[Note: Some details have been omitted or replaced by ‘xxxx’ for Internet distribution.]
This report contains information about the situation for civilians in Chin State, Arakan State and Sagaing Division of northwestern Burma. Despite the fact that there is little or no fighting in the areas covered by this information, the people in these areas are suffering SLORC human rights abuses which are very similar to those being experienced by villagers and townspeople in war zones at the opposite end of the country. The similarity makes it clear that such abuses are not "isolated occurrences", as some foreign governments and international agencies would have us believe, but systematic SLORC policy. Even in areas where there is no fighting, SLORC continues to send in more Army Battalions to exert direct control over the civilian population. Ten years ago, the 17 townships of Arakan State only contained 10 Army battalions - now every township has at least 3 battalions, and the number continues to increase. Similar increases are occurring in Chin State and Sagaing Division.
All of these Battalions are confiscating land and using people as forced labour to build and maintain their camps and as porters. In the absence of fighting, they are increasingly involved in supervising forced labour on "development" projects such as roads, railways and power dams, land confiscation for forced labour farming, and land confiscation and forced labour building hotels and tourist projects for "Visit Myanmar Year 1996". The largest forced labour project in the area, now nearing completion, is the Chaung U - Pakokku - Gangaw - Kalemyo railway in Sagaing and Magwe Divisions, 312 miles long and every mile of it built with the forced labour of villagers or convicts. While it nears completion, SLORC now talks of extending it 120 km. further north to Tamu in order to strengthen the trade link with India. Those who argue that trade always leads to improvements in human rights should look closely at these events.
Religious persecution is also a major problem in this part of Burma. The Chin and Naga peoples, who are mainly Christian, report that SLORC is forcing all Christian villages to build pagodas and monasteries, desecrating churches and graveyards by turning them into army camps, and coercing people into converting to Buddhism by targetting Christians for forced labour and other abuses. At the same time, Buddhists in Arakan State say that SLORC is preparing to steal all their religious relics and take them to tourist museums and Burman Buddhist shrines in central Burma. Abbots are being forced to make lists of all ancient items in preparation. A "Buddha museum" being built by SLORC in Sittwe, capital of Arakan, has been renamed by villagers the "Dukkha museum", meaning "Museum of Suffering", because they are all being used for forced labour to build it and because they see it as part of SLORC's plan to steal all of their relics. Many young women have even been raped by soldiers at the construction site of this purportedly religious museum.
Thousands of Chin refugees are already in India's Manipur and Mizoram states, and also some in Bangladesh. They receive no aid and are subject to increasing harassment and forced repatriation by Indian forces. Salai Sang Hlun, a Chin National Front leader, was tortured and murdered by Indian forces on 23 April 1995. Most people believe the increased abuse is because the Chin are sympathetic to the Nagas in Burma, while the Indians are fighting their own Naga people, and also because of "Operation Golden Bird", the new joint military operations between the Indian and SLORC Armies. There are also about 2,000 Rakhine refugees from Arakan in Mizoram who receive no aid. They are increasingly in fear because of abuse by Indian forces and the joint Indian-Burmese military operations. In one of their camps in India, called Maung Pu Chay, there have even been reports of SLORC troops entering the camp and taking porters.
In 1991-92 SLORC mounted a religious pogrom against Muslim Rohingyas in Arakan State. It is unknown how many were massacred, but at least 300,000 fled to Bangladesh to become refugees. At least 200,000 of them have now been forced back to Burma by Bangladeshi authorities with the support of the UNHCR [UN High Commissioner for Refugees]. UNHCR made agreements with SLORC and the Bangladesh government (but not with any refugee representatives) to support this forced repatriation and tell the world it is "voluntary" as long as they can get a monitoring presence on both sides of the border. They now have that presence. There are serious concerns raised by Rohingyas and Non-Governmental Organizations about the forcible nature of the repatriation, and furthermore that Rohingya returnees are being used extensively for forced labour and are not having their land returned. Rakhines (who form the Buddhist majority in Arakan State) report that UNHCR has confiscated land without adequate compensation and that they are fuelling racial tensions in Arakan. UNHCR claims that forced labour in Arakan is an "isolated occurrence", and that new Rohingya refugees coming to them in Bangladesh have "false claims".
This report consists of 3 parts: the first part contains testimony given in interviews conducted by KHRG in India and Bangladesh in November and December 1995, the second part is a summary of general information reported by various sources in Chin State and Sagaing Division, and the third part is a summary of concerns about the UNHCR's Rohingya repatriation operations in Bangladesh and Arakan State. The names of those interviewed have been changed, and the false names are indicated by enclosing them in quotes. Note that the town referred to in this report as Kalemyo is often referred to elsewhere as Kalaymyo or Kalay.
Forced labour (#1-6), child forced labour (#1,2,3), child conscription (#5), elderly forced labour (#1,2,3), abuse of women (#1,2), beatings (#1,2), deaths (#2,5), sickness (#2,5), forced relocation (#3,5,6), land confiscation (#1,2,3,5), crop confiscation (#3,5), extortion (#1,2,3,5), theft/commandeering of vehicles (#1,2,3), of boats (#1,3), SLORC control of business (#1,3), SLORC and smuggling (#3,5), economic hardships (#1,3,5), fuel shortages (#1,3), suffering/cost of SLORC VIP visits (#2,3,5), religious issues (#1,3,5), Rohingya repatriation (#3,6), UNHCR (#3,6), Na Sa Ka (#3), National Convention (#3).
Tourism: Land confiscation for tourist sites/resorts (#1,3), forced labour building hotels (#1), demolition of houses to improve the view for tourists (#1), demolition of Maungdaw graveyard for a tourist hotel (#3), orders to rebuild houses or be evicted (#1,5), forced labour for 'Buddha Museum' (#1,3), confiscation of relics for 'Buddha Museum' (#1,3).
Forced Labour: Roads (#1-6), railways (#2,5), dams (#5), making stones/gravel (#2,3,5), brickmaking (#1,3), shrimp farming (#1), farming (#1), building tourist hotels (#1), Mandalay Palace Moat (#4), 'Buddha Museum' in Sittwe (#1,3), at Army camps (#1,2,3), portering (#1,2,5), human shields (#5), beatings (#1,2), deaths (#1,2,5), sickness (#2), convict labour (#3,4), political prisoner labour (#3).
Forced Labour Infrastructure Projects: Kalemyo-Gangaw railway (#2,5), Chaung U - Pakokku - Gangaw railway (#5), Kalemyo-Tamu railway (#5), Kalemyo-Gangaw road (#5), Sittwe-Rangoon highway (#1), Maungdaw-Sittwe road (#3), Maungdaw - Kyin Chaung road (#3), Monywa - Ah Myint road (#5), Homelin-Thamanthi road (#5), Thamanthi-Laeshi road (#5), other roads (#1,3,4,5), Ye Chaung hydro dam (#5), Thay hydro dam (#5), Kalemyo - Nat Chaung railway opening ceremony and operation (#5).
LLand confiscation: For tourist sites/resorts (#1,3), for railway (#5), for roads (#1), for military farms (#1), for army camps (#2,3,5), for UNHCR facilities (#3), confiscation of shrimp farms (#1).
Religion: Persecution of Christians (#2,5), of Muslims (#3,6), of Buddhists (#1,3), desecration of graveyards (#2,3), SLORC religious PR (#3), SLORC control of Sangha/monks (#3), confiscation of Buddhist relics (#1,3), attempt to take the Mahamuni Buddha (#3), the 'Buddha Museum' in Sittwe (#1,3), taking lay child helpers for forced labour (#3), Rakhine-Rohingya tensions (#3).
NAME: "Maung Hla" SEX: M AGE: 40 Rakhine Buddhist trader
FAMILY: Married, 4 children aged 13-18 (all students)
ADDRESS: Mingan section, Sittwe town, Arakan State
["Maung Hla" fled Sittwe and arrived in Bangladesh as a refugee in October 1995.]
The construction of a Buddha museum is now going on in Sittwe and SLORC soldiers are using forced labour of the people from the quarters of Sittwe town, including children, old women, young girls, and men from all walks of life. They force them to work for them. Even at night, SLORC don't let people go home. They demand that the people complete the work. They let some of the attractive young girls go home only after midnight. Now the people are feeling afflicted to see this happening. I have worked there myself three times. The first time was on 10 September 1995. Each family has to work one day at a time. All the families of Sittwe have to work one day each by turns. This project started in 1991, in Ma Gya Myai quarter of Sittwe. It is quite big, spread over a wide area. They are building it on paddy fields. Some fields were owned by villagers and they were moved from there. The army forcibly occupied that land and relocated the villagers somewhere. Part of these fields was also owned by an orphanage. The orphanage got no compensation, because SLORC has no regulation for compensation.
SLORC is trying to collect and find all the ancient Buddha images and gather them in this museum. Then later they will take them all to Rangoon. That is the reason why they are building this museum. The government is trying to collect all the Buddha images and other ancient objects from all over Arakan State and they have already made a list of all our ancient precious objects in all the monasteries.
The people don't like this museum. Now it is almost finished. It is a two storey building. They still have to start building the partitions to make separate rooms. The roof is already finished as well as the external walls. Only the people from Sittwe township have to do the work. Everybody has to go - Rakhines, Muslims, Hindus, Christians. In each quarter SLORC orders some families for one day and people have to rotate turn by turn. They take 200 to 300 people per day. It has gone on continuously since 1991. They never interrupted the construction work.
Everyone has to work at least 3 times a month. Before September my younger brother always went for our family. When I went I had to carry sand, bricks and wooden planks. One group of soldiers were there to supervise the work, from Battalion #20, Western Command. When I was working there, I saw soldiers throwing stones at people who were taking a rest for a little while. They also hit them with a cane stick, kicked them and scolded them rudely. But I was not beaten up. Some people were badly hurt. One woman was having a smoke and sat down. A soldier brutally took the cigarette out of her mouth and kicked her in her belly with his army boots. Then he hit her with a cane stick. She fell down and lost consciousness. It must have been internal injuries, because she was not bleeding. She was 17 years old.
Some old women had to come to work instead of their sons and daughters. They were scolded by the soldiers without any respect: "Why are you coming here? You are useless! Where are your sons and daughters?" These old women were like the soldiers' mothers but the soldiers didn't pay any respect to them. [Reverence for elders and parents is a cornerstone of society in Burma.] There are many women, more women than men, at the labour because many men are doing their business work, so their wives have to substitute for them. There were some pregnant women working, but not in an advanced stage of pregnancy. Some women came with their babies. There were children 7 or 8 years old working there too, and old people about 60 years old. There were many young girls, some were students. The soldiers ordered the most attractive ones to stay as late as midnight. Normally the work continues until 6 pm but they ordered these girls to do overtime. You can easily imagine why they kept them! But if they were raped, they wouldn't reveal it because of our society.
If a family was absent, they have to pay 200 Kyats for one day. This is extortion. We have to work from 8 am to 6 pm. For lunch we could take a break for half an hour. We had to bring our own food, and we got no pay. They never even promised anything. SLORC allowed us to use tools. The tools were provided by the army. The army brought all the building materials. To carry bricks and sand they are using people's trucks, not their own.
All over Arakan state, forced labour is going on: road construction, building of military camps, etc. For example, in remote areas people depend on their cultivation but they have to go all the time to work in military camps or at road construction. They have no time to do their own cultivation. They have to crush stones, cut bamboo, cut iron bars for building purposes and they have to be porters for the army without any pay.
They are building a highway between Sittwe and Rangoon. The people from Sittwe have to build the part of the highway in Sittwe area. Those who are living in other townships have to do the part in their own township. I worked on this highway myself, in July 1995. We had to build the road embankment [because the land is low-lying, all roads in Arakan must be built on embankments]. First we had to dig the ground nearby, then carry it and build the embankment. The embankment is 2 or 3 feet high. Each section of town has to finish an assigned length of the embankment. After it is finished, they can go home. I worked there only once, for 7 days. It was too far from my house, so I had to stay there at night. It was 7 miles from home. I went there on foot.
When we stayed at night, we had to build a shelter. Some heavily drunk soldiers came there, entered the shelters and made troubles for the girls and to their relatives who were trying to protect them. They started to quarrel, kick, punch, and hit people with their rifle butts. The soldiers always went and got alcohol in the nearby villages. They came back drunk and then did whatever they wanted: they kicked, they beat, they punched whomever they wanted. Many different Battalions are in charge there. In Sittwe Township alone, there are 20 battalions.
That highway goes through the paddy fields owned by people. They get no compensation. This project started after SLORC seized power . It will never been finished. It will take forever because what they finish during the dry season is completely destroyed in the rainy season. SLORC have started many such projects of road building: Kyauk Pru to Rangoon, Sittwe to Maungdaw via Amumaw. Also Kyauk Taw to Buthidaung and Sittwe to Rathidaung. All since 1988.
They also catch porters in Sittwe, as they do throughout the country. They order the quarter leader to provide a certain number of people. If people can't go, they have to pay 1,000 Kyats. I never went as a porter because I gave money. I don't know where they take them, probably to the frontline. There is no time limit - most of the time they are gone for two or three months. Some never came back. Some came back suffering seriously from malaria and other illnesses. We also learned that they shot the ones who tried to escape. Maung Soe and Maung Gong from my quarter never came back. That was in 1991.
In Nga Pi Kyan village, Pauktaw township, some people had a shrimp farm but the SLORC soldiers confiscated it and started their own shrimp project there under the name "Military Welfare Farm". Near the Kaladan river, in Pu Na Kyan township, soldiers came and caught people to build embankments for a shrimp project. [In Arakan there are two types of shrimp farms: one kind in the river near the sea where stone barrages are built to divide the areas for the shrimps and another kind, along the river, where ponds are dug divided by earth embankments and using irrigation from the river.] They use people to dig ponds and build embankments. Most of the men of that area fled to Sittwe. In the absence of men, the soldiers took old women, girls and pregnant women. One pregnant woman was forcibly taken and she gave birth at the worksite at the shrimp farm. That happened at mid-day, in March 1993. They started these projects in 1989. There are many shrimp farms like this in the coastal area, including Sittwe Township.
In Sittwe Town there are Infantry Battalions #263, 264, etc. I don't remember all the battalion numbers because there are so many. The people have to work at their camps, and not only to build the camps. They also take people from the villages to look after their cows. The cows and buffalos belong to the people, but they demand that the villagers give their cattle and buffalos, and then order the villagers to look after their own cattle and buffalos in the camp compound. The soldiers get the milk and the meat to eat and to sell to the market. The soldiers even sold some cows at the roadside on the way to their camp. And the villagers have to build shelters and bring food for the cows. Some people have a paddy field near the military camp and their fields are now completely occupied by the military. On top of that, these villagers have to plough the field and harvest the paddy for the soldiers. After that, the soldiers sell it all at the market. This is happening everywhere in Arakan.
Sittwe, the capital of Arakan, is also the capital of the military. There is actually no trade. It is all in the hands of the army. All kinds of businesses are in the hands of the military in Sittwe. In Ranbay townhip, Inn township, Mra Bun township, the soldiers give orders for firewood from there and the villagers have to cut it and send it to Sittwe. They use this wood for baking bricks.
Also, the boat owners have to get permission to go anywhere. The army always takes their boats. They forcibly take the boats and check the boat authorisation documents. Even if there are 150 boats, they never get tired of checking. The army has a list of all the boat owners, and they give orders directly to them to carry sand or things, or even for their personal use. Whenever they need, they take them. And the people have to provide the fuel themselves. In Sittwe, fuel is called "army oil".
When we look at the scene of Sittwe, we first see a green military uniform in the street. We can only see people in green military uniform. Of course we are afraid of them. And not only in the streets, on the buses, in the boats, in the cars, there are soldiers everywhere. That's why we call Sittwe a military town.
"Development" means road construction. The people have to give money and labour for that although they are not willing. People are starving more than before. In Sittwe, they also ordered families who have a house on the streetfront to build a brick house surrounded by a brick wall and a pavement with their own money. If they fail to do so, they have to move. Then, the soldiers build a brick house on these people's land and sell it. The people even have to build the pavement with their own money although the pavement is public and belongs to the government. On the waterside, all the houses were completely destroyed by SLORC. Now it is a wasteland and the people had to move out of town. SLORC said: "When the foreigners visit this area and travel down the river, this is not beautiful for their sight. These houses are too ugly."
The army built a hotel called "Sittwe Hotel" at the seaside for tourism year ["Visit Myanmar Year 1996"]. They used forced labour to build it. It is a SLORC hotel. The hotel contractor is the son of former trade minister Kyaw Ba but he didn't pay the workers [Gen. Kyaw Ba is now Minister of Tourism, responsible for preparing "Visit Myanmar Year 1996"]. That hotel is medium-size. It is a 3-storey building.
I haven't been to Ngapali for the last three years [Ngapali on the Arakan coast is promoted as one of Burma's two main beach resorts]. There were coconut plantations belonging to the people. The military occupied them and built bungalows on them, bungalows for the army and for the officers, and also Gen. Ne Win's bungalows [Gen. Ne Win was absolute dictator of Burma from 1962-88, then he created SLORC]. They also built bungalows for recreation for disabled military men and for tourists. The coconut plantations were along the seaside, up to Kyat Taw. There is also a small island there. This island is named "Gen. Ne Win's island". It is only for his family and they cultivated pearls. This is his pearl business. His sons and daughters and their in-laws are staying there and it is the family business centre. No one is allowed to enter that area. It is surrounded by soldiers. Previously it was controlled by the Department of Pearls and Fisheries. Now they control it themselves. On the way from Ngapali to Gaw, the son of Gen. Than Shwe [current Chairman of SLORC] built a hotel in 1994. He used forced labour for the construction too. In Sittwe, the son of Gen. Than Shwe also forced the people to build barrages for a shrimp project in the Sittwe-Ong Dine river.
The army is now fishing in the sea with the people's boats and with the boats that they seized from the Thai fishermen [trawlers seized from Thai companies illegally fishing in Burma's waters]. People have no more space to fish in the sea. We are dependent on fishing from the sea. But people can't go because the army is taking their boats all the time. One Australian company [joint venture] started their business in Sittwe. The company name was Thin Di Aung. They brought in all the fishing equipment, boats, nets, etc. to catch fish and shrimp, to pack them and send them to Australia. But they were not able to fish or send any fish to Australia. Although they got SLORC permission, they were not allowed to fish in the sea [by the Army]. They were there for one year without any business activities. Their fishing trawlers became all rusty and then they left.
Now in Arakan it is very difficult economically. After I left, because of me, my family had to go to the military camp for investigation and torture. When I was there, my wife did sewing and tailoring to survive. But I don't know about her present condition. I was not the only person oppressed by SLORC. It is all the people from Burma. We suffer so much because of forced labour. Until they have to resign from power, they will torture the people.
[Notes: According to other sources from Arakan, the Buddha museum in Sittwe is now known as the "Dukkha Museum", which means "Museum of Suffering". At the museum construction site in September 1995, a 14-year-old girl named Ma Ni Ni was repeatedly raped by soldiers until she lost consciousness and died. She was a 9th Standard student at State High School #1 in Sittwe.]
NAME: "Salai Lian Cung" SEX: M AGE: 20 Chin Christian, student
FAMILY: Single, 7 brothers and sisters
ADDRESS: Storm quarter, Kalemyo Town, Sagaing Division
I left because there were so many problems in Burma. I had problems with the army because when I was doing forced labour in January this year, I heard about the killing of a soldier on the railway construction so I was worried about my cousin's sister. She was also working on the railway with her baby but she was working at a different place than me. I was so worried about her that during rest time I asked a soldier if I could go there but he wouldn't allow it. When I had to start work again, I couldn't do it and I just stood there. That soldier ordered me to work but as I didn't do it, he beat me. Then I left the work.
I had to work on the railway [Kalemyo - Gangaw] six times. The first time was in October 1993. I had to go myself because I am the second eldest son. My parents are of old age and couldn't do this work. I have 7 brothers and sisters. My eldest brother already left home. I always had to go because my younger brothers and sisters were too young and not fit for this. I had to go sometimes for 2 weeks, sometimes 3 weeks. I had to miss school.
My quarter is part of Kalemyo town. For workers, SLORC gave an order to the town council and the town council ordered the people. They tell how many people have to come from each quarter. The town council must get the quota of people they ask for. The people of Storm quarter were divided into 6 groups. Each of these groups was divided in two: A and B. At any one time, all 6 groups had to go. When they first started, everyone had to go. But later, they called only A and then B could rest. When A finished, then they called B and A could rest. About 160 people from our quarter had to go at a time, in all 6 groups.
We had to work about 20 miles away from Storm, near Nat Chaung. It was according to their orders. The first time it was in Tang Go, near Nat Chaung, about 22 miles away, and then in Zing Gelin, near to Kalemyo. Different places each time. It was always according to their orders. I had to go with my own bicycle. At night we couldn't go back home. We were kept near the river because we had to cook for ourselves. So that place was a little far from the worksite, about 2 falongs [1 falong = 220 yards, so the distance was 440 yards]. The women stayed together at another place. We had a large roof covered with a plastic for all of us. There were three elderly men among us and they arranged everything for us. For the women, they built some huts with bamboo and branches. There were no guards at night.
For work, the men between 20 and 30 years old had to dig the ground. The teenagers, and there were many of them, had to carry the ground. It was hard work, especially digging. I had to carry the ground, but not only that. It depended on the situation. I also had to load the ground into baskets.
Most of the workers were young, mainly teenagers. One girl was only 10 years old. No one else from her family could go. There were old people about 50 years old. They were working as cooks for the other people. There were many women there, and most of them were old women. Some babies were brought along with their mothers. The women did the same work as the men, but everyone was always changing duties with each other.
We had to bring our own food. The people had to bring their own tools. No salary. It was a must for each family to go. But the rich people hire someone else to go for them. So for them, there is no problem. But for those who cannot pay, they must go. That's why sometimes young children and old women have to go. If you couldn't go, some people had to pay 1,200 Kyats, some 1,500 Kyats. It depended on the villager. I think it depended on their family conditions. [These are fines paid to SLORC if a family cannot go or hire a replacement.]
At work, some groups had 20 people, others 30 people. It varied according to the group. There were soldiers around. They didn't do anything. Just walking here and there to watch us. If people weren't working, they hit them. Sometimes on the back, sometimes on the head. There was a boy who was very young. The soldier was also very young. About 20. They started quarrelling, the soldier called another soldier and they hit the boy badly. He was badly injured on his head and he was hospitalised in Kalemyo. The leader of the B group sent him to hospital. He was in hospital for about 1 week.
Another story I only heard about because it happened at another place. A woman with a baby was working on the railroad and her baby was crying. She asked a soldier if she could go and feed her baby but the soldier didn't allow her. But she went to her baby anyway to feed him. Then the soldier hit her. All the workers saw the scene. One of them was a relative of that woman. He was so angry that he went to hit the soldier with a pitchfork and that soldier died on the spot. Another soldier also saw the incident and shot the villager dead. At that time, all the people started beating the soldiers. There were three soldiers who were guarding their group. One of them ran away and another one died as well. After that, those people had their workload increased as punishment. That group had to do three times more work.
Problems between soldiers and villagers happened all the time. Most of the workers were young and it was very hot. Many wanted to go and swim in the river after their work and also during the work time. That was not allowed. Some young soldiers had problems with those from B group who were swimming and they started quarrelling. Then, a senior officer came and called all of the young villagers to their camp. They never came back. Maybe they were killed.
As far as I know, 6 people died on this railroad while I was working there. Some died in the river. It was very hot and the river was very big. Two boys went to swim and drowned. The others died because of malaria. Most of the people got sick, but it was a must to keep working.
Even in the rainy season, if the weather was fine, they were calling the people. It depended on the weather. Each group had to do a stretch of embankment: the height was 30 feet, the length 40 feet and the width about 15 feet. Also, my younger brothers and sisters had to crush gravel at home, in the town. They had to do this three times. The first time, they had to make 1 foot X 10 feet X 10 feet of gravel. The second time, SLORC demanded 60 cooking-oil tins of gravel [big tins, about 15 litres each]. They had to send the gravel to the railway by themselves.
The last time I worked on the railway was in March 1995. Some of the villagers were called after March, but mostly before March. By March, the construction was over. But afterwards, they were still calling villagers to pour water on the tracks to harden the ground. Now they also call people to guard the railway, not all the time, but it happens sometimes when an important person comes.
Most of the troops on the railway were not from Kalemyo. They were from Gangaw [most likely Infantry Battalion #50]. There are many Battalions around Kalemyo, #87, #88, #89, also Military Intelligence. There is a quarter called San Piang very close to the army camp. Many soldiers are staying around Kalemyo. So there are many problems with the villagers. Mostly the junior soldiers are causing troubles to the villagers. Sometimes they take their bicycles. They don't ask, they just use them. The women don't dare go out in the streets, only in groups of two or three. They are so afraid of being raped by the soldiers. They call people to the army camps for cooking. They don't call only the people, but also their vehicles. Whenever they need them, they order them to come to carry all the army things.
These camps have been there since 1989. The soldiers occupied the graveyard. They also called local people for loke-ar-pay ['volunteer', but actually forced] work. The graveyard was from the Roman Catholic Church. They announced that the tombs must be taken away within three days, otherwise they will be destroyed. So the people had to take their bones. But most of them couldn't. Then the bulldozer came to destroy. This order was given by Major Aung Khin. While the bulldozer was destroying and crushing the tombs, one of the crosses stood up again after the bulldozer passed over it. The bulldozer passed again over that cross but again the cross stood back up. So the bulldozer driver was freaked out and did not dare pass over again. But Major Aung Khin ordered him to pass over again. The driver refused and wouldn't dare destroy the cross. He was dismissed on the spot and Major Aung Khin drove the bulldozer himself and destroyed all the graveyard.
The stronger people are called as porters. Not many from my quarter, but I know of two boys from Storm who had to go as porters for up to two months before they were released, in December 1994. There are so many taxes: house taxes, bicycle taxes 25 Kyats per year, TV taxes 150 Kyats a year, even if you have a tape recorder it is 60 Kyats per year.
There was a USDA rally held in February 1995 [Union Solidarity Development Association, SLORC's attempt to establish a 'mass support' organisation - people nationwide are forced or threatened into joining and attending rallies, which are then shown in the media by SLORC as signs of popular support]. The government occupied one of the female high schools to organise it and it was attended by General Khin Nyunt himself [Secretary-1 of SLORC and head of Military Intelligence]. A group was formed in the school of each quarter of town, and the USDA members also went. [Note: those who fail to attend USDA rallies face possible expulsion from school, loss of their jobs, having their water or power cut off, or beatings and fines.]
I left and arrived at Moreh, at the Manipur [India] border on 17 March 1995. I know nothing about how my family is doing now. [Note: Moreh is on the Manipur side opposite Tamu. Chin refugees get no assistance in Manipur, so some try to get to Delhi and register as 'persons of concern' with UNHCR to receive 1,200 rupees (US$35) per month - however, UNHCR is now rejecting many people who apply for this. India has never signed the international conventions on protection of refugees.]
NAME: "U Thinmanee" SEX: M AGE: XX Rakhine Buddhist monk
ADDRESS: Maungdaw Town, Arakan State
The Na Sa Ka groups #1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 are in Maungdaw and they have a commander in chief in one camp which is known as Gree Kweh Ray [Na Sa Ka is a SLORC combined force including army, police and border security operating in Arakan State along the Burma Bangladesh border - the abbreviation Na Sa Ka actually stands for 'Border Welfare, Development and Defense']. Kerosene, salt, fish, everything is controlled by Na Sa Ka. The sea fish as well as the freshwater fish. They control all the businesses in Arakan. And they sell everything! They build their camps on people's land and occupy illegally 5 or 10 acres. When they build their camp, they block the irrigation system of the toddy tree plantations of the farmers nearby. They need bricks and bamboo and if the villagers can't provide them, they have to pay 1,000 or 2,000 Kyats for their buildings. The people also have to give their labour. After they finish making the bricks with the people's money and labour, then they sell them on the market for 4 or 5 Kyats each. They take rice from the villagers by force: 12 baskets for each acre, without paying. They take it for their camps. The surplus they export for dollars, especially to Bangladesh illegally.
They are building a 24-mile road from Maungdaw to Kyin Chaung. The Na Sa Ka headquarters are in Kyin Chaung. In the area named Za Kain Brawn, they bring prisoners from the jail. They fence the area and use the prisoners to break rocks. They give them one milk tin of rice for two and they can't even stand up [because of the chains and weakness from hunger - one milk tin is not even enough to feed one]. If half a milk tin of rice is not enough, they can scratch the trees and eat leaves to fill up their stomach.
They also take civilians in the villages. The villagers can't bear their treatment and try to escape from the work before completing the roads and the bridges. Now, they recruit launch owners to carry the villagers to the work site and the launch owners are obliged to feed the villagers for 5 days. If the boat owners don't agree to carry the labourers, Na Sa Ka blocks the river for some time and the boat jetties get damaged by the salty water. Na Sa Ka also takes Jeeps from the people by turns. They have their own Jeeps, but they use them only for shopping and for their personal use.
Na Sa Ka has increased its religious activities in Arakan State. Most of the religious functions are organised by them. They go to the government departments like administration, schools, etc. and tell the civil servants to donate money for religious functions. Then they bring with them 20 or 30 yellow robes and donate these to the monks. They show this on TV so that the people can see. Na Sa Ka is now building Hanenda pagoda in Sittwe. The lower part is like the Shwedagon pagoda. For this purpose, the ministers donated money but this is only to show off [SLORC ministers have themselves shown on TV almost every night donating money to such projects]. Then they made a list of other people who had to donate money and how much. They don't use any money from the government, only people's money. SLORC organises sport games in Sittwe so they demand Maungdaw township to give 200,000 or 300,000 Kyats, and they collect this money from the people. The same happens everywhere in Arakan State. Not only for Arakan State. If there are youth games in Kachin State, we also have to give money. When they organise those competitions they also need wooden boards and bamboos to build the fences and the galleries, and the people of Burma have to give all of it.
If one of their ministers plans to visit our area, we never know in advance when he comes. But at least one week before, they block all the roads, they take the vehicles and Jeeps, they stop the traffic, they don't allow people to go outside of their houses. So people cannot go to work. It is like an undeclared curfew. If the people can't go outside and go to their work, how can they earn money? This is one effect on our economy.
In Maungdaw they are using forced labour all the time. The army first enter the market and grab 50 or 100 people. They take them to the site to build bunkers, military camps, fences, and they tell them to finish the work within one or two days but it takes them a week. They also pick up the young boys from the monastery [lay children who help the monks to collect alms-food]. We can't raise our voices against their activities. This has become daily routine in our country.
On the west side of the Meyu river, they are starting to build a road going directly to Sittwe. They are using forced labour for this purpose. They gave an order for 'volunteers'. We didn't hear about a prisoner camp there. The prisoner camps are only in Maungdaw area, close to the Na Sa Ka headquarters. The area is called Za Ghan Brun. Prisoners have to work breaking rocks and they never loosen their chains. These prisoners have a short-term sentence or they are about to be released. They come not only from Sittwe but from all over the country. According to them, some are political prisoners. None of them are prominent political prisoners. But some middle political leaders are there. Some political prisoners go to the prisoner labour camps so that their sentence will be reduced.
In Maungdaw township, the road to Na Sa Ka headquarters has been enlarged. Villagers from remote areas have to send the stones to the town. Laying stones and tar on the road is done by the soldiers. The army gets money to do the work, but they save this money for their camp. The stones come from remote areas of Rathidaung, Buthidaung and Mimbra. If the villagers cannot collect the stones, they need to hire labourers with their own money. They have to dig 10 x 10 x 10 feet of stones. Each village has to dig 6 holes, some more, some less. It depends how much bribe money they can pay. From Mimbra, the army carry the stones themselves with a big boat. They take by force the boats from Maungdaw, Mimbra, and other places. They even took the boats of the pilgrims while they were travelling down the river. They stop the boats passing on the river and take them.
They say, "If your wife is dying or if your husband is dying, leave them. Finish your work first and then you can organise the funerals." Even the sick people are not spared. The Buddhist ceremony of November had to be stopped because of their building work. On all the holy days of Buddhism, we, the monks, we have to go first to the military camp to perform the ceremony for them. Only after we finish the function there can we go and make the ceremony with the people.
They have a project worth 900,000 Kyats for 'border development'. They collect this money from the Sittwe traders in the name of border development. When any officer from the army travels from Maungdaw to Buthidaung and from Buthidaung to Maungdaw, the people have to give money for their fuel. The Jeeps are military vehicles, not people's vehicles. And the people also have to give food, everything they need. Even the launches are taken from the people and the people can't go anywhere. We are suffering economically because the traders can't move. When the high officers come to play games, they ask the people to bring them beer and they demand the Arakanese people to cook their traditional food for them. People have to provide everything for them. They tell us that they want to eat our traditional food but we have to prepare it and bring everything to their camps. Sometimes, military officers say they want to meet with the Buddhist monks. They demand the people to prepare things so they can donate these to the monks. Usually the Buddhist people can afford to give 100 or 200 Kyats as donation from their pockets at the temple. These officers, they give 20,000 or 30,000 Kyats to the monastery but we know this is not from their pockets. They demand all this money from the people. Also, some military informers cheat the people. They collect money in the name of their Major or commander but keep the money for themselves.
The new trade road to Bangladesh [the recently opened Maungdaw-Teknaf road] is totally controlled by Na Sa Ka. Na Sa Ka even runs one restaurant in Maungdaw. The river boat traffic is completely in the hands of Na Sa Ka. They confiscate motor launches and other boats to carry material and people and to prepare their roads and their buildings. Some motor launch owners were forced to sell their launch or to give it to Na Sa Ka. Now these boats have been put on auction. The Na Sa Ka commander-in-chief and his second commander are posted in Arakan for two years, then they are transferred. By the time they leave, they are as if they were winners of the lottery! Military officers are loyal to higher officials. They know all about it. SLORC will have to leave power one day or another. So money is everything for them. They are not so interested in power but in money, because they have no confidence in SLORC.
To start a new business, people have to deposit one million Kyat in the bank [so the money can be taken by SLORC / Na Sa Ka if the owner doesn't pay them their cut]. Na Sa Ka also takes people's land. They build houses, offices, buildings for themselves but they also occupy land for their families. They are doing like this. Even to the poor people who are living just by fishing with their small canoes, Na Sa Ka come and demand tax for the boat. Those who are close to the Naf river to Bangladesh [the Naf River forms the border] have to give money to Na Sa Ka. Even the smugglers have to pay them off. They even seize goods from the traders who are trading legally and who pay their taxes in Maungdaw and Buthidaung. The traders are losing their capital and becoming bankrupt. Also, many people who owned food stalls lost everything because of Na Sa Ka. They got some money from Japan or Norway to start their businesses again but land, shops and everything are in the hands of Na Sa Ka. Even the jungle is occupied by Na Sa Ka, so we don't even have firewood for cooking.
SLORC is still relocating villagers now. They give a small field, about one acre for 5 families, for paddy cultivation and one cow for 3 families. This is not a sufficient compensation for the villagers who have lost everything. What can they do with that? [In a normal village, each family will have at least 2-3 acres of paddy field.] Now their lives become very hard. They have to catch crabs and some fish to sell at the market to make a little money, just to live hand-to-mouth. In Mrauk U area, the army completely destroyed a Muslim village and built a military camp. They moved all the Muslims to Buthidaung and Maungdaw township and they scattered them around. Before they destroyed the village, they promised them they will give land for cultivation, compensation for their houses and money to start businesses. But they never gave them anything. The village name was Pa Ring Kala Ro and this happened last year . Some of them escaped because they were starving. They promised them land, cows, everything but where can the government get land and cows for them? The military had to build a bridge in Kyauk Taw area and they wanted to relocate one Muslim village for that purpose. But later, they changed their decision after taking money [for the bridge] from the villagers. Now they have decided to build the bridge at another place nearer to the military camp, because there are Rakhine and Muslim insurgents in the area.
The people get power supply only one time in 4 days up to 9 pm. The military get it all night. When Na Sa Ka require fuel, they requisition all the fuel. When Khin Nyunt's wife visited Maungdaw, they didn't provide any power supply in the town and they said that there was not enough fuel [Khin Nyunt is Secretary-1 of SLORC and head of military intelligence; his wife is head of the "Maternal & Child Health and Welfare Organization", which is used for SLORC media PR and is partly supported by UNICEF]. During the religious ceremonies, especially for the full moon of September and November, there was not enough kerosene to set up the lamps. We didn't dare complain about it to the high officials. If we complain to them, we will face lots of troubles with the local authorities. That's why nobody dares complain to the higher authorities.
They are building a new hotel on the graveyard in Maungdaw, and for this they have moved the graveyard. They explained that the graveyard was in the middle of the town, and this would not look good to the visitors. Now, the government has projects all over Burma and they are relocating cemeteries everywhere. They can even move pagodas and monasteries. In every town, SLORC is building one hotel. In Sittwe, they already built the "Sittwe Hotel". Now they are building one in Maungdaw.
At present, all the commodities prices are rocketting but the government announced that they have no responsibility in this since all the businesses have already been privatised. They say inflation is the people's fault. When the SLORC trade minister visited the shrimp farming area, the owners told him their opinion: "The government gives us a very low price. We need higher prices. We cannot sell at a price which doesn't even cover our expenditure. We will be forced to close our shrimp farms." [Despite SLORC's claims of privatisation, companies cannot form without their involvement and most primary commodity producers are forced to sell only to SLORC at SLORC prices.] Then the trade minister promised to arrange a better price and went back to Rangoon. But later Na Sa Ka came, interfered and forced them all to sell at the lowest price. Their radio propaganda says one thing but they are doing different things and the people are suffering a lot, more than previously.
Now SLORC is secretly drawing a constitution without any participation from the various States [at the 'National Convention']. This is not acceptable to us and this is illegal. There is no real representative from our political organisations, ALD and NLD [Arakan League for Democracy & National League for Democracy]. These organisations exist but they have been banned. One representative of Arakan State at the National Convention is Tha San Hla. He is from Kyauk Taw and belongs to Aung San Suu Kyi's party [NLD]. The two others are from Sittwe and they are from the Mro Khami party. They are not Arakanese, they are from ethnic groups in Arakan. SLORC is aware that they don't know anything about politics, so they choose them to use them as puppets. SLORC came to Gree Chaung village and took two doctors and some government officials and sent them as people's representatives and labour representatives to the National Convention. Now the people are suffering a lot because they have no more doctors. Still now, there is not a single doctor in that village. Until the completion of the National Convention they can't come back to their duties. How many months or years it will take, we don't know!
Q: Do the Muslims repatriated from Bangladesh get their land and property back? [Referring to the 300,000 Rohingya Muslims who fled a SLORC religious pogrom in 1991-92 to Bangladesh, 250,000 of whom have now been forcibly repatriated to Arakan by Bangladeshi authorities in cooperation with UNHCR and SLORC]
A: I don't know. But UNHCR is there and have some projects for their welfare such as wells, etc. and construction of new roads. Rakhine people also need wells, but when they submit a request, Na Sa Ka refuse it and tell UNHCR that Rakhines don't need them. Previously, during BSPP government [Burmese Socialist Programme Party, Ne Win's 1974-88 regime], there were three kinds of citizenships: full, naturalised and associated [these were used to make ethnic and religious minorities into second- and third-class citizens]. Now, they have cancelled all that. They may start again after the completion of the National Convention. Then they must hold general elections. The present government is executing the previous socialist plan. Now, SLORC is starting to set up industries, commercial companies, bridges, etc., but actually that was the plan of BSPP. During the BSPP, the Muslims were registered as Muslims on their NRC [National Registration Card] but now they want to be registered as Rohingyas. But the SLORC rejected this. Then the Muslim community demonstrated against SLORC's decision. The meaning of "Rohingya", the SLORC don't know it. When they ask the Muslims the meaning, they also don't know. We are known as Rohon in Islamic countries, as Arakanese in Europe, as Rakhine in Burma and as Moghs in Bangladesh and Pakistan. Now the Rohingyas claim our name as theirs without even knowing about that. The Muslim demand is excessive, I think. They can demand to be citizens of Arakan by birth and as Muslims. That's enough. [This explanation of his views has been included here because it reflects a common attitude among Rakhines, an anti-Muslim sentiment which has often been exploited by SLORC and the BSPP.]
UNHCR started building their offices in 1993. They built them themselves without the help of the government. They have an agreement with SLORC. Both are trying to get back the refugees from Bangladesh by saying that the situation is good now and that they will provide everything they need. Most of the refugees already came back. Some are still remaining in Bangladesh. Now UNHCR is doing what the Muslim people say. They are creating more tension between the Muslim and Rakhine communities.
UNHCR gives them 500 Kyats for a family of 3 or 1,000 Kyats for a family of 4 or more. At the reception centre, the government gives them rice, oil and some food [this is donated by UNHCR but distributed by Myanmar Relief Dept]. Whether they give them money or not, I don't know. They receive all the things from UNHCR. Now they have decided to give education to Muslim women and men, especially for the Burmese language. UNHCR is looking for teachers to teach them. I don't believe they will succeed because every village has their own primary school run by the government but none of the Muslim girls go there to study. They have their own school to learn the Koran in Arabic and they don't learn Burmese. But the government have a law that all the citizens of Burma should learn the Burmese language and must be literate.
UNHCR also built their offices on people's land. The people demanded compensation from UNHCR officials. They had to approach them secretly because of SLORC. The officials gave a proposal and the landowners had to accept it but it was not a good price. When the owner demanded 100,000 Kyats, he only got 10,000 Kyats. Maybe the government takes the compensation money from UNHCR, we don't know, but we know that UNHCR also takes people's land. The people who lost their land are furious with UNHCR. We can't complain to UNHCR. We can't complain to the government. Where should we complain? SLORC take our land, UNHCR also take our land. When the government allocated land to UNHCR, why did UNHCR take it? They should know. They are deployed here to bring peace and people's welfare under the banner of peace. Presently, that's what the Arakanese people are asking themselves. The landowners have demanded 100,000 Kyats and UNHCR haven't met their demands yet.
In Maungdaw, we have an irrigation system with pumps. If we use it, we can make a second paddy crop in the year. But UNHCR pump the water from there and now the people don't have enough water for a second cultivation. In the dry season, we usually got 100 baskets of paddy but now only 30 baskets. We can't grow a second crop because we don't have enough water. UNHCR asked the people how much money they need to pay for compensation for the paddy. They offered 5,000 Kyats - not per year, only one time. But we are lucky to get at least something. [At current prices, 5,000 Kyats is only worth about 12 tins of paddy, normal crop for about 1/3 acre, and the rice shortage continues to grow worse.]
SLORC is using forced labour to build roads, because they promised UNHCR they would build roads and bridges so they can travel more easily. But so far SLORC has only Maungdaw bridge to show for it. They called the bridge Shwe Za after a [Rakhine] king. It is at Wee Ma La village and it is only a temporary bridge. They have lots of projects to build bridges.
UNHCR is digging wells and building roads on people's own land. They have no plans and we are compelled to see that without being able to complain. Some are on Rakhine land, some on Muslim land. They don't distinguish between the two. But for the labour, they only choose Muslims, no Rakhines. All the construction contracts are made with Muslims. Some Rakhines are employed in low jobs, such as carpenters. They started a sewing training for the Muslim women and the trainer was a Rakhine woman. She is the only one. That was the only training, but it has stopped now. They say they are helping people raise chickens, but only on a very small scale. People can't make a living with this kind of business. They give only 500 Kyats to start it. One bamboo is 5 Kyats each, so this is very little money indeed. [One breeding-size chicken costs over 100 Kyats.] UNHCR is offering jobs and people stop their own work to work for them but it doesn't give them enough income. One worker earns 1,500 Kyats [per month - a family cannot be supported at this rate]. For cooking and washing clothes, they pay 400 or 500 Kyats [per month]. This is not only for Rakhines, for Muslims too. People thought that they would earn a lot of money working for UNHCR. We see UNHCR staff with their houses, with their cars, with their generator but we don't know what they are really doing. They bring in their petrol themselves, also their timber and stones. They don't use anything from Maungdaw.
Q: Do you know of any people killed by SLORC in the area?
A: How can I find out? UNHCR should try to find out. They came here for that reason, to look after the people's welfare. But they are not able to find out such things because they are not active. Some people in the jungle might have been killed under landslides [while doing forced labour] but I don't know. This is daily routine: punching, kicking, beating and abusing. SLORC arrests smugglers and legal traders alike, whenever they like. How can I answer? UNHCR is working here and they are receiving salaries. But they fail to hear about it because they are neglecting their duties.
Q: The Chinese government made a request to SLORC to borrow the Mahamuni Buddha image from Arakan for religious ceremonies. Is this true?
A: We don't know whether they requested it or not. This is an invaluable thing for us and a symbol of peace and prosperity in Arakan. In the past, when the Burmese came to Mrauk U to take the Mahamuni Buddha, the people refused and they failed to take it away. But they declared that they took it and built a raft with gold and silver. The raft was put on a ship and they sailed to Rangoon declaring that they had taken the Buddha image. On the way, when the ship was in Sittwe harbour, some people were strangely killed on board. Now the Burmese have one in Mandalay [it is unclear whether the original is in Arakan or Mandalay - many believe the Burmese stole the original and took it to Mandalay, then sent a copy back to Arakan.] But they say the Chinese want the Buddha from Arakan. But we don't know if it is true that the Chinese really want it or if it is SLORC who want it. We believe in our astrologists. Maybe SLORC is trying to change the "yettara" [good luck] of the Arakanese people. That's why they took it in the past, and that is probably the reason why they come to ask for it this time too. And they use the Chinese as a pretext. After one month, Intelligence officers came to Sittwe and investigated to find out who had opposed them taking the Buddha image. They made a report stating the Arakanese people are starting a revolution and were trying to demonstrate.
We had to give lists of all ancient Buddha images to SLORC. And SLORC told us that if we lose any of them, we will have to pay a fine. [The list is most likely because SLORC wants to confiscate some of them for tourist museums or sites in Burman cities.] We monks, if we don't obey the government's orders, we will also go to jail. The SLORC is building a Buddha museum near the Youth Sports Complex in Sittwe. They are collecting by several means ancient images and objects from the monks and from the people to take to the museum. If we discover precious ancient objects from Arakan, they claim it is from Burma. They have been digging at the ancient site of Vesaly and we believe that they found things there. But SLORC have yet to show what they found. SLORC have decided to carry out research with foreign archaeologists. But they haven't started yet. SLORC told the Buddhist monks: "If you lose any of the ancient Buddha images, it will be your responsibility." So some monks were afraid of this and handed over all the images to SLORC. To protect our traditions, I will never hand them over. We can't hand over our history. Some local authorities, collaborating with SLORC, even threatened the monks saying that in case of loss, it will not only be the responsibility of the monks but also of the worshippers. They put pressure on the monks to hand over the Buddha images to SLORC. SLORC raided some Buddhist temples in Mandalay. They admitted that they stole some Buddha images. They might do the same thing in Arakan State that they did in Mandalay. When they come to the monastery, they don't come with archaeologists and experts. Just with soldiers. According to them, they come on archaeologists' recommendations. But the archaeologists have no idea of the army activities in this. SLORC said to us, monks, that they are sent by the National Historical Institute of Rangoon. But this is not true.
SLORC formed Buddhist Monks organisations in the townships, districts and villages. The monks have to obey their orders, whether they are willing to join or not. Buddhist monks can't do anything without the permission of SLORC. For example, building extensions or new buildings in the monasteries are only allowed with the authorisation of the township or district Sanghas [monks organisation - the Sangha is a major component of Buddhist tradition, but in Burma SLORC has taken over control of them]. If we approach them for permission and if we fail to satisfy them, we will never be granted any permission from them. If we don't keep good relations with SLORC officers, with village and township LORC authorities and with Na Sa Ka, we can't do anything.
NAME: "Ko Htun Win" SEX: M AGE: 38 Burman Buddhist
NAME: "Daw Than" SEX: F AGE: 52 Burman Buddhist
ADDRESS: Amarapura Township, Mandalay Division
Q: Hong long did you work at the Mandalay Palace moat?
"Ko Htun Win": I worked three times there. First, we had to clean the site all around the moat. The second time we had to clear all the mud and weeds, and the third time we had to take out the mud. We had to load the mud on trucks. The mud was very soft, so we had to load it little by little on the trucks. They dispose of it near Mandalay zoo, at the foot of Mandalay Hill. They also dump some at various monastery compounds. The monks requested the army officers to unload the mud in their monastery compound [to level the ground]. Some people were playing tricks. For example, a group of 30 workers had to load 6 trucks with mud but they would bribe the soldier who was supervising the work so that the soldiers would register more truck loads than they had actually filled. Sometimes we'd pay 3 or 4 Kyats each. Sometimes, 5 Kyats each person. If a girl in a group is familiar with a soldier, this group gets favoured. So sometimes we hired prostitutes to join our group.
Thirty people were assigned to one truck. If the group included both men and women, the number was 30. If there were only men in the group, the number was 20. They had to load 5 or 6 truckloads of mud everyday. If the rain was heavy, the work was suspended.
"Daw Than": We had to work on the rainy days too, as long as the road was not too slippery for driving their trucks.
"Ko Htun Win": We had to provide one person from each family, and that person had to work for 10 days. It had nothing to do with the number of people in the family. If you could not send anyone, you had to pay 600 Kyats. If you can't go and you have no money, you have to sell your belongings. Their rules are very strict. The rule is: "If you cannot go for work, you have to pay. If you cannot pay, you have to go to work." We have no choice. We cannot do anything about it. Sometimes some understanding local authorities help us to reason with the SLORC authorities. Sometimes it works.
We had to bring our own food and tools. The government provides money for the workers, but the Township level officers eat up all that money [i.e. nobody is paid].
Now, they are using only prisoners. Prisoners and soldiers. People said they were from Mandalay jail. Some are shackled, some not. They shackle those who are notorious. It depends on their sentences. They dare not force the political prisoners to work. They use only criminals.
Q: Did you have to work in road construction or road repair work?
"Ko Htun Win": Ko M-- and Ma N-- who came together with us had to work on the road construction in Amarapura. That construction was supervised by the Civil Works Department. I did not have to work on that.
The following information has been received from various sources from Chin State and Sagaing Division.
"Border Area Development" projects continue to create more and more forced labour. The Pakokku - Gangaw - Kalemyo railway is mostly completed but labour is still continuing on it in some areas. There are also hydroelectric projects and road projects using forced labour.
Religious persecution is a problem in Chin State. The majority of Chins are Christians, but SLORC is reportedly attempting to divide them by coercing many to become Buddhists. Chin sources report that in Than Tlang township, 10 percent of the villagers have converted to Buddhism because the Buddhist villagers are never called for porterage or labour. Buddhists can buy rice at a cheaper price: 300 Kyats per Pyi for Christians and 100 Kyats for Buddhists. Sunday church services are not generally disturbed, but many villagers have been caught by SLORC and taken as porters upon leaving the church. As a result, many villagers are now afraid to go to church. In some villages, SLORC are using the church compound as an army camp. There have also been reports of SLORC using the promise of education to take Christian Chin children from their families, then send them to monasteries and force them to become Buddhist novices. Government schoolbooks are sent to Buddhist monastery schools instead of government schools. There are also reports that SLORC is resettling some Burman Buddhists from the Irrawaddy Delta into Chin areas in Tamu Township.
In the whole region, villagers are used as porters and human shields among the moving Army columns. SLORC officers take many people as human shields around them to protect them. In all of Chin State there are only two all-season roads, from Hakha to Falam and Kalemyo to Tiddim, and two dry-season roads, from Hakha to Matupi and Matupi towards the eastern plains. Everywhere else, SLORC troops always call hundreds of porters at a time to carry their things. Every month, each village is ordered to bring pigs, chickens, and whatever they want to their camps. Relatives of CNA [Chin National Army] soldiers are constantly watched and suspected. Their letters are opened, and if SLORC finds a letter from their son they are arrested. In Hriphi village, Than Tlang township, one army camp is to be built shortly [with forced labour on confiscated land]. In September / October 1995 there was a serious cholera outbreak in Leiled village, Falam Township, and at least 70 people died because no health care whatsoever is available.
Gangaw - Kalemyo Railway:
Kalemyo (also called Kalay or spelled Kalaymyo) is in Sagaing Division just east of the Chin State border. SLORC has a major forced labour project building a railway to Kalemyo from Gangaw (120 km. / 75 mi. to the south) in northern Magwe Division. This is part of the Chaung U - Pale - Yesagyo - Pakokku - Gangaw - Kalemyo railway project, a total length of 500 km. (312 miles). There are plans to continue the line in future north from Kalemyo to Tamu, which is at the border with India's Manipur State. Chaung U is 80 km. (50 mi.) west of Mandalay and linked to Mandalay by rail, so this line would establish a rail link between Mandalay and the Indian border. However, SLORC plans to do the entire project with forced labour. So far only the Chaung U - Pale and Kalemyo - Nat Chaung sections are in operation. However, much of the rest is finished but waiting for some major bridges to connect various sections.
Along the Gangaw - Kalemyo section, most of the forced labour has been done by Chin villagers. Work is still continuing toward the Gangaw end. The 22-mile (35 km.) segment from Kalemyo to Nat Chaung was officially opened on May 3, 1995. The opening ceremony at Kalemyo railway station cost 4,300,000 Kyat, including 30,000 Kyat just for the meal honouring SLORC Railway Minister U Win Sein, despite the fact that none of the labourers on the entire stretch of railway were ever paid. SLORC responded to the Nov. 1995 report of UN Special Rapporteur Yozo Yokota by claiming to have paid the workers as follows: "Chaung U - Ma Gyi Boke sector and Pakokku - Monywa sector: 8.29 million Kyats; Pakokku - Gangaw - Kalay sector: 30 million Kyats".
Construction on this line began in March 1990. It crosses mostly flat farmland, and paddy fields were destroyed without compensation. In all the villages of Kalemyo township, one person per household had to contribute labour. They had to bring their own food and their own tools. Each group of 10 or 20 villagers were guarded by 3 or 4 soldiers. Each group had to build 1/8 falong [i.e. furlong, so 1/8 falong = 28 yards] length of embankment, up to 30 feet high and 20 feet wide. The villagers had to dig the ground within only 30 feet of the track, so sometimes they had to dig quite deeply and there are reports of some people who died because of the ground collapsing. Each group has to complete 60 feet in one week. In Kalemyo township, there are two bulldozers owned by the government. The people can sometimes use them, but only if they themselves provide the diesel to operate them.
If absent from the work, the fine was 1,200 to 1,500 Kyats per person. The distance between the railroad and the villagers' homes was so far that the villagers had to stay and sleep on the worksite. They could go back to their villages on Sundays to get their food from their family for the next week. They had to be back on Monday morning. Most families went to work 6 or 7 times on the railway over the past five years, each time 2 or 3 weeks to finish their assignment. Villagers were also ordered to prepare gravel for the trackbed in their homes. Each family had to provide 10 feet x 10 feet x 10 feet (total 1,000 cubic feet) of gravel.
Starting on 23 April 1995, the Kalemyo - Nat Chaung line went into use, but only with a Hino TE21 truck being used as a railway engine (it is mounted on a special frame with railway wheels). It makes the return trip twice a day and can carry a maximum of about 60 passengers. One way fare is 5 Kyat. In July 1995, some sections were already damaged because of the rain and the Kalemyo - Nat Chaung service was interrupted. SLORC again ordered people from each household to prepare more gravel and to go for forced labour repairing these segments.
SLORC plans to commence construction on the Kalemyo - Tamu section of railway (another 120 km. / 75 mi. to the north) soon, as they see this as an important trade link with India. In Tamu town, people who live along the main road have been ordered to build brick houses or be evicted. They have been given 3 years to do so, possibly timed to coincide with the expected completion of the railway.
SLORC is building the "Ye Chaung" Hydro electric power project near Ta Han village, 30 miles southwest of Kalemyo in Kalemyo Township. Villagers and about 500 prisoners are being used as forced labour in the construction. It is a medium sized project, estimated cost 70 million Kyat, started in 1990 and scheduled for completion in March 1996.
Villagers from 40 village tracts have been doing forced labour: 37 on the railway and 3 on the power project. Also, villagers are being forced to break rocks on road construction, upgrading and extending the existing dirt road from Kalemyo to Gangaw, parallel to the railway line. The project is using only manpower, no machinery. There are reports of 2 dead and 5 wounded by accidents on this project, with no compensation paid.
On 2 May 1995, 94 families of Aung Tha Sa quarter in Kalemyo were forced to move to a remote area and build a village there at their own expense. The families of Major Aung Khin, U Ba Ohn (ex-chairman of the SLORC Regional Administrative Council) and U Ngwe Thein (an Inspector at Kalemyo police station) were paid compensation by SLORC even though their houses had not been torn down.
In Kalemyo town, prices continue to escalate causing hardship: rice is 80 Kyat per pyi, pork is 180 Kyat per viss, chicken 250 Kyat / viss, fish 300 Kyat / viss, and sugar 150 Kyat / viss [1 viss = 1.6 kg.; 1 pyi is 8 small milk-tins, weighing about 2 kg.]. Most of the people are farmers and average family income is 1,000 Kyat per month. Furthermore, farmers are forced to supply 192 pyi [24 big tins, about 16 kg. each] of paddy per acre to SLORC at only 15 Kyat per pyi.
Four miles away from Monywa there is construction of a heavy artillery military camp and about 500 acres of farmland have been confiscated. A 13-mile road is being constructed with forced labour from Monywa to Ah Myint village. Ah Myint is the native village of SLORC Trade Minister Lt. Gen. Htun Kyi. Between November 1994 and February 1995, the Thay dam in Monywa township was expanded. Every family in the area had to go for 2 months of forced labour. Only one adult per family was allowed to stay home.
Kuki Villages, Sagaing Division:
In Tamu Township, Mo Leik District, Sagaing Division, Kuki villagers [Kuki is considered a subgroup of Chin] are regularly forced to contribute labour and their bullock-carts for "border area development" projects such as road construction. There have also been reports that some villagers have been forced to take their bullock carts to help SLORC officers smuggle teak logs across from India. In one such incident on 24 January 1995, Lt. Col. Win Kyi of Infantry Battalion #50 forced 28 villagers and bullock carts from Nam Monta, Htan Ta Bin, and Man Maw villages to cross into India to retrieve teak logs. Indian forces caught and arrested the entire group. When the SLORC officer asked to be released, they released him and his soldiers but detained the villagers at Moreh in Manipur.
Naga Villages, Sagaing Division:
In Laeshi and Lahai Townships in Sagaing Division, SLORC has reportedly been continuously forcing villages to provide recruits for the Army. Villages which fail to provide the specified number of recruits must pay 20,000 Kyat per recruit. Since 1993, SLORC has encouraged people to enroll their children in a youth organisation called Ye Nyunt by promising that all members will have access to basic and higher education. All those who enroll are then taken away and forced to join the Army.
Forced labour of villagers and convicts is being used to build roads from Homelin to Thamanthi and from Thamanthi to Laeshi. Soldiers have also reportedly been forcing Christian Nagas to build monasteries and pagodas in every town and village in the Naga Hills. SLORC troops patrolling Naga areas force villagers to provide all their food. When they want pork they force villagers to hand over their pigs and only pay one tenth of the proper price. Village heads are often left having to pay the difference to the owners of the animals.
In 1991-92 SLORC mounted a religious pogrom against Muslim Rohingyas in Arakan State. It is unknown how many were massacred, but at least 300,000 fled to Bangladesh to become refugees. At least 200,000 of them have now been forced back to Burma by Bangladeshi authorities with the support of the UNHCR [UN High Commissioner for Refugees]. UNHCR made agreements with SLORC and the Bangladesh government (but not with any refugee representatives) to support this forced repatriation and tell the world it is "voluntary" as long as they can get a monitoring presence on both sides of the border. They now have that presence. On the Bangladesh side, UNHCR cancelled the process of interviewing refugees to find out if they want to go back, and instead holds mass "information sessions" encouraging refugees to go back. At these sessions they do not mention forced labour, as they consider it to be an isolated occurrence. In its June 1995 Bulletin, UNHCR stated that SLORC had promised them to use returnees for forced labour only 4 days per month, and later said that SLORC had promised not to use returnees for forced labour in their first 2 months back home (i.e. while they still have their returnee allowance money to pay off the troops). However, there are reports that returnees are being used for up to 5 days per week of forced labour on road construction and other duties in the north of Buthidaung Township. UNHCR still does not mention this in its "information sessions". The vast majority who express personal fears of persecution upon return are rejected as not having "valid reason" to be afraid. Furthermore, refugees being sent back to Burma are not being told that UNHCR will only stay in Arakan for one year after the repatriation (this is standard UNHCR policy). Many are going back with a misguided belief that UNHCR plans to remain in Arakan until the situation becomes safe and stable.
Now there are still about 50,000 refugees in the camps in Bangladesh. Many are there because SLORC, with or without reason, has refused to take them or one of their family members back. UNHCR now plans to start splitting up these families in order to cut down the number to 20,000, sending back anyone SLORC will accept (with the exception of the spouse or children of those specifically rejected). In Asian society, breaking up the extended family like this is completely unacceptable.
In Bangladesh, UNHCR state that they have injected US$3 million into local communities. However, much or most of this money appears to have been spent donating 4-wheel drive Land Cruisers to Bangladeshi officials and building a large and fancy new building in Cox's Bazaar to house the "Office of the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner". This impressive building was completely paid for by UNHCR and inaugurated in December 1995, with most of the refugees already repatriated.
In Burma, UNHCR has 14 expatriate staff, but only 4 of these are protection officers - the rest are development consultants. They work through SLORC, and people from the area say that most returnees with problems would never dare to be seen entering the UNHCR office in Maungdaw. Land was confiscated at only 10 percent of its value to build these offices, and villagers nearby have lost their second annual rice crop because the irrigation water has been diverted to UNHCR. In response, UNHCR reportedly paid only 5,000 Kyat one-time compensation for the farmers - only enough to buy the equivalent of one-third of an acre's crop at current prices. Buddhist Rakhines in the area say that UNHCR is fuelling racial tensions by favouring Muslims for all jobs and contracts. Meanwhile, UNHCR is claiming that the Rohingyas who fled Burma never owned their own land, and therefore should not all expect to have their land returned to them (the return of their land was promised to them before their repatriation). Rohingya sources claim that since September - October 1995, SLORC has been issuing new identity cards in Arakan State: red ones for Burmans and Rakhine Buddhists, which is a full citizenship, and white ones for Muslims, which is a provisional ID card stating that the holder is not the national of any country. They report that some Muslims who received National Registration Cards between 1955 and 1962 have now had these confiscated and replaced with a white card, thus losing their citizenship rights. UNHCR admits that forced relocation of villages for military camps and to avoid Rakhine/Muslim clashes has occurred, but claim that SLORC has promised to stop doing this. Both Rohingyas and Rakhines have reported that SLORC is forcibly relocating Muslims from other townships to Maungdaw and Buthidaung areas, and that Buddhists are also being forced to move to border areas.
Some returnees have subsequently fled again to Bangladesh. Most of them go into hiding and don't bother trying to report to UNHCR, but some have tried. UNHCR refuses to discuss them. Rohingya sources report that there are also new refugees and that they also go into hiding in the towns. UNHCR says that some new arrivals have come to their office with "false claims" of persecution in Burma.