[Note: Some details have been omitted or replaced by ‘xxxx’ for Internet distribution.]
This report provides an update on some of the conditions existing in the Ye-Tavoy area, with particular focus on the Ye-Tavoy railway construction project. For background on this area, see the KHRG reports "Ye-Tavoy Railway Area: An Update" (#95-26, 31/7/95), "Conditions in the Gas Pipeline Area" (#95-27, 1/8/95), "Field Reports: Mergui-Tavoy District" (#95-25, 29/7/95), and other previous reports. Despite the June 1995 ceasefire between SLORC and the New Mon State Party (NMSP), conditions for villagers in this area continue to worsen, and people continue to flee the area. This is primarily due to increasing demands for forced labour on Ye-Tavoy railway construction. It appears that SLORC has now sped up its schedule for completion of the railway and slightly changed its strategy. In the 1994/95 dry season SLORC focussed almost all forced labour on one stretch of the railway instead of the whole line. As a result, the southernmost 12-mile stretch from Tavoy to Ye Pyu was officially "completed" in May 1995. SLORC is now applying this strategy to other portions of the line: for example, on 20 November villagers in Ye Township were suddenly informed that they were to complete the entire 18-mile stretch from Ye to the Tenasserim border in only 15 days, from 1 to 15 December. The result of this change in strategy is much more intensive calls for labour - whole families instead of one member per family - occurring right at harvest time, when families who go for the work face losing their entire year’s rice harvest. The other result is that this year villagers often have to travel as far as 100 or 120 km. to their assigned worksite instead of just going to the nearest portion of the line. At least one third to one half of all the labourers are women and children, either because SLORC has demanded several people per family from their village, or because it takes the whole family to finish the work quota in the allotted 15 days, or because the father of the family stays home to harvest the rice.
SLORC claims that labourers on the railway line are paid, but there is no evidence to support this. Villagers even have to take all their own food and tools. Anyone who cannot go has to either pay 3,000-4,000 Kyat to SLORC, or hire someone to go in their place for 700-2,000 Kyat. There are some itinerant day labourers, both in the villages and at the worksites, who are willing to be hired for this. Some families hire substitutes directly, while others give the money to the village headman and he does it. As a result, some people working on the railway are doing so for money, but this money comes from villagers, not from SLORC. It appears (see item #1 below) that the Railway Ministry officials on site have cash budgets which may be intended to pay labourers, but the Ministry officials simply hand over all of this money to the Army battalions in the area in return for guarding the workers and keeping them working. SLORC Secretary-1 Khin Nyunt has even gone so far as to claim that a "secret directive" has been issued to stop all use of forced labour in Burma. The testimonies below make it very clear that no such directive has been issued.
SLORC has also increased rice quotas being confiscated from farmers by up to 500% this year, from 2 tins per acre to 10 tins per acre. SLORC only pays 70 Kyat per tin, while market price is now 410 Kyat per tin. This is partly to feed the expanding Army, and partly to support SLORC’s 500% increase in rice exports this year, from 265,000 tonnes last year to 1.2 million tonnes this year.
This export increase is intended for SLORC profit and as an international public relations move, but it is causing an extremely serious rice shortage throughout Burma. Rice prices have doubled in many areas and people are subsisting on rice soup or starving. Traders from coastal towns in Burma are even coming to hard-pressed Mon revolutionary areas to see if they have any rice to sell.
At the same time, as SLORC continues to send more military force into the area, forced labour at army camps and extortion of money from villagers continues to increase. Many of the new Battalions are being sent in to secure the proposed natural gas pipeline from the Gulf of Martaban to Thailand being built by foreign oil companies Total and Unocal. Troops protecting the pipeline are now extorting "gas pipeline fees" from all villages in the area, including villages 15-20 km. north of the proposed route. The price is 150 Kyat per month per family, and villagers are threatened that anyone who doesn’t pay has to go for 3 days of forced labour on the pipeline survey work.
Under the terms of the ceasefire deal between SLORC and the NMSP, SLORC is supposed to cease all taking of forced porters and porter fees from villages. However, villagers confirm that all these things continue at least as much as before. SLORC has answered the NMSP’s complaints about this by stating that porters are being taken by the Township LORCs, not by the Army, and that this is acceptable because only the Army is covered by the ceasefire terms.
Because of this situation, refugees continue to flee their villages to the Thai border. Because of the ceasefire deal, the Thai Government now plans to force all Mon refugees back to Burma by May 1996. There continue to be very serious concerns for their safety once back in Burma. The UNHCR is now negotiating with SLORC to try to get a presence on both sides of the border to monitor the repatriation; however, SLORC is not likely to grant it, and even if it does, UNHCR’s behaviour in Bangladesh and Arakan State has made it clear that UNHCR is more interested in helping the governments involved to whitewash a forced repatriation operation than it is in protecting returnees.
The following report consists of 2 parts: 1) a summary of some recent information gathered and provided by the Mergui-Tavoy Information Service of the Karen National Union regarding the situation of villagers in the region, and 2) interviews with Mon villagers conducted by a Karen Human Rights Group researcher in a Mon refugee camp in December 1995.
THE NAMES OF ALL THOSE INTERVIEWED HAVE BEEN CHANGED, AND THE FALSE NAMES ARE INDICATED BY ENCLOSING THEM IN QUOTES.
Railway labour (items #1-8), gas pipeline fees / labour (#3,5,6), road labour (#1), Army camp labour (#4,6,8), difficulty harvesting due to forced labour (#1,4), rice confiscation (#3,4,6), rice shortage (#4), land confiscation (#1,4), forced Army conscription (#1), porter fees (#2,4,5,6,7), porters (#2,7), Mon ceasefire terms (#2), Thai repatriation plans (#5,6,8).
Issues specific to railway construction: deadlines / increased demands for labour (#2,3,5,6), convict labour (#1), labour camp statistics (#1), labour of women and children (#3,5,8), beatings (#1,5,6,8), sickness (#1,3,5,6,8), collapsing embankments due to rainy season labour (#1,2,5), video cinemas (#1,5), Ministry of Railways (#1).
[The following information has been provided by the Mergui-Tavoy Information Service of the Karen National Union]
In October 1995, SLORC issued orders for the following numbers of forced labourers to come to labour camps from villages in the Ye-Tavoy area.
|# of workers ordered||# of workers recieved||# short of quota||# of convicts used|
Kyauk Ka Din
Notes: All labourers demanded and supplied are civilian villagers with the exception of those listed as convicts. Many are women and children. The numbers supplied do not include those who paid 3,000 to 4,000 Kyat to the Army to avoid the labour. Orders were issued for village heads to send enough people immediately to fill the shortfalls in the number of people demanded. "18-Mile", "19-Mile" etc. are places named after their distance along the line south of Ye.
Most of the labour camps listed above had already been extended in September by Township LORC (Ma Wa Ta) and District LORC (Ka Wa Ta) authorities. At that time there were an estimated 6,800 civilian forced labourers being used in 21-Mile, 30-Mile, Hein Zeh, Nan Kyeh, Nweh Laing, Zim Ba, Ya Pu, and Kyauk Ka Din camps, as well as about 500 convicts in 30-Mile camp and 400 more in Zim Ba camp. There are 7 bulldozers in Kyauk Ka Din camp, but the authorities never use them, preferring to use manual labour of conscripted villagers because it has no cost. In September, heavy rains were continuing and yet villagers were still forced to work digging earth pits, building embankments and filling depressions. About 80 to 100 people in each labour camp were ill at any given time, but the authorities provided no medicine whatsoever. In some camps, people from nearby villages who run video cinemas were forced to bring their equipment and show videos at their own expense, while SLORC soldiers collected admission prices from labourers and kept the money.
In September, a Tatmadaw (Burmese Army) recruiting unit from Tavoy District went to several of the railway forced labour camps and took some young men by force to become soldiers. The young men taken were between 16 and 22 years old. They also took some convict labourers who were nearly due to be released from their sentences. From 36-Mile and Hein Zeh camps, they took 6 villagers and convicts, from Nwe Laing camp they took 8 villagers, and from 21-Mile camp they took 15 villagers and convicts.
Officials of the SLORC Ministry of Railways who are responsible for the Ye-Tavoy railway construction have to give money to the Army Battalions along the railway line who are guarding the forced labourers and doing security duty. The Railway officials have to pay the Battalion 100 Kyats for each earth pit (10 feet square) dug by the forced labourers, and 150 Kyat for each depression which is filled in. It is possible that this is money budgetted by the Ministry of Railways to pay the forced labourers but that the Army is using this method to steal all of it, resulting in the fact that none of the labourers are paid. As an example, on 24 August 1995 there was heavy rainfall at 21-Mile camp, but even so #407 Light Infantry Battalion forced 900 villagers in the camp to work. Those who could not work hard enough were beaten by the soldiers through the day. 40 pits were dug and 180 depressions were filled, for which the Railway officials paid 31,000 Kyat to LIB 407. The Battalion kept all the money. At 30-Mile camp there is convict labour. The convicts have to dig rock for the railway gravel bed. The Railway official in charge of 30-Mile camp has to pay 200 Kyat to the SLORC Battalion for each rock pit dug by the convicts. On 23 August 1995 the SLORC soldiers at 30-Mile camp ordered the convicts to blow up the rock with dynamite. Two convicts were killed by flying rock from the explosion, and 3 others were seriously wounded. The wounded were sent to Tavoy Hospital for treatment.
All villagers called for railway labour must arrange and pay for their own transportation to get to and from the worksite on time. They must take their own food, and receive no pay for the work. Looting, extortion, and other forms of forced labour also continue: for example, villagers in Ye Pyu Township are being ordered by various SLORC officers to bake bricks. The officers then sell the bricks for 5 Kyat each to businessmen and keep all the money themselves. In September 1995, LIB #402 confiscated 420 acres of land from Z’Lone and Tha Byet Chaung villages. All the land becomes property of the military and is now occupied by LIB 402. Families whose land was confiscated have to move to other villages to find new land without compensation.
Further south, up to 10,000 villagers from the Tha Baw Lay and Nyaw Pay Gway areas in Tenasserim Township have been used since June 1995 as forced labour building a road to the Thai border at Moe Taw Yoh. The project is under control of #103 Infantry Battalion. The villagers receive no pay and have to supply their own food. Many people had no chance to tend their crops through rainy season as a result. The work is continuing. SLORC is calling it a regional development project, but villagers in the area believe it is solely to open up the border areas to the military. Since November 1995, SLORC has also been calling villagers for forced labour building a road near Ma Saung in Mergui township. The labourers receive no food or money. Now the villagers need to harvest their rice in the fields, but SLORC has warned them that they will be shot if they are seen working in the fields when they are supposed to be working on the road.
All of the following interviews were conducted by a Karen Human Rights Group researcher in a Mon refugee camp in December 1995.
NAME: "Nai Shwe" SEX: M AGE: 34
INTERVIEWED: Dec 4/95
DISCRIPTION: Mon Buddhist
["Nai Shwe" is a refugee who just returned from several months in Ye Township.]
I just came back from Ye Township, south of Ye. I was there for 4 months. This month the SLORC is restarting railway construction there. From Dec. 1 thru Dec. 15, SLORC announced that about 30,000 villagers from all of Ye Township must go. 30,000 families, one person from every family, just in Ye Township. They must come from as far north as Nit Kayin, half way to Thanbyuzayat, and as far south as the border [the border between Mon State and Tenasserim Division, 29 km. south of Ye; Nit Kayin is about 35 km. north of Ye]. There are about 30 villages in this area, and 6 sections of Ye Town. On November 20 the Ye Township government held a meeting about railway construction. They announced to all village and section headmen that from 1 December through 15 December the people must go. It is by SLORC quota - about 1,000 people from each village. They have to work between Ye and the [Tenasserim] border, 18 miles’ distance. The people must get there themselves, no help from SLORC. They are to finish the whole 18 miles in 15 days. It was done before, but the rainy season floods destroyed it all this year so they have to do it again. Some of the line goes through rubber plantations and some through ricefields. When the rains came, the part that went through ricefields was completely washed away, except in places. SLORC doesn’t worry that the floods will destroy the embankment again, because each time the floods wash it away a bit is still left, so it gets bigger and more solid year by year, this year and again next year, and so on until it’s finished. It’s crazy. So I think they probably won’t lay the track on it this year. On one stream, this year the SLORC decided to make a dam, partly to get hydro power and partly so they can control the water and it won’t destroy the embankment. Right now it is just a plan.
I left the area on November 30. In Ye I saw villagers going to the railway. All the people are going. They must go. SLORC has a system of using the headman of the village to collect the people. The headmen know the names of the families. They just take their villagers to the place and the SLORC is there. The villagers can’t flee, but if they really can’t go then they have to pay instead. Each family has a quota of work to do, and if they can’t go they have to hire someone to go. If you don’t have money you have to do it yourself. Each family has to dig 3 earth pits 10 feet square by 1 foot deep - altogether 10 feet by 30 feet, or sometimes 10 feet by 50 feet, and carry all the dirt. For each pit it costs 300 Kyat to hire someone to do it for you, so altogether 900 Kyat. There are no convict labourers along this part of the line. Each village is assigned a section of railway line. Each family is assigned a place. If you can’t do it you have to give 900 Kyat to the village headman and he finds another person. There’s a work camp at Ko Mine [9 miles south of Ye], but the villagers will just stay where they’re working along the line. From Ye to the Tenasserim border, SLORC set the deadline as 15 December. This 18 miles of embankment has to be finished.
The village headmen can’t say anything to the villagers or to SLORC. They just get a command from SLORC saying "You have to finish this part of the line", and they have to do it without saying anything. They don’t want to, but they have to. If not, the SLORC will say to them "You are against the rule of Na Wa Ta [SLORC]" and fine them and so on. SLORC doesn’t say exactly what will happen to you if you don’t finish the work, but everybody knows. They have the right even to shoot you, or to say, "You can’t live in this village anymore, get your house and family out of this village." They have that power.
People there also have to pay porter fees regularly, whether or not they go for railway construction. Normally in Ye Township SLORC just wants money, but in Tenasserim Division they want men [for labour]. According to the ceasefire agreement [with the New Mon State Party (NMSP)], SLORC can’t take any porters or porter fees anymore in all of Mon State or Ye Pyu township in Tenasserim. But they still do. So the NMSP complained, and SLORC answered "The ceasefire is just between the Tatmadaw [Burmese Army] and MNLA [Mon National Liberation Army], military to military. The porters are not being taken by the Tatmadaw, they are being taken by the Ma Wa Ta [Township LORC], and Ma Wa Ta is not part of the ceasefire agreement." But the porters are still with the Tatmadaw soldiers. I have seen them. Since the ceasefire the SLORC still does all of these things and treats the people just like before.
NAME: "Nai Kyaw Mon" SEX: M AGE: 42
FAMILY: Married, 6 children aged 11 months to 16 years
ADDRESS: Kywe Thone Nyi Ma village, Ye Pyu township INTERVIEWED: Dec 2/95
DISCRIPTION: Mon Buddhist fisherman
We arrived here [the refugee camp] 6 days ago. I came by myself first, to see the situation and to build a place for my family to stay. We left because they demand too many kinds of "volunteer workers" and I couldn’t do it all anymore. The village had to send people twice a month to dig and carry the earth at the railway construction. We started working at this in August. For my family, 2 people had to go. My wife and my daughter went, because I have to be at home and do my work to support the family. My daughter is 16 years old. They were gone for 15 days each time, every month. They had to carry the dirt which the others had dug up. I’ve been there once - the men dig the earth and then the women carry it up the bank. My wife and daughter had to go and work near Ye Bone and Nweh Ley [about 40 km. SE of their village]. Ye Bone is a small village along the car road, near the big village of Kalein Aung.
They forced all the families living on the island to go. [Kywe Thone Nyi Ma is on an island in the Heinze Basin.] Last year one person from each family had to go, but this year they order the whole family to go. We have no idea why so many. Whenever the order comes we just have to obey. If a family can’t go they have to pay 3,000 Kyat. My family never paid, we always went to the work. Each time over 200 people from the village go. [The village is divided into two halves; each month, the families in one half must go for 15 days, then the families in the other half must go for 15 days.]
There is an army camp on the island, about 12 to 15 soldiers. They are from #273 Battalion. They guard their camp and they collect the paddy [quotas from the farmers]. Most of the villagers are farmers. We don’t have to do any work for those soldiers. I have a small boat, and I fish in the small streams around the area with fish-traps.
Q: Have you heard of the gas pipeline? [The pipeline route is 10-15 km. south of the village.]
A: I’ve never been to the pipeline worksite, I’ve only paid the money for the pipeline. 150 Kyat, every month. The village leader collects the money and goes to give the money to the SLORC camp at Kanbauk. The village leader told us we have to give money for the pipeline, and he collects it and goes to give it at Kanbauk. He said if we can’t pay we have to go to the worksite and work for 3 days and 3 nights, working for the pipeline. Some people had to go from our village. From my section of the village, Tavoy Su, nobody went, but from other sections of the village like Kaw Daw Pine, some did. They went and worked at the Kanbauk - Mi Kyaun Ain worksite. [This is exactly where the Total base camp is located.] I didn’t hear anything about what kind of work they had to do. I never went there, I just paid. Whether we can pay or not, we have to pay somehow. If we have no money, we have to sell something of our own so we can pay.
Q: Are people from Kywe Thone Nyi Ma still allowed to go to Kanbauk by water? [Total and Unocal have had SLORC build jetty facilities at Ka Daik in order to bring in pipeline supplies by sea. Ka Daik is on the southern arm of the Heinze Basin, between Kywe Thone Nyi Ma and Kanbauk.]
A: We are not allowed to go there. The SLORC soldiers gave us an order. The soldiers at the camp near our village gave us that order. They told us that when the ships come in we are not allowed to go to Kanbauk by water or fish there. There are ships that carry lead, they load the lead at Kanbauk and go to the sea [there are mines in the Kanbauk area], but I don’t know. We are not allowed to draw near to the ships. We can still go to Kanbauk by water except when the ships come.
We left because of paying fees and forced labour. I am not happy with this railway project. If we are sick at their work camp we have to buy our own medicine, and we have to eat our own food. We get nothing from them, only work. Kywe Thone Nyi Ma had about 1,000 houses [other villagers estimate closer to 500]. Many families have left, and single people as well. This year when the harvest period is over many will come here. If I go back to my village now, they will arrest me and send me to the forced labour camp.
NAME: "Nai Thein Zar" SEX: M AGE: 28
FAMILY: Married, 1 child aged 3
ADDRESS: XXXX village, Ye North township INTERVIEWED: Dec 2/95
DISCRIPTION: Mon Buddhist farmer
My village is XX miles from Ye [north of Ye]. My wife is still in the village. I heard news that my sister here [in the refugee camp] is very ill so I came to see her. It takes 3 days to walk here, or 2 days for a man alone. I arrived here today. If there is someone to travel with, I will go back tomorrow.
I am a farmer. The SLORC is going to take 10 tins [about 160 kg.] of paddy for each acre from my farm. We just got this news before I came. All farmers have to pay the same this year. I am already doing the harvest, but I have not finished yet. I have 3 acres, and I think I can get 100 tins of paddy from these 3 acres. They will take 30 tins. Last year I had to give them 2 tins ofpaddy per acre, so I had to pay them 6 tins. Last year at the beginning of rainy season before we planted, the Township official came around to find paddy in our houses. They took 3 tins by force and didn’t pay anything, then I had to give SLORC 3 more tins. They paid 70 Kyat per tin, so for 3 tins 210 Kyat. The leader from the big village of XXXX collected the paddy and then he himself went to give it to the Army. He takes it to the train and the train goes to Moulmein or Thanbyuzayat, so I don’t know where it goes. I only know we must give it to the XXXX village leader, and he takes it to the train. [Note: this 500% increase in rice quotas (from 2 tins per acre to 10 tins per acre) is happening in the same year that SLORC is boasting of a 500% increase in rice exports, from 265,000 tonnes to 1.2 million tonnes. A severe rice shortage is sweeping the country right now.]
This year they will pay us 70 Kyat per tin. Last year in the market I could sell it for 225 Kyat per tin. Just before I came here, I heard news from the market that it is now 410 Kyat per tin. Even though the rice is not ready yet, the merchants come to the fields and offer us 410 Kyat. It is the same in the market. [The merchants are clearly expecting the rice shortage to worsen and prices to rise even higher.] I have no idea why it is so expensive this year.
To feed my family the rest [the 70 tins he gets to keep] should be enough. But I have to hire 2 bullocks to plough my field, and I have to pay the bullock owner in paddy. So after I pay the paddy for the bullocks, I will not have enough rice left for my family. I will have to get some from my parents. For farmers who can’t give the quota to SLORC, when SLORC comes they go away and hide. But later when SLORC catches them they have to pay, so they must borrow paddy from others and give it to the SLORC.
They also make the villagers in our area grow vegetables around the SLORC camp where they guard the bridge. For each village, 5 people and 2 bullocks have to go. They call us to their camp, and around their camp they have a field. It is a villagers’ field. The owners are from Mon Hnin village.
The SLORC took the field by force and the owners didn’t dare say anything. We have to use the bullocks to plough the field, and the people have to gather the grass and weeds and grow the vegetables. We have to go for 11 days each time, all the time by turns. From our village 5 people have to go, then 11 days later 5 more people have to go. There are about XX houses in my village. The other villages must also send people for 11 days. The Army Battalion is from Taunggyi. Army #106 Battalion [LIB]. Now they are growing chillies. The other seeds haven’t grown yet so I don’t know what they are.
Then 3 days ago they said we have to go work on the railway. They had a meeting in the village, the village leader told us about it. The village leader told the Army if we have to go work on the railway as well then that’s 2 types of labour, so please free us from growing the vegetables and then we can go work on the railway. If we have to do both, the burden on the people is too heavy. Then the monks said, "This is harvest time, and the people are very busy. They have to cut the paddy, so please don’t make them go now. After the harvest they can go to the railway." The monks said if we have to go now, our paddy will be destroyed. But they didn’t listen to the monks. The monks asked the village leader to go again and tell that to the Army. Before I came here, he went to talk to the Army, but I didn’t hear the result yet. They won’t listen.
The village leader told us that on the 9th day of this waxing month on the Mon calendar we’d have to go to build the railway. That is today [Dec. 2]. I have been to the railway 2 times before, the first time for 8 days and the second time for 2 days. That was at this time last year. Last year every family had to go. This year also, every family has to go - for each family, one person. They didn’t tell us where or for how long. I have already arranged things for my family by hiring one person to go for me.
I had to pay him 700 Kyat. Families who don’t want to go have to hire someone to go for them. There are some people in my village you can hire, and also if you go to the railway there are some people there who need to make money and you can hire them. This time, people who have money will hire substitutes and then they can reap their paddy. Those who have no money, their rice will be left in the field. That is why the monks asked the Army to let the people finish the harvest. But the Army said to the monks, "We won’t stop it because this is a Government project and it is by order." The village leader told me they said that. We cannot disobey. Everything is by force. If I have no money, I cannot stay in that area anymore.
The SLORC Army said, "Now we are working on this railway we won’t make any military operations, so don’t be afraid of going as porters or anything." Before, all the people were afraid of being taken as porters, but since the railway started they haven’t been catching porters. But for the future, I don’t know. Before, we never had to pay porter fees because the big village paid them, but now they made us pay 100 Kyat per house every month. The village leader says we will have to keep paying that in the future.
NAME: "Nai Ong Mon" SEX: M AGE: 47
FAMILY: Married, 6 children aged 9-19
ADDRESS: Taung Kon village, Ye Pyu township INTERVIEWED: Dec 2/95
DISCRIPTION: Mon Buddhist farmer
I left my village about 15 days ago. It took 4 days to come here with my family [to the refugee camp]. We came because I cannot go anymore to the railroad construction and I cannot afford to pay the money they asked for. Every month I had to pay 4,000 Kyat to the SLORC for porter fees and railroad construction fees. All families have to pay that much.
Our whole family had to work at the railway construction. If you have 3 people in your family then 3 people have to go, and if you have 4 people then 4 people have to go. People who cannot work can rest. We had to go once each month, and each time lasted 15 days. You have to pay money if you cannot go. It costs 4,000 Kyat. If you cannot pay the money they arrest you to go and work by force. In our village no one was arrested, because every family paid the money or went. In our family, we have done both. Whenever we could, we went, and we paid the money only when we couldn’t go. The last time we went was in September. Our whole village had to go. I went with my 2 daughters. They are 19 and 17 years old. I think more than 200 people from our village went that time, 3 people from some families and 2 people from some families. There are about 200 houses in the village. Our village is west of Kywe Thone Nyi Ma [just north of the mouth of the Heinze Basin, near the Andaman Sea coast about 50 km. south of Ye]. We had to go and work near Ye Pyu [about 20 km. north of Tavoy along the Tavoy River, at least an 80-km. journey from his village]. It took us 2 days to get there. We went by boat and by car.
We ourselves had to hire the boat and the car to go to the construction! We also had to pack rice to eat at the construction. The SLORC didn’t give anything. Then after the construction we had to hire a car ourselves to get us home. Hiring the car cost us 300 Kyat per person each way. To go and return it cost us 1,800 Kyat altogether.
We were at the worksite 14 days each time. Me, I had to dig earth. 1,000 people had to dig 12 earth pits. Then we had to carry the dug earth to the railroad [embankment]. While I was digging, my daughters were carrying the dirt. Soldiers were guarding us. I saw about 3,000 forced labourers and about 40 soldiers. That was only in our section. All the labourers were villagers. They divided the villagers into groups - some groups had 7 villages, some had 9 villages, some had 6 villages. We started working at 8 a.m., stopped at 10 a.m., and then worked again from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Those were our working hours. Any villagers who rested during those hours were beaten with sticks, sometimes once, sometimes twice.
We slept in our allotted place and made our own shelters. It was not a camp, each family just made their own shelter. If you had a shelter you could sleep in it, otherwise you have to sleep in the rain. We had to gather leaves to make a roof, but there were no leaves to make a good roof for our shelters. [September is still monsoon season, when it rains almost constantly. Proper leaves for roofing are very difficult to get except in late dry season, April-May.] During working hours we had to work whether it was raining or not. When we built the embankment in the rain it often collapsed. When that happened, we had to dig and fill it back in under the rain without resting.
We took along our own food to the work site. They did not give us anything. If we didn’t bring food along with us, we’d have to starve. We had to take our own tools that we needed. We used spades and hoes. There were sick people. They had to find medicine for themselves. The SLORC did not provide any kind of medicine. There were shops selling medicine at the work place. I don’t know who owns them. The SLORC didn’t give any money to the sick people to buy medicine, and when the sick people got better they had to go back to work to finish their quota.
Q: I have heard that now SLORC is giving money to people who do labour in some places.
A: I never heard that, and I never received any money.
Q: SLORC says that people who work on the railway get to watch TV and video shows at night - was there anything like that?
A: Each person has to pay 15 Kyat if he wants to see the video show. I have no idea where SLORC got the video machine. In our village it is also 15 Kyat to see a video. [Note: In many villages, someone will buy a TV and VCR and use it to make a living by running a small video cinema, 15 Kyat admission. SLORC claims to be providing such shows free of charge to railway labourers, but other reports have shown that they do this by confiscating equipment or ordering VCR owners to show movies at their own expense. Even when they do this, the soldiers still charge admission to the labourers.]
Q: Have you heard about the gas pipeline project? [His village is about 15 km. north of the pipeline route.]
A: Yes, we have heard about that. We have to pay money for that pipeline, 150 Kyat per month [per family]. The SLORC soldiers make us pay. They come to our village once a month to collect the money. These soldiers are from Kanbauk and Hpaungdaw area [Hpaungdaw is where the pipeline is to come ashore, and Kanbauk is on the route right beside the Total Oil base camp]. They are from #404 Battalion. These soldiers are always patrolling in our area, but they collect the money from our village only once per month. They collect it from the village leader. They say that this money is for "pipeline volunteer workers". [The expression he uses for "volunteer workers" is "loke-ar-pay", the Burmese expression used by SLORC to refer to all forced labour.] They said if we don’t pay we have to go and work for 3 days at the Hpaungdaw worksite. I have no idea what they are doing there, because I always paid so I never had to go. In our village nobody went, because we all paid. The only time when I was there [passing through the pipeline route area] I didn’t see any pipe, I only saw them cutting down trees, pulling logs, and putting up buildings to make a camp. I saw only soldiers.
In our village we also have to pay 300 Kyat every month for porter fees along with the pipeline money. As soon as we came back from the railway work camp the last time, I told my family to start getting our things together, and then we came here. Now I have no plan to move from here. If we can stay here we will stay. If they try to send us back we will not go back, we will move to another camp. For now I don’t dare go back to our village. Nine families from Taung Kon [village] have already run away and arrived here. Other families have run away to other places like Halockhani.
Q: The companies building the gas pipeline say it is making the villagers happy. How do you feel about it?
A: They get everything and we get nothing. The past is over, never mind about the past. But now what can we do? Now we cannot pay anymore. So we came here.
Q: What about the railway? SLORC says it will benefit the people.
A: What they say is all useless garbage. We gain nothing from it.
NAME: "Nai Aung Sar" SEX: M AGE: 25
FAMILY: Married, 1 child aged 6
ADDRESS: Kywe Thone Nyi Ma village, Ye Pyu township INTERVIEWED: Dec 3/95
DISCRIPTION: Mon Buddhist fisherman
I arrived here [the refugee camp] almost 4 months ago. Last season I had to work at the railway construction. That’s why I came here. The SLORC tortured us. I saw it with my own eyes. They just picked up a stick from the ground, a bamboo stick about this big [2" diameter], and hit with the stick. I saw people bleeding and unconscious. If someone cannot work they accuse them of being lazy and not wanting to work, and hit them very hard. After they were beaten the soldiers forced them to work. They don’t care what happens to you. If we were sick at the work camp we didn’t receive any medical attention. If someone asked for medicine they would not give any, and moreover they beat the person for asking. If we couldn’t work we were beaten, and we had to pay money also. We are poor and we couldn’t pay the money, and I came here. All the labourers suffered the same things, so people were afraid and they fled to the border.
About 20 days ago I went back to Kywe Thone Nyi Ma. I was just trying to find out if people in my village still have to work at the railway construction. Just 15 days ago the Ma Wa Ta [Township LORC] ordered the villagers to go for forced labour. One person in each family has to go, rich and poor alike. They have to go for 15 days each time. If one cannot go he has to pay 3,000 Kyat. I talked to my friends there who were together with me last season at the forced labour camp and they told me that this year will not be easy. They told me they are to go for labour 15 days every month, and if they can’t go they have to go to the labour camp and pay the SLORC soldiers 3,000 Kyat. They told me they also have to take their own food. There are so many poor families in our village. They do not have much time left to work to get some money, so they have nothing to eat. Eventually those poor families will have to come to the border. About 30 families have already left this year, and 50 families left last year [before rainy season in June/95]. Some came here, and some went the Nat Ein Taung way to go and look for work in Thailand. My friends advised me I should not stay there anymore. Many of them are also planning to flee. So I came back here 15 days ago.
Our village has 3 parts, East, Middle, and West, and altogether there are about 500 houses. Each section has to go for 15 days when their turn comes. About 80 people have to go each turn [the others in the section pay the money not to go]. This year they are to go and work between Kalein Aung and Ye Pyu. At the work camp we have to do anything they ask us to do. Sometimes we have to make fences, bunkers and barracks for the soldiers, and dig foxholes for them near the labour camp.
The soldiers at Kywe Thone Nyi Ma are from #406 Battalion [LIB]. Different battalions treat people differently - 409 is very bad, 406 is good. There are about 25 soldiers there. Whatever they ask us to do, we have to do, like making fences, digging trenches, and finding firewood for them. We don’t have to do it all the time, but they order us to do it very often. We also have to pay porter fees, 300 Kyat per month. We have to pay it to the chairman of the village. If the soldiers ask him for pork, we have to pay pork. If they ask him for 1,000 Kyat we have to pay it. If they ask for alcohol we have to give it to them. Anything they ask we have to pay. The village head divides the amount among all the villagers. We also have to give them 8 baskets of paddy per acre. I’m not a farmer, I’m a fisherman. So when they ask me for fish I have to give it to them. They also collect tax depending on the size of your boat. If you pay their tax then you can fish. It varies depending on the size of the boat - for a bigger boat the tax money is much more.
The villagers also have to pay 150 Kyat [per family per month] for the gas pipeline. Last year we had to pay it, this year also we have to pay it, for 2 years already now. The village head collects the money and goes himself to give it, I think to the soldiers.
Q: SLORC says these projects are good for the people. Do you agree?
A: I don’t believe what they say. The way we have to work for the railway and the way they treat us, I think there will be no benefit for our people. I only saw that they torture the people.
I got back here 15 days ago. I don’t want to go back to Burma anymore, I want to stay here. I will find a job here and make a living. I will move to any place that the authorities prepare for us, but I will never go back to Burma until Burma gets democracy.
NAME: "Mi Pan" SEX: F AGE: 39
FAMILY: Married, 1 daughter aged 9
ADDRESS: Kyauk Ka Din village, Ye Pyu township INTERVIEWED: Dec 2/95
DISCRIPTION: Mon Buddhist farmer
I arrived here [the refugee camp] 4 days ago. It took us 6 days to walk, my husband, me, and my daughter - there are 3 of us. We came just by ourselves. My husband is 54 years old, but still the SLORC asked us for forced labour and for money. My husband is too old, he can’t go to work there, and moreover we have no money to pay. That’s why we came here. They made us pay the porter tax, and they forced us to go with them as porters. My husband couldn’t go so he hired others to go for him. Then when we couldn’t hire anyone, the SLORC took 200 Kyat from us. Then before we left our village, the village leaders told us we’d have to do railway construction, so we ran away and came here. From Kyauk Ka Din village ours is the only family which has arrived here, but before we left we heard other villagers talking about running away and coming here. In Kyauk Ka Din there are nearly 100 families, 100 houses. I heard others saying that first they will harvest their rice, but after that they will run and come here. The families will finish their harvest work this month, so maybe they will come this month. I heard 3 or 4 families talking like that, but I didn’t ask anyone else. People are afraid SLORC will hear if they say they’re planning to run away. Now we will stay here for the future. I have no wish to return to Kyauk Ka Din. We have only just arrived, so we haven’t heard anything about what the Thais say [about the upcoming repatriation].
NAME: "Nai Tint Win" SEX: M AGE: 28
FAMILY: Married, 3 children aged 1, 2, and 7
ADDRESS: Bauk Pin Gwin village, Ye Pyu township INTERVIEWED: Dec 3/95
DISCRIPTION: Mon Buddhist farmer
I arrived here 2 months ago. It took us about 10 days to come, with my whole family. We left because the SLORC forced us to do railway construction. Not only that, the soldiers also forced us to work for them in their camp. We had to clean the camp, cut bamboo for them for building, and gather leaves and make roofs for them. Once every month at least 10 people had to go at a time. The SLORC camp used to be outside the village, but this year they moved it into the village so they call the villagers every month. There are about 500 houses in the village. They rotate the people for camp labour the same way as for the railway labour - sometimes we have to go build the railway, sometimes we have to go work in their camp. If we can’t go, the SLORC takes 3,000 Kyat. It is the same for railway labour or camp labour.
This season I had to go 3 months in a row for railway labour, for 14 or 15 days each month. The last time I went was in September. After that I left my village and came here. I had to dig the earth and build an embankment about 12 feet high. It was near Ye Pyu [about 120 km. south of his village]. It took me 4 or 5 days on foot to get there, taking along with me my food to eat at the camp and also food for the trip there and back home. We also had to take tools like baskets, hoes and spades. I always walked because I cannot afford the bus or boat fare.
About 15 or 20 people from my village had to go at a time. When we got there, there were about 2,000 or 3,000 people working at that place. Very old men, very old women, young women, and children about 13 or 14 years old were working there. Some people were beaten by the soldiers. Anyone who arrived at the work camp without tools or baskets was beaten. The soldiers beat them and asked, "Why did you forget your tools?" Some people were tired so they took a rest and the soldiers beat them. They hit them with bamboo sticks and tree branches. They hit hard. Some people were bleeding, and some went unconscious. They didn’t care what happened to the people they hit. Even if unconscious or bleeding, we could not help those people. If we helped them we were afraid we would also be beaten.
In the early morning we had to start working. At 10 o’clock we stopped to cook and eat. We had about 2 hours free time to make baskets to carry dirt, then we worked again. Times when it was not raining, we all slept in the open field, and if it was raining we made shelters for ourselves and slept. Some people got wet in the rain. When people are sick the soldiers still force them to work. SLORC didn’t give any medicine. Some people brought medicine along with them. If one is seriously sick, the soldiers allow them to go back to their village to take medicine. But they often say the sick people are lying, and don’t allow them to go back. I heard that some people died at the railway construction from serious illness.
When I went to the railway my family stayed behind and worked in the field to grow rice. Then when I got back home I worked very hard for my family so that there would be no problems for them when I had to go to the railway again. I could only stay home about 15 days before going again. All the families in the village have to go and work. We were divided into 2 groups, and when one group goes the other can stay in the village. Then when one group comes back, the other group has to go again. After arriving back in the village, sometimes we had to go and work for the soldiers’ camp in our village. We had to clean their camp and find firewood for the soldiers. It’s only a small camp. Each family also has to pay them 200 Kyat per month as porter fees.
Along the way here we were careful to avoid the SLORC. I asked people for information about SLORC, and if they went one way then we went another way. I don’t want to go back to Burma. If the Thais don’t force this camp to move then we’ll stay here, otherwise we’ll move to another camp. No way can I go back to my village. I am afraid of the SLORC. If we arrive back at our home, the SLORC will ask us why we ran away. I’m afraid of them, and I’m afraid of the railway construction.