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Karen Human Rights Group: Jan. 96 r
- Subject: Karen Human Rights Group: Jan. 96 r
- From: strider@xxxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Thu, 22 Feb 1996 05:35:00
Received: (from strider) by igc4.igc.apc.org (8.6.12/Revision: 1.16 ) id FAA18704; Thu, 22 Feb 1996 05:35:27 -0800
Date: Thu, 22 Feb 1996 05:35:27 -0800
Subject: Karen Human Rights Group: Jan. 96 report, 2/2
THE SITUATION IN NORTHWESTERN BURMA
An Independent Report by the Karen Human Rights Group
January 30, 1996 / KHRG #96-06
** PART 2 OF 2 - SEE PREVIOUS POSTING FOR PART 1 **
[NOTE: SOME DETAILS HAVE BEEN BLANKED OUT OR OMITTED FROM THIS REPORT
FOR INTERNET DISTRIBUTION.]
NAME: "U Thinmanee" SEX: M AGE: XX Rakhine Buddhist monk
ADDRESS: Maungdaw Town, Arakan State
The Na Sa Ka groups #1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 are in Maungdaw and they have
a commander in chief in one camp which is known as Gree Kweh Ray
[Na Sa Ka is a SLORC combined force including army, police and
border security operating in Arakan State along the Burma
Bangladesh border - the abbreviation Na Sa Ka actually stands for
'Border Welfare, Development and Defense']. Kerosene, salt, fish,
everything is controlled by Na Sa Ka. The sea fish as well as the
freshwater fish. They control all the businesses in Arakan. And they
sell everything! They build their camps on people's land and occupy
illegally 5 or 10 acres. When they build their camp, they block the
irrigation system of the toddy tree plantations of the farmers nearby.
They need bricks and bamboo and if the villagers can't provide them,
they have to pay 1,000 or 2,000 Kyats for their buildings. The people
also have to give their labour. After they finish making the bricks with
the people's money and labour, then they sell them on the market for 4
or 5 Kyats each. They take rice from the villagers by force: 12 baskets
for each acre, without paying. They take it for their camps. The
surplus they export for dollars, especially to Bangladesh illegally.
They are building a 24-mile road from Maungdaw to Kyin Chaung.
The Na Sa Ka headquarters are in Kyin Chaung. In the area named Za
Kain Brawn, they bring prisoners from the jail. They fence the area
and use the prisoners to break rocks. They give them one milk tin of
rice for two and they can't even stand up [because of the chains and
weakness from hunger - one milk tin is not even enough to feed one].
If half a milk tin of rice is not enough, they can scratch the trees and eat
leaves to fill up their stomach.
They also take civilians in the villages. The villagers can't bear their
treatment and try to escape from the work before completing the roads
and the bridges. Now, they recruit launch owners to carry the villagers
to the work site and the launch owners are obliged to feed the villagers
for 5 days. If the boat owners don't agree to carry the labourers, Na Sa
Ka blocks the river for some time and the boat jetties get damaged by
the salty water. Na Sa Ka also takes Jeeps from the people by turns.
They have their own Jeeps, but they use them only for shopping and for
their personal use.
Na Sa Ka has increased its religious activities in Arakan State. Most of
the religious functions are organised by them. They go to the
government departments like administration, schools, etc. and tell the
civil servants to donate money for religious functions. Then they bring
with them 20 or 30 yellow robes and donate these to the monks. They
show this on TV so that the people can see. Na Sa Ka is now building
Hanenda pagoda in Sittwe. The lower part is like the Shwedagon
pagoda. For this purpose, the ministers donated money but this is only
to show off [SLORC ministers have themselves shown on TV almost
every night donating money to such projects]. Then they made a list of
other people who had to donate money and how much. They don't use
any money from the government, only people's money. SLORC
organises sport games in Sittwe so they demand Maungdaw township to
give 200,000 or 300,000 Kyats, and they collect this money from the
people. The same happens everywhere in Arakan State. Not only for
Arakan State. If there are youth games in Kachin State, we also have to
give money. When they organise those competitions they also need
wooden boards and bamboos to build the fences and the galleries, and
the people of Burma have to give all of it.
If one of their ministers plans to visit our area, we never know in
advance when he comes. But at least one week before, they block all
the roads, they take the vehicles and Jeeps, they stop the traffic, they
don't allow people to go outside of their houses. So people cannot go to
work. It is like an undeclared curfew. If the people can't go outside and
go to their work, how can they earn money? This is one effect on our
In Maungdaw they are using forced labour all the time. The army first
enter the market and grab 50 or 100 people. They take them to the site
to build bunkers, military camps, fences, and they tell them to finish the
work within one or two days but it takes them a week. They also pick
up the young boys from the monastery [lay children who help the
monks to collect alms-food]. We can't raise our voices against their
activities. This has become daily routine in our country.
On the west side of the Meyu river, they are starting to build a road
going directly to Sittwe. They are using forced labour for this purpose.
They gave an order for 'volunteers'. We didn't hear about a prisoner
camp there. The prisoner camps are only in Maungdaw area, close to
the Na Sa Ka headquarters. The area is called Za Ghan Brun. Prisoners
have to work breaking rocks and they never loosen their chains. These
prisoners have a short-term sentence or they are about to be released.
They come not only from Sittwe but from all over the country.
According to them, some are political prisoners. None of them are
prominent political prisoners. But some middle political leaders are
there. Some political prisoners go to the prisoner labour camps so that
their sentence will be reduced.
In Maungdaw township, the road to Na Sa Ka headquarters has been
enlarged. Villagers from remote areas have to send the stones to the
town. Laying stones and tar on the road is done by the soldiers. The
army gets money to do the work, but they save this money for their
camp. The stones come from remote areas of Rathidaung, Buthidaung
and Mimbra. If the villagers cannot collect the stones, they need to hire
labourers with their own money. They have to dig 10 x 10 x 10 feet of
stones. Each village has to dig 6 holes, some more, some less. It
depends how much bribe money they can pay. From Mimbra, the army
carry the stones themselves with a big boat. They take by force the
boats from Maungdaw, Mimbra, and other places. They even took the
boats of the pilgrims while they were travelling down the river. They
stop the boats passing on the river and take them.
They say, "If your wife is dying or if your husband is dying, leave them.
Finish your work first and then you can organise the funerals." Even
the sick people are not spared. The Buddhist ceremony of November
had to be stopped because of their building work. On all the holy days
of Buddhism, we, the monks, we have to go first to the military camp to
perform the ceremony for them. Only after we finish the function there
can we go and make the ceremony with the people.
They have a project worth 900,000 Kyats for 'border development'.
They collect this money from the Sittwe traders in the name of border
development. When any officer from the army travels from Maungdaw
to Buthidaung and from Buthidaung to Maungdaw, the people have to
give money for their fuel. The Jeeps are military vehicles, not people's
vehicles. And the people also have to give food, everything they need.
Even the launches are taken from the people and the people can't go
anywhere. We are suffering economically because the traders can't
move. When the high officers come to play games, they ask the people
to bring them beer and they demand the Arakanese people to cook their
traditional food for them. People have to provide everything for them.
They tell us that they want to eat our traditional food but we have to
prepare it and bring everything to their camps. Sometimes, military
officers say they want to meet with the Buddhist monks. They demand
the people to prepare things so they can donate these to the monks.
Usually the Buddhist people can afford to give 100 or 200 Kyats as
donation from their pockets at the temple. These officers, they give
20,000 or 30,000 Kyats to the monastery but we know this is not from
their pockets. They demand all this money from the people. Also,
some military informers cheat the people. They collect money in the
name of their Major or commander but keep the money for themselves.
The new trade road to Bangladesh [the recently opened Maungdaw-
Teknaf road] is totally controlled by Na Sa Ka. Na Sa Ka even runs
one restaurant in Maungdaw. The river boat traffic is completely in the
hands of Na Sa Ka. They confiscate motor launches and other boats to
carry material and people and to prepare their roads and their buildings.
Some motor launch owners were forced to sell their launch or to give it
to Na Sa Ka. Now these boats have been put on auction. The Na Sa
Ka commander-in-chief and his second commander are posted in
Arakan for two years, then they are transferred. By the time they leave,
they are as if they were winners of the lottery! Military officers are
loyal to higher officials. They know all about it. SLORC will have to
leave power one day or another. So money is everything for them.
They are not so interested in power but in money, because they have no
confidence in SLORC.
To start a new business, people have to deposit one million Kyat in the
bank [so the money can be taken by SLORC / Na Sa Ka if the owner
doesn't pay them their cut]. Na Sa Ka also takes people's land. They
build houses, offices, buildings for themselves but they also occupy land
for their families. They are doing like this. Even to the poor people
who are living just by fishing with their small canoes, Na Sa Ka come
and demand tax for the boat. Those who are close to the Naf river to
Bangladesh [the Naf River forms the border] have to give money to Na
Sa Ka. Even the smugglers have to pay them off. They even seize
goods from the traders who are trading legally and who pay their taxes
in Maungdaw and Buthidaung. The traders are losing their capital and
becoming bankrupt. Also, many people who owned food stalls lost
everything because of Na Sa Ka. They got some money from Japan or
Norway to start their businesses again but land, shops and everything
are in the hands of Na Sa Ka. Even the jungle is occupied by Na Sa
Ka, so we don't even have firewood for cooking.
SLORC is still relocating villagers now. They give a small field, about
one acre for 5 families, for paddy cultivation and one cow for 3
families. This is not a sufficient compensation for the villagers who
have lost everything. What can they do with that? [In a normal
village, each family will have at least 2-3 acres of paddy field.] Now
their lives become very hard. They have to catch crabs and some fish to
sell at the market to make a little money, just to live hand-to-mouth. In
Mrauk U area, the army completely destroyed a Muslim village and
built a military camp. They moved all the Muslims to Buthidaung and
Maungdaw township and they scattered them around. Before they
destroyed the village, they promised them they will give land for
cultivation, compensation for their houses and money to start
businesses. But they never gave them anything. The village name was
Pa Ring Kala Ro and this happened last year . Some of them
escaped because they were starving. They promised them land, cows,
everything but where can the government get land and cows for them?
The military had to build a bridge in Kyauk Taw area and they wanted
to relocate one Muslim village for that purpose. But later, they changed
their decision after taking money [for the bridge] from the villagers.
Now they have decided to build the bridge at another place nearer to the
military camp, because there are Rakhine and Muslim insurgents in the
The people get power supply only one time in 4 days up to 9 pm. The
military get it all night. When Na Sa Ka require fuel, they requisition all
the fuel. When Khin Nyunt's wife visited Maungdaw, they didn't
provide any power supply in the town and they said that there was not
enough fuel [Khin Nyunt is Secretary-1 of SLORC and head of military
intelligence; his wife is head of the "Maternal & Child Health and
Welfare Organization", which is used for SLORC media PR and is
partly supported by UNICEF]. During the religious ceremonies,
especially for the full moon of September and November, there was not
enough kerosene to set up the lamps. We didn't dare complain about it
to the high officials. If we complain to them, we will face lots of
troubles with the local authorities. That's why nobody dares complain
to the higher authorities.
They are building a new hotel on the graveyard in Maungdaw, and for
this they have moved the graveyard. They explained that the graveyard
was in the middle of the town, and this would not look good to the
visitors. Now, the government has projects all over Burma and they are
relocating cemeteries everywhere. They can even move pagodas and
monasteries. In every town, SLORC is building one hotel. In Sittwe,
they already built the "Sittwe Hotel". Now they are building one in
At present, all the commodities prices are rocketting but the government
announced that they have no responsibility in this since all the
businesses have already been privatised. They say inflation is the
people's fault. When the SLORC trade minister visited the shrimp
farming area, the owners told him their opinion: "The government gives
us a very low price. We need higher prices. We cannot sell at a price
which doesn't even cover our expenditure. We will be forced to close
our shrimp farms." [Despite SLORC's claims of privatisation,
companies cannot form without their involvement and most primary
commodity producers are forced to sell only to SLORC at SLORC
prices.] Then the trade minister promised to arrange a better price and
went back to Rangoon. But later Na Sa Ka came, interfered and forced
them all to sell at the lowest price. Their radio propaganda says one
thing but they are doing different things and the people are suffering a
lot, more than previously.
Now SLORC is secretly drawing a constitution without any
participation from the various States [at the 'National Convention'].
This is not acceptable to us and this is illegal. There is no real
representative from our political organisations, ALD and NLD [Arakan
League for Democracy & National League for Democracy]. These
organisations exist but they have been banned. One representative of
Arakan State at the National Convention is Tha San Hla. He is from
Kyauk Taw and belongs to Aung San Suu Kyi's party [NLD]. The two
others are from Sittwe and they are from the Mro Khami party. They
are not Arakanese, they are from ethnic groups in Arakan. SLORC is
aware that they don't know anything about politics, so they choose them
to use them as puppets. SLORC came to Gree Chaung village and took
two doctors and some government officials and sent them as people's
representatives and labour representatives to the National Convention.
Now the people are suffering a lot because they have no more doctors.
Still now, there is not a single doctor in that village. Until the
completion of the National Convention they can't come back to their
duties. How many months or years it will take, we don't know!
Q: Do the Muslims repatriated from Bangladesh get their land and
property back? [Referring to the 300,000 Rohingya Muslims who fled
a SLORC religious pogrom in 1991-92 to Bangladesh, 250,000 of
whom have now been forcibly repatriated to Arakan by Bangladeshi
authorities in cooperation with UNHCR and SLORC]
A: I don't know. But UNHCR is there and have some projects for
their welfare such as wells, etc. and construction of new roads. Rakhine
people also need wells, but when they submit a request, Na Sa Ka
refuse it and tell UNHCR that Rakhines don't need them. Previously,
during BSPP government [Burmese Socialist Programme Party, Ne
Win's 1974-88 regime], there were three kinds of citizenships: full,
naturalised and associated [these were used to make ethnic and
religious minorities into second- and third-class citizens]. Now, they
have cancelled all that. They may start again after the completion of the
National Convention. Then they must hold general elections. The
present government is executing the previous socialist plan. Now,
SLORC is starting to set up industries, commercial companies, bridges,
etc., but actually that was the plan of BSPP. During the BSPP, the
Muslims were registered as Muslims on their NRC [National
Registration Card] but now they want to be registered as Rohingyas.
But the SLORC rejected this. Then the Muslim community
demonstrated against SLORC's decision. The meaning of "Rohingya",
the SLORC don't know it. When they ask the Muslims the meaning,
they also don't know. We are known as Rohon in Islamic countries, as
Arakanese in Europe, as Rakhine in Burma and as Moghs in
Bangladesh and Pakistan. Now the Rohingyas claim our name as theirs
without even knowing about that. The Muslim demand is excessive, I
think. They can demand to be citizens of Arakan by birth and as
Muslims. That's enough. [This explanation of his views has been
included here because it reflects a common attitude among Rakhines,
an anti-Muslim sentiment which has often been exploited by SLORC
and the BSPP.]
UNHCR started building their offices in 1993. They built them
themselves without the help of the government. They have an
agreement with SLORC. Both are trying to get back the refugees from
Bangladesh by saying that the situation is good now and that they will
provide everything they need. Most of the refugees already came back.
Some are still remaining in Bangladesh. Now UNHCR is doing what
the Muslim people say. They are creating more tension between the
Muslim and Rakhine communities.
UNHCR gives them 500 Kyats for a family of 3 or 1,000 Kyats for a
family of 4 or more. At the reception centre, the government gives
them rice, oil and some food [this is donated by UNHCR but
distributed by Myanmar Relief Dept]. Whether they give them money
or not, I don't know. They receive all the things from UNHCR. Now
they have decided to give education to Muslim women and men,
especially for the Burmese language. UNHCR is looking for teachers to
teach them. I don't believe they will succeed because every village has
their own primary school run by the government but none of the
Muslim girls go there to study. They have their own school to learn the
Koran in Arabic and they don't learn Burmese. But the government
have a law that all the citizens of Burma should learn the Burmese
language and must be literate.
UNHCR also built their offices on people's land. The people demanded
compensation from UNHCR officials. They had to approach them
secretly because of SLORC. The officials gave a proposal and the
landowners had to accept it but it was not a good price. When the
owner demanded 100,000 Kyats, he only got 10,000 Kyats. Maybe the
government takes the compensation money from UNHCR, we don't
know, but we know that UNHCR also takes people's land. The people
who lost their land are furious with UNHCR. We can't complain to
UNHCR. We can't complain to the government. Where should we
complain? SLORC take our land, UNHCR also take our land. When
the government allocated land to UNHCR, why did UNHCR take it?
They should know. They are deployed here to bring peace and people's
welfare under the banner of peace. Presently, that's what the Arakanese
people are asking themselves. The landowners have demanded 100,000
Kyats and UNHCR haven't met their demands yet.
In Maungdaw, we have an irrigation system with pumps. If we use it,
we can make a second paddy crop in the year. But UNHCR pump the
water from there and now the people don't have enough water for a
second cultivation. In the dry season, we usually got 100 baskets of
paddy but now only 30 baskets. We can't grow a second crop because
we don't have enough water. UNHCR asked the people how much
money they need to pay for compensation for the paddy. They offered
5,000 Kyats - not per year, only one time. But we are lucky to get at
least something. [At current prices, 5,000 Kyats is only worth about
12 tins of paddy, normal crop for about 1/3 acre, and the rice
shortage continues to grow worse.]
SLORC is using forced labour to build roads, because they promised
UNHCR they would build roads and bridges so they can travel more
easily. But so far SLORC has only Maungdaw bridge to show for it.
They called the bridge Shwe Za after a [Rakhine] king. It is at Wee Ma
La village and it is only a temporary bridge. They have lots of projects
to build bridges.
UNHCR is digging wells and building roads on people's own land.
They have no plans and we are compelled to see that without being able
to complain. Some are on Rakhine land, some on Muslim land. They
don't distinguish between the two. But for the labour, they only choose
Muslims, no Rakhines. All the construction contracts are made with
Muslims. Some Rakhines are employed in low jobs, such as carpenters.
They started a sewing training for the Muslim women and the trainer
was a Rakhine woman. She is the only one. That was the only training,
but it has stopped now. They say they are helping people raise
chickens, but only on a very small scale. People can't make a living with
this kind of business. They give only 500 Kyats to start it. One
bamboo is 5 Kyats each, so this is very little money indeed. [One
breeding-size chicken costs over 100 Kyats.] UNHCR is offering jobs
and people stop their own work to work for them but it doesn't give
them enough income. One worker earns 1,500 Kyats [per month - a
family cannot be supported at this rate]. For cooking and washing
clothes, they pay 400 or 500 Kyats [per month]. This is not only for
Rakhines, for Muslims too. People thought that they would earn a lot
of money working for UNHCR. We see UNHCR staff with their
houses, with their cars, with their generator but we don't know what
they are really doing. They bring in their petrol themselves, also their
timber and stones. They don't use anything from Maungdaw.
Q: Do you know of any people killed by SLORC in the area?
A: How can I find out? UNHCR should try to find out. They came
here for that reason, to look after the people's welfare. But they are not
able to find out such things because they are not active. Some people in
the jungle might have been killed under landslides [while doing forced
labour] but I don't know. This is daily routine: punching, kicking,
beating and abusing. SLORC arrests smugglers and legal traders alike,
whenever they like. How can I answer? UNHCR is working here and
they are receiving salaries. But they fail to hear about it because they
are neglecting their duties.
Q: The Chinese government made a request to SLORC to borrow the
Mahamuni Buddha image from Arakan for religious ceremonies. Is this
A: We don't know whether they requested it or not. This is an
invaluable thing for us and a symbol of peace and prosperity in Arakan.
In the past, when the Burmese came to Mrauk U to take the Mahamuni
Buddha, the people refused and they failed to take it away. But they
declared that they took it and built a raft with gold and silver. The raft
was put on a ship and they sailed to Rangoon declaring that they had
taken the Buddha image. On the way, when the ship was in Sittwe
harbour, some people were strangely killed on board. Now the
Burmese have one in Mandalay [it is unclear whether the original is in
Arakan or Mandalay - many believe the Burmese stole the original and
took it to Mandalay, then sent a copy back to Arakan.] But they say
the Chinese want the Buddha from Arakan. But we don't know if it is
true that the Chinese really want it or if it is SLORC who want it. We
believe in our astrologists. Maybe SLORC is trying to change the
"yettara" [good luck] of the Arakanese people. That's why they took it
in the past, and that is probably the reason why they come to ask for it
this time too. And they use the Chinese as a pretext. After one month,
Intelligence officers came to Sittwe and investigated to find out who had
opposed them taking the Buddha image. They made a report stating the
Arakanese people are starting a revolution and were trying to
We had to give lists of all ancient Buddha images to SLORC. And
SLORC told us that if we lose any of them, we will have to pay a fine.
[The list is most likely because SLORC wants to confiscate some of
them for tourist museums or sites in Burman cities.] We monks, if we
don't obey the government's orders, we will also go to jail. The SLORC
is building a Buddha museum near the Youth Sports Complex in Sittwe.
They are collecting by several means ancient images and objects from
the monks and from the people to take to the museum. If we discover
precious ancient objects from Arakan, they claim it is from Burma.
They have been digging at the ancient site of Vesaly and we believe that
they found things there. But SLORC have yet to show what they
found. SLORC have decided to carry out research with foreign
archaeologists. But they haven't started yet. SLORC told the Buddhist
monks: "If you lose any of the ancient Buddha images, it will be your
responsibility." So some monks were afraid of this and handed over all
the images to SLORC. To protect our traditions, I will never hand them
over. We can't hand over our history. Some local authorities,
collaborating with SLORC, even threatened the monks saying that in
case of loss, it will not only be the responsibility of the monks but also
of the worshippers. They put pressure on the monks to hand over the
Buddha images to SLORC. SLORC raided some Buddhist temples in
Mandalay. They admitted that they stole some Buddha images. They
might do the same thing in Arakan State that they did in Mandalay.
When they come to the monastery, they don't come with archaeologists
and experts. Just with soldiers. According to them, they come on
archaeologists' recommendations. But the archaeologists have no idea
of the army activities in this. SLORC said to us, monks, that they are
sent by the National Historical Institute of Rangoon. But this is not
SLORC formed Buddhist Monks organisations in the townships,
districts and villages. The monks have to obey their orders, whether
they are willing to join or not. Buddhist monks can't do anything
without the permission of SLORC. For example, building extensions
or new buildings in the monasteries are only allowed with the
authorisation of the township or district Sanghas [monks organisation -
the Sangha is a major component of Buddhist tradition, but in Burma
SLORC has taken over control of them]. If we approach them for
permission and if we fail to satisfy them, we will never be granted any
permission from them. If we don't keep good relations with SLORC
officers, with village and township LORC authorities and with Na Sa
Ka, we can't do anything.
NAME: "Ko Htun Win" SEX: M AGE: 38 Burman Buddhist
NAME: "Daw Than" SEX: F AGE: 52 Burman Buddhist
ADDRESS: Amarapura Township, Mandalay Division
Q: Hong long did you work at the Mandalay Palace moat?
"Ko Htun Win": I worked three times there. First, we had to clean
the site all around the moat. The second time we had to clear all the
mud and weeds, and the third time we had to take out the mud. We
had to load the mud on trucks. The mud was very soft, so we had to
load it little by little on the trucks. They dispose of it near Mandalay
zoo, at the foot of Mandalay Hill. They also dump some at various
monastery compounds. The monks requested the army officers to
unload the mud in their monastery compound [to level the ground].
Some people were playing tricks. For example, a group of 30 workers
had to load 6 trucks with mud but they would bribe the soldier who was
supervising the work so that the soldiers would register more truck loads
than they had actually filled. Sometimes we'd pay 3 or 4 Kyats each.
Sometimes, 5 Kyats each person. If a girl in a group is familiar with a
soldier, this group gets favoured. So sometimes we hired prostitutes to
join our group.
Thirty people were assigned to one truck. If the group included both
men and women, the number was 30. If there were only men in the
group, the number was 20. They had to load 5 or 6 truckloads of mud
everyday. If the rain was heavy, the work was suspended.
"Daw Than": We had to work on the rainy days too, as long as the
road was not too slippery for driving their trucks.
"Ko Htun Win": We had to provide one person from each family,
and that person had to work for 10 days. It had nothing to do with the
number of people in the family. If you could not send anyone, you had
to pay 600 Kyats. If you can't go and you have no money, you have to
sell your belongings. Their rules are very strict. The rule is: "If you
cannot go for work, you have to pay. If you cannot pay, you have to go
to work." We have no choice. We cannot do anything about it.
Sometimes some understanding local authorities help us to reason with
the SLORC authorities. Sometimes it works.
We had to bring our own food and tools. The government provides
money for the workers, but the Township level officers eat up all that
money [i.e. nobody is paid].
Now, they are using only prisoners. Prisoners and soldiers. People said
they were from Mandalay jail. Some are shackled, some not. They
shackle those who are notorious. It depends on their sentences. They
dare not force the political prisoners to work. They use only criminals.
Q: Did you have to work in road construction or road repair work?
"Ko Htun Win": Ko M--- and Ma N--- who came together with us
had to work on the road construction in Amarapura. That construction
was supervised by the Civil Works Department. I did not have to work
The following information has been received from various sources
from Chin State and Sagaing Division.
"Border Area Development" projects continue to create more and more
forced labour. The Pakokku - Gangaw - Kalemyo railway is mostly
completed but labour is still continuing on it in some areas. There are
also hydroelectric projects and road projects using forced labour.
Religious persecution is a problem in Chin State. The majority of Chins
are Christians, but SLORC is reportedly attempting to divide them by
coercing many to become Buddhists. Chin sources report that in Than
Tlang township, 10 percent of the villagers have converted to Buddhism
because the Buddhist villagers are never called for porterage or labour.
Buddhists can buy rice at a cheaper price: 300 Kyats per Pyi for
Christians and 100 Kyats for Buddhists. Sunday church services are
not generally disturbed, but many villagers have been caught by SLORC
and taken as porters upon leaving the church. As a result, many
villagers are now afraid to go to church. In some villages, SLORC are
using the church compound as an army camp. There have also been
reports of SLORC using the promise of education to take Christian
Chin children from their families, then send them to monasteries and
force them to become Buddhist novices. Government schoolbooks are
sent to Buddhist monastery schools instead of government schools.
There are also reports that SLORC is resettling some Burman Buddhists
from the Irrawaddy Delta into Chin areas in Tamu Township.
In the whole region, villagers are used as porters and human shields
among the moving Army columns. SLORC officers take many people
as human shields around them to protect them. In all of Chin State
there are only two all-season roads, from Hakha to Falam and Kalemyo
to Tiddim, and two dry-season roads, from Hakha to Matupi and
Matupi towards the eastern plains. Everywhere else, SLORC troops
always call hundreds of porters at a time to carry their things. Every
month, each village is ordered to bring pigs, chickens, and whatever
they want to their camps. Relatives of CNA [Chin National Army]
soldiers are constantly watched and suspected. Their letters are opened,
and if SLORC finds a letter from their son they are arrested. In Hriphi
village, Than Tlang township, one army camp is to be built shortly [with
forced labour on confiscated land]. In September / October 1995
there was a serious cholera outbreak in Leiled village, Falam Township,
and at least 70 people died because no health care whatsoever is
Gangaw - Kalemyo Railway:
Kalemyo (also called Kalay or spelled Kalaymyo) is in Sagaing Division
just east of the Chin State border. SLORC has a major forced labour
project building a railway to Kalemyo from Gangaw (120 km. / 75 mi.
to the south) in northern Magwe Division. This is part of the Chaung U
- Pale - Yesagyo - Pakokku - Gangaw - Kalemyo railway project, a total
length of 500 km. (312 miles). There are plans to continue the line in
future north from Kalemyo to Tamu, which is at the border with India's
Manipur State. Chaung U is 80 km. (50 mi.) west of Mandalay and
linked to Mandalay by rail, so this line would establish a rail link
between Mandalay and the Indian border. However, SLORC plans to
do the entire project with forced labour. So far only the Chaung U -
Pale and Kalemyo - Nat Chaung sections are in operation. However,
much of the rest is finished but waiting for some major bridges to
connect various sections.
Along the Gangaw - Kalemyo section, most of the forced labour has
been done by Chin villagers. Work is still continuing toward the
Gangaw end. The 22-mile (35 km.) segment from Kalemyo to Nat
Chaung was officially opened on May 3, 1995. The opening ceremony
at Kalemyo railway station cost 4,300,000 Kyat, including 30,000 Kyat
just for the meal honouring SLORC Railway Minister U Win Sein,
despite the fact that none of the labourers on the entire stretch of
railway were ever paid. SLORC responded to the Nov. 1995 report of
UN Special Rapporteur Yozo Yokota by claiming to have paid the
workers as follows: "Chaung U - Ma Gyi Boke sector and Pakokku -
Monywa sector: 8.29 million Kyats; Pakokku - Gangaw - Kalay
sector: 30 million Kyats".
Construction on this line began in March 1990. It crosses mostly flat
farmland, and paddy fields were destroyed without compensation. In all
the villages of Kalemyo township, one person per household had to
contribute labour. They had to bring their own food and their own
tools. Each group of 10 or 20 villagers were guarded by 3 or 4 soldiers.
Each group had to build 1/8 falong [i.e. furlong, so 1/8 falong = 28
yards] length of embankment, up to 30 feet high and 20 feet wide.
The villagers had to dig the ground within only 30 feet of the track, so
sometimes they had to dig quite deeply and there are reports of some
people who died because of the ground collapsing. Each group has to
complete 60 feet in one week. In Kalemyo township, there are two
bulldozers owned by the government. The people can sometimes use
them, but only if they themselves provide the diesel to operate them.
If absent from the work, the fine was 1,200 to 1,500 Kyats per person.
The distance between the railroad and the villagers' homes was so far
that the villagers had to stay and sleep on the worksite. They could go
back to their villages on Sundays to get their food from their family for
the next week. They had to be back on Monday morning. Most
families went to work 6 or 7 times on the railway over the past five
years, each time 2 or 3 weeks to finish their assignment. Villagers were
also ordered to prepare gravel for the trackbed in their homes. Each
family had to provide 10 feet x 10 feet x 10 feet (total 1,000 cubic feet)
Starting on 23 April 1995, the Kalemyo - Nat Chaung line went into
use, but only with a Hino TE21 truck being used as a railway engine (it
is mounted on a special frame with railway wheels). It makes the return
trip twice a day and can carry a maximum of about 60 passengers. One
way fare is 5 Kyat. In July 1995, some sections were already damaged
because of the rain and the Kalemyo - Nat Chaung service was
interrupted. SLORC again ordered people from each household to
prepare more gravel and to go for forced labour repairing these
SLORC plans to commence construction on the Kalemyo - Tamu
section of railway (another 120 km. / 75 mi. to the north) soon, as they
see this as an important trade link with India. In Tamu town, people
who live along the main road have been ordered to build brick houses or
be evicted. They have been given 3 years to do so, possibly timed to
coincide with the expected completion of the railway.
SLORC is building the "Ye Chaung" Hydro electric power project near
Ta Han village, 30 miles southwest of Kalemyo in Kalemyo Township.
Villagers and about 500 prisoners are being used as forced labour in the
construction. It is a medium sized project, estimated cost 70 million
Kyat, started in 1990 and scheduled for completion in March 1996.
Villagers from 40 village tracts have been doing forced labour: 37 on
the railway and 3 on the power project. Also, villagers are being forced
to break rocks on road construction, upgrading and extending the
existing dirt road from Kalemyo to Gangaw, parallel to the railway line.
The project is using only manpower, no machinery. There are reports
of 2 dead and 5 wounded by accidents on this project, with no
On 2 May 1995, 94 families of Aung Tha Sa quarter in Kalemyo were
forced to move to a remote area and build a village there at their own
expense. The families of Major Aung Khin, U Ba Ohn (ex-chairman of
the SLORC Regional Administrative Council) and U Ngwe Thein (an
Inspector at Kalemyo police station) were paid compensation by
SLORC even though their houses had not been torn down.
In Kalemyo town, prices continue to escalate causing hardship: rice is
80 Kyat per pyi, pork is 180 Kyat per viss, chicken 250 Kyat / viss, fish
300 Kyat / viss, and sugar 150 Kyat / viss [1 viss = 1.6 kg.; 1 pyi is 8
small milk-tins, weighing about 2 kg.]. Most of the people are farmers
and average family income is 1,000 Kyat per month. Furthermore,
farmers are forced to supply 192 pyi [24 big tins, about 16 kg. each] of
paddy per acre to SLORC at only 15 Kyat per pyi.
Four miles away from Monywa there is construction of a heavy artillery
military camp and about 500 acres of farmland have been confiscated.
A 13-mile road is being constructed with forced labour from Monywa
to Ah Myint village. Ah Myint is the native village of SLORC Trade
Minister Lt. Gen. Htun Kyi. Between November 1994 and February
1995, the Thay dam in Monywa township was expanded. Every family
in the area had to go for 2 months of forced labour. Only one adult per
family was allowed to stay home.
Kuki Villages, Sagaing Division:
In Tamu Township, Mo Leik District, Sagaing Division, Kuki villagers
[Kuki is considered a subgroup of Chin] are regularly forced to
contribute labour and their bullock-carts for "border area development"
projects such as road construction. There have also been reports that
some villagers have been forced to take their bullock carts to help
SLORC officers smuggle teak logs across from India. In one such
incident on 24 January 1995, Lt. Col. Win Kyi of Infantry Battalion
#50 forced 28 villagers and bullock carts from Nam Monta, Htan Ta
Bin, and Man Maw villages to cross into India to retrieve teak logs.
Indian forces caught and arrested the entire group. When the SLORC
officer asked to be released, they released him and his soldiers but
detained the villagers at Moreh in Manipur.
Naga Villages, Sagaing Division:
In Laeshi and Lahai Townships in Sagaing Division, SLORC has
reportedly been continuously forcing villages to provide recruits for the
Army. Villages which fail to provide the specified number of recruits
must pay 20,000 Kyat per recruit. Since 1993, SLORC has encouraged
people to enroll their children in a youth organisation called Ye Nyunt
by promising that all members will have access to basic and higher
education. All those who enroll are then taken away and forced to join
Forced labour of villagers and convicts is being used to build roads from
Homelin to Thamanthi and from Thamanthi to Laeshi. Soldiers have
also reportedly been forcing Christian Nagas to build monasteries and
pagodas in every town and village in the Naga Hills. SLORC troops
patrolling Naga areas force villagers to provide all their food. When
they want pork they force villagers to hand over their pigs and only pay
one tenth of the proper price. Village heads are often left having to pay
the difference to the owners of the animals.
In 1991-92 SLORC mounted a religious pogrom against Muslim
Rohingyas in Arakan State. It is unknown how many were massacred,
but at least 300,000 fled to Bangladesh to become refugees. At least
200,000 of them have now been forced back to Burma by Bangladeshi
authorities with the support of the UNHCR [UN High Commissioner
for Refugees]. UNHCR made agreements with SLORC and the
Bangladesh government (but not with any refugee representatives) to
support this forced repatriation and tell the world it is "voluntary" as
long as they can get a monitoring presence on both sides of the border.
They now have that presence. On the Bangladesh side, UNHCR
cancelled the process of interviewing refugees to find out if they want to
go back, and instead holds mass "information sessions" encouraging
refugees to go back. At these sessions they do not mention forced
labour, as they consider it to be an isolated occurrence. In its June 1995
Bulletin, UNHCR stated that SLORC had promised them to use
returnees for forced labour only 4 days per month, and later said that
SLORC had promised not to use returnees for forced labour in their
first 2 months back home (i.e. while they still have their returnee
allowance money to pay off the troops). However, there are reports
that returnees are being used for up to 5 days per week of forced labour
on road construction and other duties in the north of Buthidaung
Township. UNHCR still does not mention this in its "information
sessions". The vast majority who express personal fears of persecution
upon return are rejected as not having "valid reason" to be afraid.
Furthermore, refugees being sent back to Burma are not being told that
UNHCR will only stay in Arakan for one year after the repatriation (this
is standard UNHCR policy). Many are going back with a misguided
belief that UNHCR plans to remain in Arakan until the situation
becomes safe and stable.
Now there are still about 50,000 refugees in the camps in Bangladesh.
Many are there because SLORC, with or without reason, has refused to
take them or one of their family members back. UNHCR now plans to
start splitting up these families in order to cut down the number to
20,000, sending back anyone SLORC will accept (with the exception of
the spouse or children of those specifically rejected). In Asian society,
breaking up the extended family like this is completely unacceptable.
In Bangladesh, UNHCR state that they have injected US$3 million into
local communities. However, much or most of this money appears to
have been spent donating 4-wheel drive Land Cruisers to Bangladeshi
officials and building a large and fancy new building in Cox's Bazaar to
house the "Office of the Refugee Relief and Repatriation
Commissioner". This impressive building was completely paid for by
UNHCR and inaugurated in December 1995, with most of the refugees
In Burma, UNHCR has 14 expatriate staff, but only 4 of these are
protection officers - the rest are development consultants. They work
through SLORC, and people from the area say that most returnees with
problems would never dare to be seen entering the UNHCR office in
Maungdaw. Land was confiscated at only 10 percent of its value to
build these offices, and villagers nearby have lost their second annual
rice crop because the irrigation water has been diverted to UNHCR. In
response, UNHCR reportedly paid only 5,000 Kyat one-time
compensation for the farmers - only enough to buy the equivalent of
one-third of an acre's crop at current prices. Buddhist Rakhines in the
area say that UNHCR is fuelling racial tensions by favouring Muslims
for all jobs and contracts. Meanwhile, UNHCR is claiming that the
Rohingyas who fled Burma never owned their own land, and therefore
should not all expect to have their land returned to them (the return of
their land was promised to them before their repatriation). Rohingya
sources claim that since September - October 1995, SLORC has been
issuing new identity cards in Arakan State: red ones for Burmans and
Rakhine Buddhists, which is a full citizenship, and white ones for
Muslims, which is a provisional ID card stating that the holder is not the
national of any country. They report that some Muslims who received
National Registration Cards between 1955 and 1962 have now had
these confiscated and replaced with a white card, thus losing their
citizenship rights. UNHCR admits that forced relocation of villages for
military camps and to avoid Rakhine/Muslim clashes has occurred, but
claim that SLORC has promised to stop doing this. Both Rohingyas
and Rakhines have reported that SLORC is forcibly relocating Muslims
from other townships to Maungdaw and Buthidaung areas, and that
Buddhists are also being forced to move to border areas.
Some returnees have subsequently fled again to Bangladesh. Most of
them go into hiding and don't bother trying to report to UNHCR, but
some have tried. UNHCR refuses to discuss them. Rohingya sources
report that there are also new refugees and that they also go into hiding
in the towns. UNHCR says that some new arrivals have come to their
office with "false claims" of persecution in Burma.
- [END] -