An Independent Report by the Karen Human Rights Group
Following is the translation of part of a conversation between 3 SLORC Lieutenant-Colonels which was recorded in a city in southern Burma in mid-1994. It is reproduced here because of the insight it gives into the mentality of senior SLORC officers. Please feel free to use this document in any way which may help end the long suffering of the peoples of Burma.
Officer #1: ...People don't want to do this work, so they escape from the labour. Then when they arrive at the border area they say it was forced labour. But for us, if we don't do it like this now, we won’t be able to develop things for the future.
Officer #2: Yes, if you really want something then you just have to do it.
Officer #1: If we want to get the work done in the future under a parliamentary government, there will be a lot of problems with bureaucracy and we'll have to do everything step by step. If we have a parliament they'll have to discuss it, and make contracts and so on. Now we're doing this development work but the people don't like it so we're like fools, all we get for it is black names [bad publicity].
Since 1989 we've been making a lot of roads in the [Irrawaddy] Delta area, about 1,000 miles of roads. There's a lot of mud, so just to make a 24-foot wide road we have to make a foundation 100 feet wide. So it's a very heavy job, but even for this job we have no problems and no complaints. The people there are satisfied. They are willing to help us. But when we start in Arakan State we have problems, a lot of the Muslim people escape to Bangladesh, and on the Ye-Tavoy railway a lot of people escape to Thailand. It's because these places are close to the borders, so some people think, "When we arrive at the border we'll be free of this labour", and they escape. We don't explain things well enough to the people in the border areas.
Officer #3: [Out there] they sell liquor, beer, sweet drinks and food, and everything. But I heard a woman say, "If I can ride a train just once, then I’ll be happy when I die".
Officer #2: The refugees get assistance money, and they don't have to work. For example, if the NGOs [foreign Non-Governmental Organizations] get 20 million dollars from the organizations of the world: then they take their cut for overhead, as well as overtime fees, and they get lots of privileges like cars to drive around in. They only give the refugees just a very small part of the assistance money, but the refugees are satisfied with that because they don't have to work, so they don't want to return. Some of these organizations are supposed to send the refugees back to Burma, but when we open up a Welcome Centre to take them back, these same organizations organize the refugees not to come back. The NGOs are afraid to let the refugees return, because if all the refugees return the NGOs will have no profit and they'll be jobless. Actually, these organizations should be returning the refugees, but instead they just move them all to another place, they get money for doing that and then the same thing starts all over again
Officer #1: They [the NGO people] get $6,600 per month as salary. For their daily allowance they get $220, just to go around checking the camps. So you just think about that, how much profit they're getting.
Notes: All of the projects they are talking about are being implemented entirely with slave labour, which is ordered from villages and towns under threat of burning down their villages, shelling them with mortars and/or executing the village leaders. They say they get "no complaints" in the Irrawaddy Delta, because the people know that they will be severely punished or killed for complaining and because they have no access to the outside world to report their suffering as do the people in the border areas. In the past, the "Welcome Centres", i.e. repatriation centres, which the SLORC has setup to accept refugees back have been used as prisons, where returning refugees are held prisoner. If they can pay a very expensive bribe they may be released but otherwise they are sent to military units as porters or development projects as slave labourers, or if they are suspected of being related to "rebels" then they may be executed. This has been the case along the Thai border, where Thai authorities have on occasion forcibly repatriated people to such "Welcome Centres". On the Arakanese border with Bangladesh, there are also reports of forced repatriation of Rohingya Muslim refugees to SLORC repatriation centres, but there are few or no confirmed reports of what is happening at those centres. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees is supposed to monitor them, but all their representatives stay in the comfort of Rangoon and do no proper monitoring whatsoever - just an occasional one-day visit accompanied by droves of SLORC Military Intelligence men.
It would be interesting to know where these officers get their information on foreign NGOs and their salaries. A long the Thai border, there are no UN agencies giving any aid at all to the refugees and therefore such ridiculous salaries simply do not exist. The private NGOs giving aid there have to struggle just to get enough rice from overseas to feed the growing refugee population. Most of their employees are either unpaid volunteers or people being paid just enough to cover basic living expenses. The $20 million in aid which one officer gives as an example also does not exist - and even if it did the Thai government would disallow it, because they bar any aid except bare survival needs from being delivered to refugees from Burma.