Story Of A Mon Political Prisoner

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Story Of A Mon Political Prisoner

Published date:
Tuesday, January 9, 1996

This report discusses the SLORC troops attacked Mon refugee camp on border.They arrested 16 refugees as prisoners and many others as porters. 

[Note: Some details have been omitted or replaced by ‘xxxx’ for Internet distribution.]

In early 1994, Thai authorities forced about 5,000 Mon refugees across the border into Burma. The refugees, afraid to go into a SLORC-controlled area, settled just across the border and established a refugee camp at Halockhani, where they continued to receive some cross-border aid from foreign aid organizations. On July 21, 1994, the camp was attacked by a large column of SLORC Infantry Battalion #62 troops commanded by Lt. Col. Ohn Myint. [See "SLORC’s Attack on Halockhani Refugee Camp", 30/8/94.] In the attack, Plat Hon Pai section of the camp was completely burned down, but when the SLORC troops attempted to advance on the main body of the camp they were repulsed by a group of MNLA (Mon National Liberation Army) soldiers who were in the area. The SLORC troops arrested 16 refugees as prisoners and many others as porters, and marched to Ye. On arrival in Ye several days later, all were released except "Nai Tin Maung" (not his real name), who was held, interrogated, and then sentenced to 2 years’ imprisonment because he was a schoolteacher in the refugee camp. "Nai Tin Maung" has now been released from prison, and his story in his own words is given below.

In the wake of the attack on Halockhani, all the refugees fled across the border to Thailand, where they were immediately ordered to go back to Burma by the Thai Army. They refused and a standoff ensued, which ended when the Thai Army blocked off all outside aid, then impounded the entire camp food supply and drove the refugees back across the border in September 1994. The refugees are now still there, in the same site which was previously attacked. After the attack Lt. Col. Ohn Myint was not punished, but was sent with his IB 62 troops further north to Thanbyuzayat and Kya In areas, where he has since become notorious for burning many villages, taking many people as porters, and his particularly brutal treatment of villagers.

Topic Summary

Porters, burning of villages, interrogation & beatings by Army and MI, sentencing, conditions in Moulmein Jail, prison labour, beatings in prison, illness and death in prison, early release due to NMSP ceasefire deal.

Interview

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NAME: "Nai Tin Maung"          SEX: M          AGE: 25
FAMILY: Married, 3 children aged 1 month and twins of 3
ADDRESS: XXXX village, Ye North Township INTERVIEWED: Dec 4/95
DISCRIPTION: Mon Buddhist schoolteacher

Last year I was a teacher at Halockhani [refugee camp]. I was teaching Mon and English. I had been at the Thai border for 3 years. I was living in Plat Hon Pai section of the camp. As a teacher I was a member of NMSP [New Mon State Party], but I had no connection with MNLA [Mon National Liberation Army, armed wing of the NMSP]. When the SLORC came I was staying in the camp. I saw the Army come into the camp. They arrested me as a member of NMSP, because the villagers told them I was a teacher. [On entering the camp, the troops called for all the teachers, and he was the only one there.] They handcuffed me in the village, then they took me as a porter. With me fifteen other villagers were also taken by the SLORC, but later they were released. They didn’t release me.

When I was marching with them they didn’t tie me up. I had to be a porter. The load was quite heavy. I was carrying heavy weapon shells and a mortar baseplate for an 82 mm. mortar. [A mortar consists of a heavy tube set up on a heavy flat metal baseplate, weighing well over 10 kg.] Some of us had to carry loads and some did not. Those who didn’t have to carry loads were handcuffed. Four people out of our 16 were handcuffed. The soldiers used them as guides, and kept them handcuffed so they wouldn’t escape. Three of us were NMSP, and the rest were villagers. [SLORC only knew that as a teacher, he was NMSP - they didn’t know that 2 others were with the NMSP Agriculture Dept.] I have no idea why they were taken.

We were with #62 Battalion [IB]. It took us 4 days walking from Halockhani to Ye. When we left I saw them burning Plat Hon Pai. On the way I saw them burn 3 villages: Plat Hon Pai, Ka Mon, and Klay Taing. These villages are very far apart. One village was burned down because a villager shot at the SLORC soldiers and then ran away, so they burned the village. They burned down the other because a battle had taken place near the village. When we were porters we were beaten 2 times. Once we were beaten during the night, because it was raining and we had to sleep under the rain in a sitting position. That night was very cold and raining, but they wouldn’t allow us to lay down, to warm ourselves in our longyis or to go to the toilet. So we were noisy, and the soldiers beat us with a stick. Also, when people couldn’t walk or were marching slowly, we were all beaten. They beat everybody. They hit us on the head and shoulders with sticks. Along the way they gave us just a little rice. They never gave us enough food and no curry, only salt and fishpaste. They didn’t say anything to us.

When we got to Ye the other 15 people were released. The soldiers told me I am guilty because I have connections with the Mon rebels. They said, "Tell us how long you have been working with Mon rebels." I told them I’m not, and they beat me. They asked me how many Mon soldiers were included in the 15 villagers. I told them none are Mon soldiers, and they said, "Only you?" So I said, "Yes." They asked how long I had been a teacher and I told them one year. They asked "Who pays you?", and I told them the villagers paid me. [Note: on arrival in Ye, the other 15 captives were released. Most of the soldiers then proceeded north to IB 62 headquarters in Thanbyuzayat, while some took him further north to another IB 62 camp in Mudon.] When we arrived at 62 Battalion camp in Mudon they asked me, "Are you a teacher?", "Do you have any connection with organizations?", and things like that. I said, "Yes. I have contact with N--- from NMSP." Then they kept asking, "Who is N---?", and I told him he is the Township Secretary. When they asked me about Major S--- and his Company, I told them I know nothing about that. Then they beat me, because they said, "You know him. You are lying to us." They hit me in the face with their hands. They kept asking questions like that for about 1 hour, then they sent me to the MI 5 camp [special Military Intelligence]. People from MI 5 came and took me there by car, with 3 or 4 soldiers guarding me. Their headquarters is in Moulmein. It is a big camp, I think there are 30 or 60 soldiers there. At their camp they threatened me. They showed me a place and said "Get in there. That is your place." It was like a jail cell, a place for keeping prisoners. They gave me some food, and I had to call the guard when I needed to use the latrine. They interrogated me for 3, 4, 5 days. They beat me for 1 or 2 days, then after that they didn’t. They punched my face and kicked me. Then after 6 days, personnel from MI 5 took me to the police station. Nothing happened there, and I stayed only 1 day. Then they took me to Moulmein Jail and then to a court where I was tried.

I had to appear before a court, and the judge asked me whether I have any connection with NMSP. I said "Yes", so he told me "You know that you are guilty for cooperating with NMSP?", and I said "Yes." Then he gave me 2 years’ imprisonment. They already knew about me and it was no use to lie, so I told them the truth. They gave me the chance to get a lawyer but I didn’t, because it would make no difference. The judge was a civilian, and the court was full with many people, all police.

Then they gave me prison uniform, 2 shirts and 2 longyis in white colour [prison uniforms are made of very rough white material] and put me in Moulmein Jail. There are 5 buildings at the jail. The place I slept was like a hall. About 200 people slept there. It is about 200 feet long by 50 feet wide. They leave a space down the centre for walking and people sleep on either side. It is not enough room for 200 people. It had a wooden floor, but they didn’t give us mats. They gave us one blanket. There is a place with a bucket to shit in, and they have 3 or 4 pots to piss in. In the morning they come and collect all the pots to use as fertilizer.

In our room some people were murderers, some rapists, some pickpockets and some who were in for fraud. But about 160 or 170 were like me, accused under Section 17/1 [contact with "illegal" organizations, a standard charge for political prisoners] and 17/2 [rebellion against the State]. Some were rebel soldiers and some were charged with cooperating with rebels. All the political prisoners were in my building. In the daytime we worked. At 3 p.m. we stopped working, took a bath and ate. After that we had to line up for roll call, and at 6 p.m. we all had to go back to our own building. At seven they blew a whistle and we all had to be at our sleeping places We could sing or laugh until 9 p.m., but after 9 p.m. no sound was allowed, everyone had to sleep and be quiet. If someone had to go to the toilet they had to shout "Piss!" or "Shit!" You can go only if they say you can go. If they don’t answer you can’t go. We woke up at 5 a.m. and we were allowed to pray. From 6-7 a.m. they ring the bell and we all had to line up and get boiled rice gruel, just rice, salt, and water, and then we had to go to work. Then at 10 a.m. we got the morning meal, rice and some vegetables boiled in water with salt. At 4 p.m. we got the evening meal, the same as the morning meal. The food was not enough for me. They gave us only one plate of rice. There were so many kinds of work - feeding the pigs, metalworking, weaving, gardening vegetables, cooking at the mess hall, and so on. The political prisoners did the same work as the criminal prisoners. Then the authorities sold the pigs and the things we made, outside in the market. Criminal prisoners had to go for [Ye-Tavoy] railway labour, but not political prisoners. [However, evidence exists that political prisoners have been sent there - see related KHRG reports.]

Prisoners who got sick were checked in the jail and if necessary they were sent to the hospital outside, but you have to pay them money first. You have to pay 500, 600, 1000, or 1500 Kyat to the warden. In the jail hospital they just had a few medicines like Paracetamol. They basically had no medicine at all there. If you gave money to the guards, they would buy some for you. In the jail we made our own medicine for malaria. We took 6 or 7 small bugs [he named a type of insect that lives between the cracks in floorboards], mixed it with jaggery from palm trees and Flying Man digestive powder, rolled it into a pill and swallowed it. I got sick once with malaria, for one whole month. I didn’t go to the prison hospital, I bought medicine for myself. I had money because my mother came to see me and brought me money. She came one time every 3 months. The guards didn’t allow her to see me. She told them my name and gave the money to them. The guards take 200 out of every 1,000 Kyat before they give it to you. Other prisoners are allowed to see their families, but not me because I was a political prisoner.

I saw 2 people die in prison from sickness. The guards only beat the newcomers. Every new prisoner is beaten by the chief guard. For the first 1 or 2 months they regard you as a new prisoner and beat you. After that you become an "old hand" and no more beatings. I was in the jail 16 or 17 months. I was released on October 28 [1995]. The prison authorities gave back all my belongings and I went back home. But my family is here [at the refugee camp], and my people at home are in trouble because of SLORC. I don’t want to see the SLORC’s face anymore, so I came here. I was released because some Majors from MNLA came and vouched for me. About 30 people from my group and 20 people from another group were released, altogether 50 [after the SLORC/NMSP ceasefire in June 1995, the NMSP requested the release of certain political prisoners]. I think the Mon leaders negotiated it with SLORC. As for me, my opinion in two words is that SLORC is no good.