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

Excerpt from All Quiet on the Weste

Excerpt from All Quiet on the Western Front

The Situation in Chin State and Sagaing Division, Burma
by Images Asia, Karen Human Rights Group and The Open Society Institute's
Burma Project

January 1998

Dam Construction

The Chindwin River flows along almost the entire western side of the Sagaing
Division, while the Irrawaddy River runs down through the south-eastern part
of the division.  The SLORC has been developing irrigation projects to boost
rice and crop production particularly in the southern region.  Several dams
and irrigation canals have been built over the past four years, all with
forced labour.  However, according to local people, most of these projects
have failed, due to engineering miscalculations and lack of technical expertise.

Thazi Dam 

In 1994, SLORC started a large irrigation development project approximately
10 miles north-east of Monywa, extending from Thei Gyi Gon village to Thazi
village, implemented primarily with forced labour.  To make way for the dam
site, ancient pagodas in the area were destroyed.  Thereafter, the project
included the building of the dam wall, the digging of a network of
irrigation canals, and the repair of the Monywa-Thazi road.  The project was
supervise by captain Soe Win, commander of the #20 Artillery battalion based
on Monywa.  The opening ceremony took place in October 1995.  After
completion, villagers were still called to plant trees, clear weeds on the
canal network and build a new pagoda near the dam wall.

In the twelve months preceding the opening ceremony, it is estimated that
between 3,000 to 5,000 villagers were forced to contribute their labour on
the project.  At least one person per family had to work there for several
consecutive days from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and in some cases up to 11 p.m.  If a
family member could not come to work, he or she had to pay 100 Kyats per day
to the army.

Although no relocation took place for this project, a number of ancient
pagodas were standing in the dam area, and 23 of them had to be demolished.
Villagers were forced to provide labour to pull them down as well as to
build one new pagoda at the dam site.  It is widely reported that the
battalion took this opportunity to steal previous sacramental objects
including relics and gems enshrined in the pagodas when they were
constructed.  Villagers were greatly upset not only by the desecration of
their ancestral sites, but also by their fears that their involvement will
negatively affect their karma.  (ABSDF-WB, May 1997 and FTUB, October 1997)

Myo Myint, a Burman from Kan Phya village, Monywa township, explained:

"There was a group of more than 20 pagodas near the Thazi dam.  They were
built hundreds of years ago by the ancient villagers of Thazi.  Thazi used
to be a rich village in the old times.  According to the villagers, they
took the 'htabanah' (treasures and relics enshrined in the pagoda).
Artillery Battalion # 20 ordered the villagers to pull them down with some
tools.  My sister worked there.  Two villagers had to guard the pagodas at
night.  When they reached the 'htabanah', nobody could touch or see it.
They put the jewels into one pagoda and prevented the villagers from coming
near.  Then the soldiers took them away.

"We, villagers, we feel so sad about all this.  They shouldn't destroy these
ancient pagodas.  We are all Buddhists.  Even the government (is Buddhist).
Our religion has been insulted."  (Interview, May, 1997)

Zaw Htun, a Burman from Bu Bin village near the dam, also knew about the
destruction of the pagodas: "At the beginning of the dam project, they
destroyed the pagodas, took the treasures and then the army carried these
jewels away by helicopter."

He and his brother worked in tuns on the dam site and he described the
working conditions:

"The people were working there for 4 or 5 months, in the winter of 1995.  My
brother and I went there in turns.  Soldiers were guarding us.  They scolded
the people and even beat them.  On the worksite, the soldiers were always
drunk.  They always tried to fool around with the girls.  The people were so
angry with the soldiers but they couldn't do anything.  

"The workers had to bring along their tools and their food.  They received
no salary.  Those who own a car or a scooter were also requested to provide
them for the construction work.  They were guarded by soldiers during the
work, and some villagers were beaten.  There were also several work
accidents on the construction site, but no compensation was paid."
(Interview, May 1997)

Myo Myint also described how his family members were ordered to go and work
everyday on the irrigation canals.  "Four members of my family had to
participate, one in each group for each day.  It took more than three months
to complete.  We had to make a new branch canal, 7 feet deep and 13 feet
wide.  There were three villages involved, each with 75 people.  Each
village had to complete a length of 30 feet.  This was for the irrigation of
paddy fields.  But these fields are not ours.  They belong to other
villages.  There is no benefit at all for our village."

It has been reported that seven people died in work accidents, including two
women, during the construction.

When Myo Myint was asked why he thought the SLORC had ordered the building
of the irrigation canals, he replied, "Because our region is dry and there
is not enough rain.  They couldn't collect enough produce from the
villagers.  I think they want us to produce more crops for their rations."

However, soon after the inauguration of the Thazi dam, engineering flaws
became apparent.  The water flow could not be controlled properly, and the
Thazi villagers, who are living at the foot of the dam and are growing
cotton, beans and corn, got even less water than previously to irrigate
their fields. Moreover, the dam was build solely with mud, ground and
stones, and a leak was observed in the dam wall.  (FTUB, July 1997) The
Thazi villagers now live in fear that the dam could burst at any time.
Following the massive floods of the 1997 rainy season and unconfirmed
reports that many dams in the country burst there are grave fears held for
the safety of these villagers.