SLORC ACTIVITIES IN TOUNGOO DISTRICT
An Independent Report by the Karen Human Rights Group
February 23, 1994
The following information was provided by villagers from Ye Da Shi Township, Toungoo District, Pegu Division, and was gathered by the National League for Democracy - Liberated Area (NLD-LA), Information and Research Department. This testimony is from the report of an NLD representative who just returned from the area.
Since 1992, SLORC has been implementing a "paddy and fishpond" project in Ye Da Shi Township, Toungoo District. The project is between Ye Da Shi and Myo Hla villages, covering an area about 6 miles in length and one and a half miles in breadth. It involves digging thousands of shallow fish ponds, which are also to be used as rice paddies in rainy season. Each pond is 10 feet by 10 feet square, and 4 feet deep. The entire civilian population of the township is being forced to dig these ponds. This township consists of 5 towns and 58 village tracts [a village tract is an area including 4 to 6 villages].
About 20,000 people have been forced to work digging these ponds each dry season since 1992. Each family is assigned 2 ponds, and must also use the excavated earth to build smooth terraces around the ponds, on which they must plant banana trees. This takes an average of 15 to 20 days of hard work for every family. Farmers, workers, merchants, technicians, and people from all civilian classes have to do the work. Any household which cannot supply the required labour has to pay 1,000 to 1,200 Kyat to hire people to do their assignment for them. Village SLORC officials are excluded from the labour.
It takes families over 2 weeks to dig 2 ponds because according to villagers, 1 man can dig 100 cubic feet in 2 full days, and 2 ponds constitute 800 cubic feet. The ground in the area is not rocky, but in dry season it is hard as rock; so hard that a long iron crowbar is often the only way to break it up. Villagers must provide all their own tools, and not all of them have such tools. The plots assigned to some villagers also have trees on them which must be uprooted. Villagers must also carry all dirt they dig to the central terraces which they must build, smooth, and plant with banana trees. Depending on one’s assigned plot, this terrace may be several hundred yards away.
None of the labour is paid. SLORC has given the name "volunteer labour" to all such forms of enforced slavery. The fishpond project is still going on now, this dry season. All ponds are not yet finished. All of the ponds are officially owned by Southern Command of the Burma Army, commanded by Brigadier Soe Myint. People in the area have named the project the "Death Ponds", because more than 100 people have already died of sickness and exhaustion made worse by sunstroke while working on the project. All of the subsistence farmers who used to own this land have been driven out by officers of the Southern Command.
In 1992 Brigadier Aye Thaung, then commander of Southern Command, seized all agricultural land between Mahn Si, Kyin Ywa, Kun Gyi, and Swa Min Lan villages, about 1,000 acres altogether, without paying any compensation whatsoever to the farmers who owned the land. Their not yet ripe crops were bulldozed by army tractors at the time. This 1,000 acres is now being used to grow sugar cane for the profit of military officers. The project is named the "Aye Thaung Sugar Field Project". [Aye Thaung is now SLORC’s Minister of Border Areas Development, and administers the SLORC’s "Border Areas Development Program", which is partly funded by the United Nations Development Program, UNICEF, and other UN Agencies].
All labour sowing, growing, harvesting, cutting, and carrying the sugar cane to the mills is done by civilian slaves from the village tracts of Shwe Ka Saung, Tha Phan Sin, Swa Taung Kan, Swa Wah Pauk, and Kha Nan Lei. This occurs every growing season, 1994 being the third year. Every house has also recently been forced to make roads 24 feet wide through the fields, raised 4 feet above the fields. Several roads go through each field, and are used to transport the cane out of the fields and as a dry season firebreak. SLORC officials of the Township Council and the Township Police have been allocated the profit from 5 acres each, but the rest officially belongs to Burma Army Southern Command.
In Shwe Ka Saung, Tha Phan Sin, Swa Taung Kan, Swa Wah Pauk, and Kha Nan Lei village tracts [the same as above], there are about 400 bullock carts altogether. In 1992, every house which owned a cart was ordered to go to the forest and bring one piece of timber 18 feet long, at least 3 feet 8 inches in diameter, of solid hardwood other than teak, to be used to build the barracks and other buildings for Southern Command headquarters. The villagers had to cart the timber to the sawmill, where the SLORC officers had it sawn and sold it (the camp headquarters had already been built). This order was repeated in 1993, and has been repeated again in 1994. Now the SLORC says the wood is for the construction of Aye Tha Ya and Shwe Pi Tha, two new villages being built to house army veterans. The villages are being built right beside the sugar cane fields so the veterans can keep watch on the fields, but none of the wood is being used there - the veterans must find their own building materials.
The Rangoon-Mandalay rail line passes through Ye Da Shi Township.
Along the rail line, there is a watch point every 200 metres. Villages in the area have to supply 4 people to man each watch point, day and night. They must also provide people to stand guard along the east bank of the Sittang River every night, to prevent any members of opposition groups from crossing to the west side.
Every house in Ye Da Shi Township was forced to contribute 100 Kyat toward the January 22, 1994 rally of the Union Solidarity Development Association (USDA) [this is a new SLORC-support organization aimed at giving the SLORC legitimacy. The SLORC plans to make it a mass organization like the old Burma Socialist Programme Party using threats and inducements all over the country]. Villagers were ordered that only one person in each household could stay behind to watch the house, while everyone else had to go to the rally. Any households which failed to comply were fined 200 Kyat. Soldiers in the area began inducing and threatening the villagers to go to the rally 3 to 4 months before it occurred. When the time for the rally came, people from far-flung areas had to leave home the day or night before the rally in order to make it there on time. The fee to join the USDA is 25 Kyat per person. SLORC officials are now forcing former National League for Democracy (the party which won the 1990 elections) members in the area to join the USDA.
Lt. Khin Maung Win of 436 Regiment has become notorious in the area. He has issued orders that whenever he passes through a village, all villagers must crouch to the ground before him with heads bowed. If he encounters people in the fields, they must also drop their work and crouch, head bowed, before him. Any villager who dares to raise their head receives 3 or 4 violent blows from the cane which he always carries with him. Villagers in the area have nicknamed him "Bo Chay Lone", which means "Lieutenant Cane". While doing slave labour for the military, villagers in the area are also now taunted by a popular joke among the soldiers, who say to them, "You want democracy? This is it - enjoy it!"