groups. Some people had to cut the trees
down, and others had to cut the planks. I saw 60 people working
in the same area. Sometimes it was near the railway, sometimes
far. We had to do it for #404 Battalion. They have moved now.
They didn't give us anything, no salary. When I couldn't go
to work, I had to give them money. I had to give 200 Kyats per
day. Every evening, all the workers had to go to the soldiers'
camp and they told us what we had to do the next day and how.
If we were cutting trees near our village we could go sleep at
home, but sometimes it was far from the village and we had to
sleep under the trees. I had to bring rice, fishpaste and salt
from my house.
Once while I was cutting the wood, some other soldiers [from IB
#104] came and took me as a porter. I was a porter for 20 days,
carrying their food, their rice, their walkie-talkies, etc. We
went many places in the jungle. In villages they took everything
they could - chickens, pigs, etc. When they disliked a villager,
they beat him with a stick. When they met people outside the
villages they arrested them to get more porters. Sometimes they
beat them with a stick, so hard that they had to be carried to
hospital. After my time as a porter I had to go right back to
cutting wood for them - no rest.
Once when I was sick I couldn't go to work, so the Burmese soldiers
arrested me, accused me of being a Mon soldier and put me in jail.
They beat me at my house and tied me up, then they took me outside
the village and hit me again, with sticks and guns. They hit
me on the head. Ever since the beatings, my brain has not been
well, even now. They hit me many, many times on the head and
on the neck with a G3 rifle butt. They also hit me in the stomach,
and they hit my legs with my own knife while I was tied up. I
wasn't bleeding, but it hurt a lot. After the beatings they held
me at their camp for 2 days and 3 nights. Each night they beat
me some more and asked questions. They asked "Are you a Mon soldier?"
Then they said "You have a gun in your house, so you are a Mon
soldier!" I have a hunting-gun, but I have a licence for it.
I am just a villager. But they also accused me of having a walkie-talkie.
Then on the third day my family gave them 15,000 Kyat and the
soldiers released me.
I went back home but my brain was not well. I felt like a madman.
I treated myself with jungle medicine, then after about one month
I felt better. Then I came here. I walked 4 days from my village
to arrive here with my family.
NAME: "Ko Kyaw Thein" SEX: M AGE: 20 Burman Buddhist
FAMILY: Single, 6 brothers and sisters, both parents dead
ADDRESS: Insein Town (just outside Rangoon) INTERVIEWED: 3/6/95
["Ko Kyaw Thein" was a private in the SLORC Army for 3 years before
deserting in late 1994.]
I was in the Army for 3 years. I was a Private. I got 650 Kyats
per month. Soon I was to receive 700 Kyats. My only education
was at the monastery school as a novice. My parents died before
I joined the Army. When they died I stayed with my grandparents.
They were farmers. I was very sad and depressed after my parents
died, so I ran away from home [apparently in 1991 at age 16, though
he's not sure] and I met my friend from the Army at Insein railway
station. He advised me. He said many good things about the Army,
and that I would get a gun and a uniform. He told me many stories
about the soldier's life, and it was all very exciting. He took
me to Battalion 16 at Kyo Gone in Rangoon. I had to wait 2 or
3 months until they had enough recruits to start the training.
The training was 4=AB months, and altogether there were 251 of us.
We learned close fighting, small arms use, and we had demonstrations
of heavy artillery. At first they tortured us, and then it got
lighter. I couldn't sleep well. But the training was only part
of it - we also had to do labour at a rubber plantation. The
owner gave money for our work but we didn't receive it. They
[the officers] took it all. If we were late or couldn't report
for work, we were beaten, usually about 20 or 30 times on the
hips with a stick. Sometimes the Sergeant beat us himself, sometimes
he asked the commander to do it.
After the training I was posted at #409 Light Infantry Battalion
at Ala Chaung in Ye Pyu township. When I arrived there, they
gave us a refresher course on small arms. I was at the camp for
3 months, and we had to do hard work like building barracks.=20
After that we had to go to the frontline two or three times.=20
There were two big battles, one at Nat Ein Taung and one at Kawza
near Bauk Pin Gwin, against combined groups of Mon, Tavoyan, and
Burmese Student soldiers.
In the camp we had sentry and patrol duty, duty to build roads
and bridges, and my group had the duty to collect porters for
the Army. We had to collect porters in the villages, but also
those on their way to work or in the jungle. The officer ordered
us to collect every man we met, so we did. We only collected
men, no women. We had to fill a quota of porters, so we often
had to collect old men over 40 to get the number we needed. If
they didn't want to go we beat them. If we didn't bring back
enough porters our officers would beat us, so even though we didn't
want to beat the porters we had to do it. Usually there were
8 or 9 of us and we had to collect 20 or 30 porters whenever the
Army needed them, which was very often. I was in the group to
collect the porters, it was other soldiers who had to make them
work. The porters are forced to do very hard work in the camp
and on the roads, road construction work. We had to force the
villagers to work. Almost all the villagers were Mon.
Yes, we collected workers for the Ye-Tavoy railway. If we didn't
bring enough workers, our officers beat us. They kicked us and
ordered us to collect not only one person in each family, and
not only men but also women, the youngsters and the elderly for
the railway. That was last year, in the rainy season [June-October
1994], near Bauk Pin Gwin village. Those people had to work under
the heavy rain to dig and carry the ground to make the embankment.
When the weather was dry, they smoothed the embankment and repaired
it. They had to clear and cut trees and bamboo, so they were
very tired. Sometimes workers were bitten by snakes, and others
hurt their hands and legs. But there was no medical treatment
for them. They were just allowed to go home, and then they could
go to hospital so they didn't die. One third of them were women.
We didn't collect children, but the children couldn't stay at
home alone so they had to come along. The workers couldn't go
home, so they built shelters for themselves near the work site.
They had to work there 2 or 3 months. They were replaced by
people from other villages. They rotated. First one village,
then another, and after all the villages in an area had been taken
then we started with the first again. My duty was only collecting
workers. Guarding them was the duty of other soldiers. I was
staying in a camp near Kyauk Ka Din. For the villages far from
the railway line, they sent orders to the headmen to send workers.
For the nearby villages, we had to collect the villagers ourselves.
Very often, I beat and punched people if they didn't want to
go. Sometimes I kicked them with my boots, sometimes I punched.
I ran away at the end of rainy season, but after that workers
were still collected. They will be collected until the railway
Every day every meal we got bean soup and fishpaste. There was
enough rice, but bean soup and fishpaste were scarce [the Battalion
receives much better rations than this, but they are generally
horded or sold by the officers and NCOs]. On Sundays we could
get passes to go visit other places, but the officer never gave
us leave. In 3 years I never saw my family. I contacted them
by letter, so they knew where I was. The officers didn't let
us listen to the radio. If anyone bought a radio, they would
seize it and pay back the cost. From our salary they deducted
money for uniforms, boots, hats, belts, etc. So sometimes I only
received 15 Kyats per month, or even 5 Kyats. They deducted so
many things, I didn't even understand what some of them were!
The junior soldiers had to do everything for the senior soldiers.
If we refused, we were punched. Sometimes I got punched, and
sometimes beaten with a stick. Sometimes after being beaten a
soldier had a broken nose, a black eye or broken teeth. Sometimes
we were punched in the ribs and we couldn't walk for 2 or 3 days.
The soldiers also beat the villagers severely every time they
didn't do their work properly.
At the frontline, if soldiers were seriously wounded and there
was no chance to send them back then they were shot dead. The
other soldiers carried his gun and equipment back. Each section
[6-10 soldiers] had one or two porters, and Artillery sections
had many. Sometimes during fighting we were worried for the porters
because they were in the wrong position, so we called them - but
usually they wouldn't come because they were afraid of the fighting,
and then some soldiers punched them and beat them with rifle butts.
Some porters were even beaten to death. I saw this, and I did
this. Once I told a porter to stay with me, but he disobeyed
and ran away. So I beat him with my rifle butt and ordered him
to stay beside me. I beat him on his shoulder. It was not serious.
He was about 23 years old.
The officers always gave a lot of heavy duties and they usually
punched and beat us. I didn't want to collect porters anymore
or workers for the railway. The officers didn't even give them
rice, oil and salt, and they got no medical treatment and no money.
For example, the labourers hurt their legs, their hands and their
heads from digging the ground, but they were not treated. They
received nothing. So we felt pity on them and we didn't want
to collect them. Sometimes we discussed it. Then we decided
to run away. There were 3 of us. Then at the Battalion base,
more joined in the discussion. Sergeant xxxx said that he was
going to join a revolutionary group, and we agreed with him.=20
Altogether 6 of us ran away, but two were captured. Four of us
arrived here. It was very difficult. We escaped very secretly
and we chose a secret route, but we had nothing to eat on the
way except raw banana-stems. We surrendered in a Mon village,
the villagers sent us to the Tavoy district office and then we
were sent here. We got information that one of our two friends
who got caught was shot dead, and the other was put in jail.=20
At first when we ran away we were very afraid to meet the Mon
soldiers, because our officers had threatened us. They said "If
you try to run away you will meet the Mon soldiers and they will
kill you all slowly with a bamboo string. The surrounding villages
are all full of Mon soldiers." We escaped from our camp at the
end of the rainy season last year [about September-October 1994].
I despised collecting porters. It is very inhumane. I hated
that. But I was ordered to do it by the officers. My commander
was Colonel XXXX. XXXX. My company commander
was Captain XXXX. I was in Company #X. Now while I am
here I have no worry, I will stay here and serve the PDF [People's
Democratic Front, a small armed opposition group]. I am a soldier
here, but my duty here is just sentry duty. I want to fight them.
NAME: "Nai Win Hlaing" SEX: M AGE: 20 Mon Buddhist, farmer
ADDRESS: xxxx island, Tenasserim Division INTERVIEWED: 1/6/95
Before the railway, I was in Moulmein Jail as a prisoner. I don't
remember the exact date I went in, but I spent one year and 6
days in the jail. I was a Mon soldier. I was arrested by the
police, in my family's house in my village on xxxx island. I
was visiting my family. While I was eating, they arrived and
arrested me. When we reached the police station they beat me.
They made a fire around me and burned me, then they filled a
plastic bag with water, put my head in it and tied it around my
neck. They beat me with an iron bar everywhere except on my head,
especially on my back. They beat me every night for 3 days.=20
At night time, they always came and beat me. One time, for 3
hours! There were many policemen. Then I confessed that I was
a Mon soldier and they stopped their beatings. They put me in
the lockup. They made me sign some papers and forms, then they
took me to court. I was sentenced to 4 years jail and they sent
me to Moulmein prison. I was sentenced under Article 17/1 [association
with illegal or opposition organizations]. I had a lawyer who
said alot to defend me but the judge didn't listen to him. The
judge said "This case is a serious case", then he sentenced me
to 4 years. He was not from the military.
In the jail I was put in a big room with about 100 prisoners.
We got one plate of rice for one meal. If we said it wasn't
enough, they shouted "Go and die!" We slept at 9 p.m. on the
concrete floor, with no pillow. Nobody could stand up except
for the toilet, and then you had to shout for permission. We
were allowed 7 bowlfuls of water to bathe for each prisoner, with
no soap. There were a few political prisoners, but mostly criminals.
They mixed us together. We all wore white prison clothes - white
shirt and white longyi. We had to work in the morning and afternoon,
making pathways inside the jail, making baskets and growing vegetables.
They also sent some prisoners to work in Mandalay. The guards
beat the prisoners, especially for fighting. Also, as soon as
new prisoners came the guards ordered other prisoners to beat
them, then the next day no more beatings.
They took me to the [Ye-Tavoy] railway before the end of last
rainy season - maybe September . They took 250 of us by
train. We were kept separate from the passengers, with chains
on our legs, and they locked the carriage. We were sent to Ko-Mile
[9-mile] labour camp. When we arrived, we were the only ones
there. They made us dig the ground and prepare it for the railroad.
The trees were already cut down but the railroad [embankment]
was badly damaged, so we had to rebuild it. We were not with
any villagers. We worked in chains. We wore them the whole day
and night. It was not possible to take them off. They were attached
to our waist. We had to walk slowly. [They are heavy metal leg
shackles which lock around each ankle, with a short chain between,
and are also attached to a metal ring encircling the waist - worn
constantly, they cause fatigue and friction sores.] I have scars
from the chains. We had to start work at 7 a.m. after having
breakfast, boiled rice. From 11 to 12 we got a break for lunch,
then we worked until 4 p.m. We got no water except at lunchtime.
Every lunch we got beans with rice, and vegetables in the evening,
but it was not good. In the evening we could rest. We were allowed
to go to the toilet, but only in front of the guards. There was
a latrine. For cooking the guards selected 5 prisoners, and they
didn't work on the railway, they just did the cooking.
We worked every day, except one day a week when we had to clean
the camp compound. Sick prisoners could rest but I never got
sick. There were about 5 guards: 2 soldiers and 3 policemen.
All the prisoners were from Moulmein Jail. There were about
10 political prisoners like me among the 250, but there were a
lot more in Moulmein Jail. These 10 had all belonged to revolution
groups and were sentenced to 3 or 4 years. They were all Mons.
Other types of political prisoners [he means those who speak
or write things against SLORC] have been heavily sentenced for
many years, so they are not allowed to go outside the jail [prisoners
with heavy sentences are not generally allowed to go outside for
forced labour, for fear they might escape]. The prisoners at
the railway were all 20 to about 30 years old. The guards didn't
beat us, they ordered the prisoner-in-charge to do it. He had
no chains. He beat us a lot, but he had no choice. If he didn't
beat us, the guards would beat him. I was beaten a lot, on the
body with a cane stick. Five blows at a time, then stop, then
again 5 blows, almost every day. Whenever anyone did anything
wrong, everyone was beaten. Sometimes the prisoner-in-charge
was also beaten, by the guards. Some prisoners were beaten very
severely so they were allowed to rest the next day, but then soon
afterwards they died. Five prisoners died on the way to the camp
from beatings. Three died at the camp of sickness. Even prisoners
who got sick, if they could move they had to work. If they couldn't
move, they were allowed to rest.Prisoners who got sick were treated,
but I don't know what medicine they gave them. All the prisoners
who got sick died. Nobody survived. The doctor gave them the
medicine. There was a doctor in the clinic in the village nearby-
but not a very good one! Most of the sick died on the way to
Ye hospital, and they brought them back to the camp.
Two men tried to escape, but the guards saw them and chased them.
One was captured in the forest, and the other reached a village
but the Karen villagers sent him back. The guards ordered the
men to lie down and then made 5 prisoners walk on their bodies.
Then they took them to their office and put them in the stocks
[mediaeval-style leg stocks of wood or bamboo], and beat them
everywhere, including the head. When they were done, both of
them had broken arms and were unconscious, but they didn't die.
Then they were left there in the sun for more than a month.=20
Each night, they were moved and slept with the other prisoners.
They didn't receive any treatment, even for the broken arms.
They just put some leaves on the places where their heads were
bleeding. They were about 30 years old. They were not political
prisoners. At night, the guards ordered us to sleep close beside
those two [to prevent another escape attempt]. There were more
than 100 prisoners sleeping in a building the size of this rice
storehouse, with 2 windows. There was a guard inside and guards
outside, and there were 3 fences of sharpened bamboo sticks and
one barbed wire fence.
On a Sunday [their day off railway work] while we were working
in the vegetable garden, the guards took 9 of us to carry water.
It was just after lunchtime, and the police guards were drinking
alcohol. We were outside the camp. The guards told us not to
run and we said "Yes". Then they said we could eat the layer
of rice crust from the bottom of the pots, so I went to get it.
The kitchen was also outside the fences. I saw that the guards
there were sleeping. The prisoner-cook asked me "What are you
looking for?" I said "I want to pick some jackfruit for the meal".
He said "Good - go and get them." The guards were all sleeping
or drinking. A guard told me to take off my slippers and shirt,
so I did and laid them down [as a guarantee to prevent escape].
Then I went into the jungle and ran away. Just 13 days before
that, the order had come from Rangoon to remove our chains because
it was too difficult to work in them. So I had no chains. A
lot of people were trying to escape at that time. I heard that
2 others tried to escape that day after me, but they were recaptured.
I knew the way, and I arrived at xxxx village. That was 3 months
ago now. I'm not sure what I will do now. Maybe I'll go and
report to my regiment again, but I'm not sure.
NAME: "Mi Ong Son" SEX: F AGE: 23 Mon Buddhist, farm labourer
FAMILY: Married, 1 child aged 2 years
ADDRESS: XXXX village, Ye Township INTERVIEWED: 19/5/95
We arrived here [the refugee camp] two weeks ago because we couldn't
stand the SLORC's oppression any more. Both I and my husband
had to work on the railway. When my husband was working on the
railway he became ill and he couldn't work, so I had to go in
his place. I went once but my husband went 3 times. Altogether
we had to work 2 months. I was working there in February. I
had to carry rocks and dirt on my head in pans. I had to carry
it about 50 yards, up to the top of the embankment. I carried
my son [2 years old] on my back. The men broke the rocks. At
first there were only men. But many men got sick because of the
hard work, so they had to ask their wives to help. Every woman
had to go if her husband couldn't go or was sick. Some girls
I saw there were only 6 to 10 years old [most likely the 6-year-olds
had come along with their parents], and there were women about
60 years old. Some women were pregnant, and some even delivered
babies there because they weren't allowed to go home until their
work was finished. The children also had to carry the dirt, but
a little less.
There are about 2,000 houses in my village. It is a big village.
Fifty families each had to send someone at each rotation [2 weeks]
over a period of 3 months. The headman collected the people.
I had to take the train to Ye [her village is north of Ye], then
the car and then by foot to the worksite. The train journey was
about 4 hours, then 2 hours by car and 24 hours walking. The
train and the car were free. At the railway each family was assigned
about 50 yards [of embankment to build]. It had to be about 2
times the height of this house [i.e. about 8 m.]. They gathered
three or four families to work together. They could only go home
when it was finished. Then after that they had to go work at
another place. They can rest at home for about 10 days, then
they have to go to another place.
We got no salary or food. Every month or every 2 weeks, our families
sent food for us. We had to make shelters to sleep in. If we
didn't make one we'd have to sleep on the ground. We had to use
our own tools. The soldiers were spread along the railway, guarding.
My husband was beaten. They hit him in the back with the wooden
part of the gun. They beat him because he was ill. They don't
allow people to rest. They order them to work all the time.=20
Everyone who is sick is beaten. One woman and one man died.=20
The soldiers beat them because they were sick and they couldn't
work. The woman was about 60 years old. The sick got no medicine.
They had to buy it themselves. They weren't allowed to go home.
The soldiers teased the women, especially the young girls. One
girl was raped. She was 24 years old, from Gom Sai village.=20
She died. They killed her. I don't know her name. That happened
while I was working there. There were also about a hundred prisoners
from Moulmein. They were in chains. They broke rocks and carried
Lots of people tried to escape. If they were caught, they were
beaten. I ran away when I ran out of food, while we were working.
I was tired and hungry and I went into the forest near the railway.
The soldiers caught me and forced me to work again. Later, I
escaped back to my village and met my husband who was sick, and
we fled together. We left our house and came here. [She came
together with her sister, 22, who was also forced to work on the
As a farm worker I made 50 Kyats per day. If you can't go work
on the railway, you have to pay 500 Kyats per day. I don't see
any benefit to this railway.
NAME: "Ko Hla Shwe" SEX: M AGE: 33 Burman Buddhist, farmer
FAMILY: Married, 3 children aged 16 months, 3 and 14 years
ADDRESS: XXXX village, Ye Pyu Township INTERVIEWED: 1/6/95
I served as village headman for 2 years. The villagers chose
me to be headman. But now I have run away from my village. I
arrived here [the refugee camp] about 20 days ago. I am going
to tell you why. They demanded a lot of things from villages
in our XXXX village group, so we couldn't pay anymore. We
asked them to reduce it but they refused. I felt a lot of pity
for my villagers. They demanded money for porter fees and forced
labour fees. In short, we are now paying money to buy their longyis
[sarongs] for them. For our own families there is very little.
People in our village group have to work a lot for them. There
are 6 villages in XXXX village group - XXXX is the biggest.
So our orders come from XXXX camp [LIB XXX], and we must always
follow the orders. They demand 20 people for labour. This is
for railway construction. Our village has about 30 houses. Excluding
the elderly and the very poor, there are about 20 houses. So
each of these 20 houses has to send one person for forced labour.
If you cannot go, you have to pay 2,500 Kyat for each week missed.
This is not just one day's work. [The labour is rotating, so
each house has to supply one person constantly.] So we have no
way to eat, no way to make money, but still we must go for their
labour. It is very difficult.
When people had no money they borrowed from others. But we couldn't
borrow any longer. We had no more gold. We could only give our
clothes to the soldiers as a deposit, or our pots. Some people
sold their pots. The soldiers said "If you can't give labour,
give money. If you can't give money, find a way. You must solve
it by yourself, but you must give the money." If not, they arrest
us. They sent many [order] letters. Every week. One month we
received a demand for our village to give 135,000 Kyat. I can't
remember all the smaller demands. Each year, we had to give them
155,000 Kyat which was only for their camp food supply and construction
costs, not counting the money for them. The headmen of all 6
villages get these orders through the village group.
The railway is 3 or 4 miles from the village. We had to send
15 people each week. Our village had 30 houses, so one week we
sent people from 15 houses, then the next week from the other
15. When the rains came heavily, they stopped. When the sun
came back, they started again. We have been gathering people
for the railway over the last 2 years. Last year they demanded
10 labourers, but this year 15. But the money is the same. If
we can't send a man, we have to pay 2,500 Kyat per week, the same
as before. The places we have to work are close to 7-mile, 8-mile,
and 9-mile villages. We had to dig and carry ground. Now the
labourers sleep in huts, about as big as the rice storehouse here
[20 feet by 40 feet]. There are more than 10 of them. They are
quite close together, and at most 100 labourers sleep in each
one. We worked, but usually the next day the rain destroyed all
Now nobody lives in XXXX anymore - maybe only one or two households
are still living there. We couldn't face their demands, which
have been continuous for the last 5 years. They don't care about
us. Wherever they go, their only duty is to make demands. We
couldn't give anymore, so we moved. Even after families left,
their demands remained the same. Then when we couldn't give,
they would arrest us and punish us. And the families left one
by one. Most people destroyed their houses themselves, and gave
the materials to others. Otherwise, if nobody is left in a house
the soldiers destroy it. For the future, I think it will be no
better for us. Month after month, they just make more and more
demands. If the situation improves, I will go back. For now,
staying here we get enough to survive. Ten families from my village
are already here [in the refugee camp].
=09=09 - [END OF PART 1] -