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KHRG REPORT #95-29
- Subject: KHRG REPORT #95-29
- From: smith@xxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Thu, 17 Aug 1995 04:53:00
[Note: This report has been posted by KHRG, not by A. Smith.
Please ignore any reference to A. Smith in the message header.]
CONDITIONS IN THE IRRAWADDY DELTA
An Independent Report by the Karen Human Rights Group
August 4, 1995 / KHRG #95-29
[SOME DETAILS ARE REPLACED WITH 'XXXX' FOR INTERNET DISTRIBUTION]
The following is from an interview with a 56-year-old man from
Myaungmya Town, deep in the Irrawaddy Delta west of Rangoon, who
left the Delta in June 1995. The Irrawaddy Delta is populated
by a few million people, 50% of them Karen and 50% Burmans. In
recent decades it has been sealed off from the outside world more
than almost any other area of Burma, and the Tatmadaw (Burmese
Army) has been able to get away with any form of repression it
likes. In 1991, the Karen National Union managed to send some
soldiers and weapons into the Delta in an effort to restart the
resistance struggle there which had been quiet for decades, but
the troops were exposed. In events which became known as the
Bogalay Crisis, the Tatmadaw launched a huge offensive into the
area to wipe out the small number of KNLA forces and all seeds
of civilian resistance. Villages were burned, helicopter gunships
strafed villages and schools, and thousands of Karen community
leaders, pastors and schoolteachers were arrested, sentenced en
masse and imprisoned. The Tatmadaw began a brutal campaign of
repression, killings and disappearances against Karen in the area,
which still remains almost completely unknown to the outside world.
As a result, the SLORC now feels confident enough of its control
in the area that it has recently opened up some parts of it to
The personal details of this man must be omitted for his protection.
Even though he is now far from the Delta, he was still so afraid
to talk that he would not discuss certain issues, and some of
his account is probably softer than the true reality of the situation
In Myaung Mya, people are not still being arrested. Some NLD
elected MPs were detained for about 2 days and then released.
That was 3 years ago. Now I think they're not attending the
National Convention [SLORC's meetings to draft a constitution].
They are U XXXX and U XXXX.
In the 1991 Bogalay Crisis, many were arrested. I knew some
of them from Myaung Mya and Bassein Districts. They were sentenced
to one or two years in prison. Two old men died soon after their
release. One was Mahn Ba Nyein, 63 years old, and the other was
Pa Nyar Say, about 70 years old. They were from Bassein. They
were ex-Karen soldiers, but they had retired 30 years ago already.
Bogalay is quite far from Myaung Mya. I knew of one battle there
[in October 1991] between Infantry Battalion 11 from Bassein and
Karens. It was near Ohn Bin village, Bogalay Township. The SLORC
troops lost about 60 or more. Then the Karen soldiers managed
to move to Nga Pu Taw. There were about 40 of them. All of them
were new recruits except for one KNLA soldier. He got injured
in his leg, so he stayed along the way while his soldiers moved
on. He shot about 15 SLORC soldiers before they killed him.
After that many villagers were arrested, but I don't know exactly
because it was quite far from us.
Since then our family has had to work as forced labour on road
construction, such as the Labutta-Rangoon and Myaung Mya-Rangoon
roads, and the Bassein International Airport project. On the
Labutta-Rangoon road, we had to work through the whole hot season
this year. We had to excavate the ground, cut iron rods, and
carry sand, stones, and bags of cement. There is also some bridge
construction in Myaung Mya, and there are some Chinese engineers
there. The authorities pay money for bridge construction work,
like 50 or 100 Kyats per day, but not for road construction.
On most of the road construction work each person has to go for
a 15 day shift for the year, because they call labourers from
26 townships [all of Irrawaddy Division], so there are a lot of
people. The Myaung Mya-Rangoon and Labutta-Rangoon road projects
started 3 years ago. Neither road is paved.
In 1991 and 1992 we had to work on Bassein International Airport.
There were more than 10,000 people who came from 26 townships.
My sons had to go for 8 or 10 days. They had to raise and level
the ground about 18 feet high over a very wide area. [Making
runways for jumbo jets; other witnesses have described thousands
of people stamping down dirt with their bare feet to make these
runways.] The authorities arranged transportation [to the worksite]
by issuing orders to all boat owners. The boat owners and the
people received nothing. There was a medical team at the workplace,
but it was insufficient for the whole crowd. Some people died
because of snakebites. This work finished in 1992. [The airport,
however, is still not complete, and there has been more forced
labour on it since then.]
Every Saturday, each family from Myaung Mya must send one person
for cleaning the roads, the school compound and the hospital compound.
All this work is under control of the local Law and Order Restoration
Council. Soldiers are not involved - they are at the worksites
away from towns.
About 3 or 4 years ago, people refused to join the Army. But
now, I think some people want to be soldiers because it is the
only chance to survive. It is very difficult to live as a normal
civilian. We are always afraid of the Army. One pyi [about 2.5
kg.] of rice costs 50 to 60 Kyat. Civilians have to give about
5 kg. of meat to the Army every time they kill their own cows
or pigs. The soldiers also force us to rebuild their barracks,
to make fences and to stand as sentries for the security of their
Battalion compound. Last year, soldiers from Infantry Battalion
93 in Myaung Mya demanded to use a boat with an engine from Thein
Lar village in Myaung Mya township. So the villagers collected
money for the boat, and then they gave the boat to the soldiers
to use. But when the soldiers left, they just went and sold the
boat and took all the money instead of returning to the village.
In Myaung Mya Town, we don't have to go as porters for the soldiers.
But in remote villages, people have to give porter fees to the
Army or go as porters. Our family has to pay 80 Kyats each month
as "sentry fees".
The electricity is always "browning out". In our section of town,
people wanted to get a public phone booth. The authorities agreed,
but they collected money from our section for it, 300 Kyats per
house. Later I heard that a rich man from Rangoon in our section
had donated enough money to pay for the phone booth. So I guess
the authorities just kept all our money, but nobody dared to ask.
They order us to decorate and rebuild our houses, every year after
rainy season. This year, the order said we also have to build
a wall in front of the house, and if we don't we'll be driven
out of our houses and forced to stay somewhere else. They only
want to see good and beautiful houses, especially along the main
roads and streets. So I had to buy galvanized sheets [for the
roof], bricks, and cement from the black market. [Black market
building materials are at least 3 times as expensive as those
bought on the SLORC market (contrary to international myth, there
is no free market in Burma), but buying materials on the SLORC
market requires official approval, which requires significant
bribes and more time than it takes for the Army to kick you out
of your house.] In 1990, about 50 families were forced to resettle
from the poor part of town. They were driven out, and then those
families had to buy a new piece of land by giving 5,000 Kyat each
to the authorities. The authorities destroyed their old houses,
then sold all that land to the rich people. After the Bogalay
Crisis, the SLORC made a plan to combine all the villages into
huge villages with about 1,000 families. But now I hear nothing
more about it, maybe because it would affect rice production [the
Delta is a major rice-producing area]. In 1991 many villages
from Bogalay, Nga Pu Taw and Moulmeingyun townships were forced
to move, but now I hear they are allowed to go back again.
Members of USDA have to give their monthly membership fees, but
I don't know how much. [Union Solidarity Development Association,
SLORC's attempt to create a mass support organization through
coercion, began in late 1993 / early 1994; civil servants must
join or lose their jobs, many students must join or be expelled,
and in some areas farmers must join or lose their land.] USDA
can be considered as a wing of the Army. They train their members
to be paratroopers, even the girls.
Things are getting worse. Corruption is everywhere, from buying
a ticket for the steamer to the justice system. Law enforcement
is ineffective. Five months ago, a Japanese tourist's bag was
stolen right on the jetty where there is a heavy presence of security
forces. He was travelling alone and he lost all his money, so
the schoolteachers collected money and gave him enough to go back
to Rangoon. Then the Japanese looked at the money and he cried,
right there. The police knew who stole his bag, but they didn't
- [END OF REPORT] -