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KHRG COMMENTARY #95-C4
- Subject: KHRG COMMENTARY #95-C4
- From: smith@xxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Thu, 10 Aug 1995 18:45:00
[Note: This report has been posted by KHRG, not by A. Smith.
Please ignore any reference to A. Smith in the message header.]
KAREN HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP: COMMENTARY
August 4, 1995 / KHRG #95-C4
"[Maj. Gen. Ket Sein] added 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."
- article on the Ye-Tavoy railway, SLORC's "New Light of Myanmar"
"There is full security and we cannot escape. We have been beaten
many times. There are so many sick people. Help us out of this
- letter from a political prisoner working on the Ye-Tavoy
railway, February 1995
"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. ... Very often, I beat and punched people if they
didn't want to go. Sometimes I kicked them with my boots, sometimes
- 20-year-old SLORC soldier from LIB #409 who deserted in late 1994
SLORC continues to show no remorse whatsoever for its continually
expanding program of civilian forced labour throughout Burma.
Roads, railways, dams, army camps, tourist sites, an international
airport, pagodas, schools - virtually everything which is built
in rural Burma is now built and maintained with the forced labour
of villagers, as well as their money and building materials.
Forced labour as porters fuels the SLORC's military campaigns,
while forced labour farming land confiscated by the military,
digging fishponds, logging and sawing timber for local Battalions
fills the pockets of SLORC military officers and SLORC money-laundering
front companies such as Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd.
Even farming one's own land is more and more becoming a form
of forced labour, as SLORC continues to increase rice quotas which
farmers must hand over for pitiful prices. Even after a year
like 1994, when record floods destroyed crops in much of the country,
the quotas must be paid - if not, the farmer is arrested and the
Army takes his land, only to resell it or set up yet another forced
labour farm. 1995 has seen very small harvests, increased confiscation
and looting of rice and money from the farmers, 40 million people
struggling to avoid starvation, and SLORC agreeing to sell a million
tonnes of rice to Russia for profit - rice which it has confiscated
from village farmers for 50 Kyat a basket, or for nothing.
"If I have many normal problems I will face them, even if I have
to die. But I couldn't pay and I couldn't run from the soldiers,
so I couldn't stay in my village."
- Tavoyan villager from Ye Pyu Township
The Ye-Tavoy railway project is continuing in all its brutality
(see "Ye-Tavoy Railway Area: An Update", KHRG #95-26, 31/7/95).
Villagers in the area report that SLORC may have decided to shift
about 50 miles of its 110-mile route, from Ye Pyu north to Yah
Pu, from the east side of the Tavoy River to the west side. Miles
of confiscated and destroyed land where thousands of people suffered
or died to clear and prepare a route for the railway last year
is now being left to be overgrown by jungle, while it seems SLORC
prepares to start the process all over again on the other side
of the river. At the same time oil companies Unocal and TOTAL,
who are working on a gas pipeline which crosses the railway, have
vowed not to use it because it is such a horrendous crime against
human rights. Because of these two factors, fewer people have
been called to work on the northern sections of the railway this
year. SLORC troops in the area have used this as an excuse to
replace the labour itself with increased fees to "avoid" the labour
in towns and villages alike. Villagers who cannot pay are taken
as porters, and many cannot pay so they are fleeing their villages.
While railway labour has decreased in some areas, it has intensified
between Tavoy and Ye Pyu. Many more convicts were brought in
from all over the country to work in chains, while villages have
faced increased demands to send people to the labour camps. SLORC
was intent to finish the southernmost section of the railway,
12 miles from Tavoy to Ye Pyu. Villagers were told the reason
is to impress the tourists in "Visit Myanmar Year 1996" - or,
more accurately, to fool the tourists into believing that SLORC
has built a nationwide rail network. An opening ceremony was
held on May 30th. Signs at the Tavoy end of the rail line claim
that it continues to Ye and onward to Rangoon. To date, tourists
are not even allowed to go to Tavoy - but if they are in "Visit
Myanmar Year", they will certainly not be allowed to go overland
more than 12 miles to the north.
"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."
- 43-year-old Mon villager who was forced to work on the
railway, then taken from the worksite as a porter,
then ordered back to the railway again
One reason tourists are not welcome in these rural areas of southern
Burma is the natural gas pipeline which is to be constructed from
offshore rigs in the Gulf of Martaban overland through Tenasserim
Division and onward to power plants in energy-hungry Thailand
(see "Conditions in the Gas Pipeline Area", KHRG #95-27, 1/8/95).
The pipeline is to pass through Mon and Karen territory including
virgin rainforest. It is not wanted, neither by the local people
nor by the armed Karen and Mon armies which operate there and
have vowed to stop it. As a result, SLORC has brought in over
10 Battalions of troops to "secure" the area for the foreign oil
companies and to protect their employees. Even though the pipeline
itself is still in the final route surveying stages, people in
the area are already suffering because of it. Farmers have lost
land, confiscated for army bases. Villages face constant demands
for money, materials and forced labour to build army camps and
support all the new troops. Constant army patrols loot their
villages of money, food, livestock, even clothing and cookpots.
Any village seen as a potential threat to the pipeline has been
relocated at gunpoint to sites where they are under Army control
and regularly used for forced labour. As early as 1991/92 this
list included 11 villages; now it also includes villages dozens
of kilometres from the pipeline route. Any village which could
possibly give support to opposition troops in the region, meaning
any village in a remote or forested area with no SLORC garrison,
is now seen as a potential threat to the pipeline area and is
subject to forced relocation. The reason given to the villagers
when they are relocated by the troops is that they are "suspected
of contact with insurgents."
The situation has intensified in 1995. In January, Unocal president
John Imle stated that "for every threat to the pipeline there
will be a reaction". This became clear in March, when Karen forces
attacked a SLORC armed column which was moving together with some
pipeline survey workers and at least 5 people were killed. Afterwards,
a column of SLORC troops from Light Infantry Battalion 408 went
to more than 6 villages and demanded 100,000 Kyat compensation
from each for the attack. The villages were threatened that they
would be forcibly relocated if they failed to pay. Since early
1995, SLORC has also been mounting an intensive military offensive
near Nat Ein Taung to secure the eastern segment of the pipeline
route. In the process, over a thousand porters have been taken
from villages up and down the Tenasserim Division coastline.
Many have died. The offensive goes on. Now there are also several
SLORC Battalions mounting a rainy season offensive against the
Karen National Union's 4th Brigade headquarters area, about 80
km. southeast of Nat Ein Taung. Villagers are already fleeing
the area, and could flood into Thailand if the offensive progresses.
"He fell to the ground and he couldn't stand up anymore. The
soldiers didn't help him. They said 'This guy is pretending he
is ill', and they hit Ko Thein Myint with the butts of their rifles.
Ko Thein Myint couldn't speak more than one word, and he died
on the spot where he fell. I just heard him say 'Please, I'm
going to die'."
- villager who saw his friend die when both were
porters, SLORC offensive to secure Nat Ein Taung
French company TOTAL now has engineers on site near Kanbauk, in
a camp surrounded by wire and several hundred SLORC troops. To
continue the survey work on the western half of the pipeline route,
in February they brought in about 1,000 paid labourers from Rangoon
but only hired 200 people from the local area. To get the job,
locals had to buy an application form and face a selection committee
of Township-level SLORC officials, not TOTAL people. A bribe
of 1,000 Kyat was required to pass the medical exam, and a larger
bribe to pass the Township SLORC selection committee. Most of
those selected had connections in the SLORC administration. While
these people were paid 200 Kyat per day to do work at the TOTAL
camp, on the roads and some clearing for survey work, villagers
from Kanbauk say that unpaid forced porters were used to do the
heavy tree-clearing work for the surveyors. SLORC troops may
have done this without TOTAL even knowing it. Other villagers
are also suffering directly because of the pipeline. Not only
are all the added troops in the area stripping them bare, but
they are now even demanding "gas pipeline fees" of up to 1,000
Kyat per month from families in the area, in addition to the existing
"porter fees", "sentry fees", "railway fees", "development fees",
etc. One woman from Kanbauk who had a job with the Mines Department
said she had to quit her job and flee the village because she
couldn't pay the new "gas pipeline fees". Those who can't pay
are threatened with one month's hard labour as a porter. All
the other fees have also increased since TOTAL and the troops
arrived - families which had to pay 100 Kyat per month last year
say they now have to pay 400 or 500 per month. The increased
number of troops has also brought on inflation even higher than
Burma's already staggering inflation rate.
"Some are rounded up by the Army, and some are on rotating porter
duty. The porters are mostly ordered to do clearing work which
is harder than the chain survey work. Many of the porters have
fled, that is how we know." - villager from Kanbauk
"I went inside the [TOTAL] camp. The camp has wire all around
it and about 200 soldiers for security. There are 50 more soldiers
out the back ..." - villager from near Kanbauk
This is only the beginning. Since May the survey work has let
up for the rainy season, but the 1995/96 dry season starting in
October is likely to see the start of physical work to lay the
pipes. Villagers near the central part of the pipeline route
say they have already been told that in the coming year SLORC
is going to build a new "railway" to Nat Ein Taung, where the
pipeline is to cross the border into Thailand, and that they will
be called to do forced labour on this "railway". TOTAL and Unocal
say not to worry, that the 10 or 15 people they have based in
Kanbauk will stop the 5,000-7,000 SLORC troops throughout the
pipeline area from committing any human rights abuses. Unocal
president John Imle has explained to activists that his people
who are "trained in such matters" have already verified that there
are no human rights abuses in the pipeline area - by flying over
it in helicopters.
"I heard if the gas pipeline comes, our situation will improve.
But actually, we only have to work for them [soldiers] more without
getting any pay. We have to take our own food and build their
barracks, bunkers and so on. Before, we had to give them about
100 Kyats per month as porter fees. Every family. But now, it
is 400 Kyats. They said if I could not pay the money they would
take me as a porter for 1 whole month. If we don't pay the money,
they will take action."
- villager from Kanbauk
It appears we made a mistake in the previous Commentary, #95-C3
(22/7/95). We said that SLORC was robbing rural villages to finance
the urban areas on the order of "well into the millions of Kyat
every month". However, after looking more closely at some figures
from Tenasserim Division (see "Field Reports: Mergui-Tavoy District",
29/7/95, KHRG #95-25) it looks like we were wrong - we should
have written "well into the hundreds of millions of Kyat every
month". The 28 typical villages we looked at in Tenasserim Division
are being forced to pay 1,987,000 Kyat per month to SLORC in "porter
fees" and "development fees" alone. This does not count fees
to avoid forced labour duty (the same villages are also being
ordered to provide a total of 1,178 forced labourers at all times
on a rotating basis), other fees, or cash and other belongings
looted by patrolling SLORC troops, all of which would certainly
amount to hundreds of thousands more per month. And this is from
only 28 villages ranging in size from 30 to a few hundred households
each. In all of Burma there are probably at least 20,000 such
villages, putting the amount of money extorted from rural villagers
nationwide into the billions of Kyat every month. Just where
all this money is ending up is an issue which needs to be studied,
but there is one thing the villagers know for sure: none of it
is being put back into the villages where it comes from.
"Now things in my village are getting worse. It started getting
worse about 2 years ago. The villagers are forced to work but
they don't receive even 5 pyas [0.05 Kyat]. We heard that foreigners
give money, but the SLORC gives no money to the villagers. This
government is like a giant beast that tortures human beings."
- 56-year-old Tavoyan villager after fleeing his village
in Ye Pyu Township
Final Notes: In "SLORC/DKBA Activities in Kawkareik Township",
KHRG #95-23, 10/7/95, and in Commentary #95-C3, we discussed the
case of Pa Nwee, a DKBA leader in Kawkareik Township who disappeared
after going to a meeting with SLORC in mid-June. Many people
believed he had been executed, including some of his DKBA comrades
who went to look for him. There are now reports that Pa Nwee
has been sighted at the SLORC base of Meh Tha Waw, about 130 km.
to the north. He is reportedly alive and still a DKBA officer.
He may have been transferred by SLORC to Meh Tha Waw so they
can keep him under close control, or so that he will not be in
his home area where he may have sympathies for the local villagers.
(SLORC officers are often transferred for similar reasons.)
In Commentary #95-C3, we raised the question of how many people
would have to suffer as the price for the release of Daw Aung
San Suu Kyi. The Nation newspaper (Bangkok) of 27/7/95 reported
the Secretary-General of the Thai National Security Council, Gen.
Charan Kulavanijaya, as admitting that tens of thousands of new
Karen refugees have fled to Thailand this year, but saying that
they should all start going home now because the situation is
"likely to improve" now that Aung San Suu Kyi has been released.
The National Security Council previously made clear that it hopes
to begin mass forced repatriation of Karen refugees in January
"I didn't like the behaviour of the Army with the villagers.
When old people were treated badly, I felt like it was my father
or my mother. What would they feel? If the soldiers treat people
like that in other areas of Burma, maybe my relatives are suffering
- 23-year-old SLORC soldier from IB #104
who deserted in May 1995