[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index ][Thread Index ]

"Using Fish Oil to Fry Fish" Burma

Subject: "Using Fish Oil to Fry Fish"  Burma Issues

Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii"

Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii"

Burma Issues
April 1996
Vol. 6 No 4



Compiled by N. Chan

Since the popular uprising in 1988,  the Burmese
military has been pushing hard to modernize and to
expand its strength to 500,000 soldiers. Reports
suggest that, in order to reach this strength. the
military is recruiting a growing number of young,
poor and poorly educated men and sending them to
the frontline with very little training or preparation. 

The success of this strategy relies on the military's
ability to maintain a very large pool of people with
little or no chance for paying jobs and no other
potential source of income. Desperately in need of
money for survival these young men often carry out
duties, not because they respect and support the
military, but because they fear losing the only
paying job available to them 

Win Zaw, an 18 - year - old Burmese soldier from
Mandalay, places the situation in a fairly clear
context. "As the economic situation in Burma
continued to deteriorate, my high school education
came to an abrupt end. My family's economic
situation was extremely serious and I feared that my
younger siblings would also have to drop out of
school because of the lack of money. The rumour
around our community was that if we joined the
military we would receive our food rations, a place
to live, plus 600 kyats per month (approximately
US$4 50). I thought that if I could save that 600
kyats each month I could send it to my family and
my younger brothers and sisters would be able to
continue their schooling. So I joined the army.
There were no other jobs to select from. I was 16 at
the time." 

The promise of even 600 kyats a month is rarely
reality. According to some of these young recruits,
who have deserted their units and fled to the border
areas, officers continually deduct items from their
pay, leaving them with barely enough for their own
survival at the end of the month. Win Zaw recounts
his experience while serving with the Burmese
military in Chin State. "Every month the officers
would deduct 1 kyat as a donation of some kind, 5
kyats for the Buddhist religious fund, 100 kyats for
a savings program, 10 kyats for social welfare, and
40 kyats for the Battalion Commander's birthday
gift. With the remainder of the money, we had to
purchase our own uniforms. We would have to save
for three months to purchase either a shirt or a pair
of pants. Because of living in the jungle, our shirts
and pants would usually only last about 3 months ...
we never had anything left to send home to our

The military provides alternatives for the young
soldiers to earn extra cash. Recruits sent to Chin
State are generally young and unmarried. According
Win Zaw, the soldiers are urged to marry young
Chin women (most of whom are Christian) and
convert them to Buddhism. If they are successful in
this, they can receive promotions and other
privileges. If they fail in this task, and themselves
convert to Christianity, they would be given an
unlimited prison sentence. Another young defector,
Kyaw Han, confirms this and says that this policy is
an attempt by the military to Burmanize and
assimilate the Chin ethnic group. 

Other recent defectors verify other kinds of military
abuses which villagers have commonly claimed the
military regularly carries out against them. San Lin,
a 22 year - old soldier described how civilians were
always taken along with military columns as porters
and as human shields. "Whenever we went on
operations, each soldier took one civilian as a
porter. As we walked, our column would consist of
one soldier, one porter, one soldier, one porter, and
so on. Then, if the insurgents were to attack, the
porters would also be killed."
Military units rarely worry about receiving supplies
from the rear. Food 
is taken directly from the people and young recruits
are often encouraged to take whatever they want
from the villagers. When officers order the recruits
to torture and beat the villagers, the recruits obey
out of fear of their superiors. "For example, when
our platoon was in the Hai Mual village, one of the
forced laborers was sick. My platoon commander
ordered me to beat him up. I hit him four times on
his chest with my gun. He no longer had the
strength to stand up by himself. I still feel terrible
about hitting him like that, but in the army an order
is an order and we have to obey." (Win Zaw) 

A military regime, such as the one in Burma,
depends to a large extent for its survival on being
able to prevent the poorest people within its control
(usually the majority) from uniting. One way to do
this is to create an economic crisis, so the poor end
up joining the very military system which is
harassing and oppressing their families and
communities. Through such a system the military
leaders can sit back and watch the oppressed abuse
each other. The Burmese call this "Using fish oil to
fry fish."
Military life is extremely difficult for these new
recruits. It is only out of serious necessity that they
will risk this kind of life for a meagre 600 kyats per
month. If the military were to release its hold over
the economy of the country and allow some of the
profits gained from foreign investments to trickle
down to the poor, they would not be able to recruit
the numbers they need to reach their target. 
Chin National Front