You are here


Published date:
Saturday, July 27, 1996

This report features interviews with many villagers from Shan State, who particularly discuss forced labour and land confiscation. Forced labour is particularly required for camp labour, as well as for maintenance of a famous pagoda to be visited by foreign officials. Forced taxation was also demanded of villagers.


The interviews in this report are with people from 2 areas over 300 kilometres apart: Mong Hsat in southeastern Shan State, about 70 km. west of Tachilek and 50 km. north of the Burma-Thai border, and Hsipaw in northwestern Shan State, along the main road from Mandalay to Lashio. Despite the distance between these two areas, the stories are not really so different, reflecting the constant forced labour, extortion, land confiscation and the everpresent threat of forced relocation that hangs over most rural villagers throughout Burma. Neither of these areas are as yet directly affected by the mass forced relocations of several hundred villages going on in the central Mong Kung/Lai Kha/Nam Sang area of Shan State, which lies considerably west of Mong Hsat and south of Hsipaw (see "Forced Relocation in Central Shan State", KHRG #96-23, 25/6/96).

The names of those interviewed have been changed, and some details omitted in order to protect them. In the interviews reference is made to the SSA - the Shan State Army, one of the resistance groups in Shan State which has now had a ceasefire with SLORC for several years. USDA (Union Solidarity & Development Association) is SLORC's artificially-created 'mass support' organisation which people are forced or pressured to join.


Topic Summary


Forced relocation (Interviews #1,3,4), land confiscation for Army camps (#1-4), land confiscation for Army farms (#1,2,5), land confiscated for resale by the Army (#4), land confiscation for Mong Hsat airport extension (#3,4), crop confiscation (#1,3), meat confiscation (#4,5), cash extortion (#1,3-5), forcing villagers to buy mules for the Army (#4,5), logging (#1), climate change due to logging (#1,2), hardship caused by visit of foreign Ambassadors (#1), corruption on airline flights (#4), SSA abuses (#1), USDA (#1), "People's Desires" (#1). Forced Labour: Farming (#1-4), roads (#4,5), pagoda (#1), Army camps (#2,3, 5), porters (#1,4,5), in town (#1), preparing for visit of foreign Ambassadors (#1).




[The following account of Hsipaw Town in northern Shan State, along the main road from Mandalay through Lashio to the Chinese border, was given by a Shan woman from Hsipaw.]

Hsipaw is a small town. It is divided in 13 wards with more or less 300 families in each. There are three SLORC army camps for battalions 23, 503 and 504 on the outskirts of the town. Outside of Hsipaw, SSA [Shan State Army] is doing the security. The SSA headquarters are 40 miles from Hsipaw. They signed a ceasefire agreement with the government. The [SLORC] Army and also SSA are using villagers for loke ar pay ['volunteer', actually forced, labour; this fact was confirmed by several people in Hsipaw]. The Army and SSA are also recruiting young boys as soldiers. Khun Sa also used to recruit all over Shan State. In Hsipaw itself, it is the [SLORC] Army who recruits soldiers but people can pay money to avoid entering the army.

In Bawgyoke village [5 miles east of Hsipaw town], there is a pagoda famous throughout Shan State, the Bawgyoke Pagoda. The government restored it and there was an opening ceremony on 29 February 1996. In order to pay for the restoration of the pagoda, the government had to raise 8,000,000 Kyats. They took out the Buddha image and took it around the townships of our State [to raise donations]. But these were forced donations. Each township was ordered to contribute a certain amount of money as a donation. With this money, the government made a contract with a Burmese company in Mandalay, so our Shan people didn't even benefit from getting the contract. The contractors offered a car to the commanding officer as a present. Although he got the contract, the contractor used the people from the town and the villages to do all the [forced] labour for the restoration of the pagoda. The work had to be completed for an important Buddhist festival in March 1996. For this festival, the government servants and the people had to contribute money. The government servants always have their wages cut for celebrations like that. For example, for Independence Day. But to celebrate Shan National Day, they ask just a little money. For the opening ceremony of the pagoda, a whole group of foreign Ambassadors came from Rangoon together with government officials. Just before that ceremony on 29 February 1996, the people from Hsipaw had to do labour to repair the road for their visits. Also, 3 days before the ceremony, on 27, 28 and 29 February, the authorities closed all the access roads to Hsipaw. The people from the villages around couldn't reach the market to sell their products. And all the passenger cars were requisitioned for the transportation of officials and their things to Hsipaw.

The government asked for a corn tax in 1995. What really happened is that the Generals in Rangoon wanted the local battalions to plant corn to sell for export. But the battalions didn't plant, they forced the villagers to do it. The army gave them corn seeds, one milk tin of corn seeds for each family. But it was already too late for planting corn. So the villagers didn't plant the corn but they were still forced to give 16 pyi [1 basket] each of corn to the army [they had to buy it on the market] or give about 800 Kyats in money. The army battalions sent the corn to Rangoon to give a good impression to the Generals.

Before there was only one army battalion just outside Hsipaw, IB 23, but in the last few years, two more battalions came, 503 and 504. They told the Gurkha villagers to leave. These Gurkha villagers usually have cattle and they stay a little outside the town. They were ordered to move further into the jungle without any compensation. They even had to move their temple which is very sacred for them. The army camps took a lot of land for their plantations and the villagers have to go and grow the corn in the camp plantations. The army rented a tractor in Kyaukme and used the tractor to harvest the corn but the villagers had to pay for the fuel. Otherwise, they would have had to come themselves with their bullock carts. The villagers have to plant the seeds and harvest the crop. Every battalion has their own field and they all do corn plantations. On the road between here and Maymyo, you see many coffee plantations. There also, the government and the army have taken the land from the people. [These plantations are all signposted as "Agricultural Project"; SLORC shows them in the state-controlled media and seeks money for them from international agencies such as the United Nations Development Programme.]

Q: Did they hold a USDA rally in Hsipaw recently?

A: The government didn't organise a USDA rally in Hsipaw but they did in Kyaukme. The people were only informed the night before that they had to go and all the schoolteachers, all the students, all the government employees and one person for every family had to go to Kyaukme for the rally. The families who couldn't go had to hire another person to go for them for 100 or 200 Kyats for the day. They also took all the cars and vehicles to carry all the people from Hsipaw to Kyaukme [Kyaukme is 1 1/2 hours by road, west towards Mandalay]. The best cars were used to carry all the officials. We heard the case of a family of three in Maymyo who had to go to the rally. The parents were both government servants so they each had to go to represent their department. Their daughter was a student, so she had to go with her school. And still this family was ordered to send someone as the 'one person per family' - so they had to hire someone for that! All the USDA members also had to attend a ceremony to unveil a "People's Desire" billboard. This was after the MP's were arrested. [This refers to the arrest of over 200 elected National League for Democracy MPs in late May - since then SLORC has been organising forced-attendance rallies to "denounce destructionists" and unveiling billboards expressing the "People's Desire" to "crush all internal and external destructive elements", among other things.] Before, we only had to go to a USDA rally once a year for the USDA anniversary. Now the government organises rallies every day somewhere throughout the country.

Q: Do they ask for porters in Hsipaw?

A: Some time ago, quite a large number of people were ordered to go as a porters from Hsipaw to Nam Sang because of fighting in that area. In the villages the people said that the army was fighting againt Wa women with bows, but that sounds more like a rumour to me.

Q: What was the effect of the ceasefire between SSA and the SLORC? [This ceasefire has held for several years already]

A: Since the ceasefire the quantity of forced labour has been the same, sometimes even more than before. The SSA army also demands forced labour from the villagers. The SSA soldiers are now the same as the SLORC. They also take rice, salt and money from the villagers. The only difference is that they give their orders to the headmen while the SLORC soldiers just come into the villages and take whatever they like. [Note: every Saturday in Hsipaw groups of local people can be seen doing forced labour such as cutting grass with their own tools, under supervision of the town quarter chairmen.] 

Q: What is the situation of teak logging in this area?

A: They have been cutting so many trees that the climate is now changing here and it has become drier, so every year the rice harvest is worse. Usually the traders hire villagers to cut the trees. They pay them 250 Kyats for a ton but then they sell the logs for 12,000 Kyats a ton. The traders get permits to cut the trees by bribing the military and also the SSA. The army make even more money than that, because they also get the bribes at the checkpoints. [Every logging truck has to pay to pass each checkpoint, and a steady stream of trucks carrying teak logs can be seen along the road to Lashio, all going towards the Chinese border. Since SLORC took power the forests of Shan State have been irretrievably decimated and are not expected to last much longer.]



[The following interview was conducted in July 1996 with 3 Shan villagers from a village near the Kyaukme-Lashio road in northern Shan State.]

Q: Do you have a field?

Old lady: No, we have no land, only a little garden near our house. In our village, there are 25 houses but only 2 families have some land. These two families have only 5 acres of paddy field because the army took all our land for their camps.

Q: What do you do for a living?

Old lady: We are making charcoal, we clear the jungle and we work as day labourers for other people. To get vegetables, we have to go and find them in the forest. Some people also have a buffalo or two. Before there were fruit trees, but now the climate has changed and it is too dry to grow fruit trees. Now there are no more fruit trees.

Q: When you do day labour, how much do you earn?

Old lady: If all my family manage to earn altogether 150 Kyats for one day, that would be enough to eat. Sometimes we have no work and sometimes we are lucky and we can make 200 Kyats a day amongst the four of us.

Q: Do you have to do loke ar pay work?

Old lady: Of course we have to. For every 5 days we have to work one day at the battalion 23 army camp, the whole year round.

Q: What work do you have to do there?

Old lady: Planting their corn.

Old man: We even have to go there and thresh the paddy in their fields near their compound, all on land that they have confiscated from the people. And we are not paid for that work. We also have to cut bamboo and build their barracks.

Q: Do they ask for porters in your village?

Old man: Fortunately not. Because we do army camp labour the whole year round, we don't have to go as porters.

Q: Did you go to school?
Young woman: Yes, but I only stayed up to 3rd Standard.



NAME: "U Tin Maung"          SEX: M          AGE: 62 Lahu Christian
FAMILY: Widower, 8 children
ADDRESS: Nong Bo village, Mong Hsat township      INTERVIEWED: 9/6/96

In Nong Bo village the Burmese took one side of the road and made the villagers move to the lower side. After taking part of the village they started building a camp. That is for a new Battalion. Now is the time when the villagers have to work in the ricefields, but instead they have to work for the Army, so people are facing hardships. They have to work in the Army camp and in the Army's fields. The village has about 14 households. The people who had to move have just built bamboo huts and they have to stay there. There was no order for the rest of the villagers to move, but the land they've left for us is very small, not enough to build all our houses on. So I feel sure that we can't stay there for very long. One part of the village was occupied by their Corps of Engineers and another part by an Army supply camp. We lived on one side of the hill, and on the other side is the airfield. Our village is just one to two miles northwest of Mong Hsat. Nong Pa is west of Mong Hsat, on the way to Mong Ton.

One person from each family has to work for them 4 days each week. It depends on who is free at the time - for example, if the parents have to work in the field they send their child. If no one goes, the Army fines you, 50 Kyat for each day. The people doing the work are many different ages, depending on how hard the work is. For digging the roots of big trees they don't use the younger people. They use the youngest ones for things like covering the road with sand, or clearing the grass. They don't tell anything about what you have to do until you arrive at their camp. They use people of all ages, even people over 60. I had to go. When I went we had to dig ditches and clear bushes, and so on. We also have to work in their paddy fields and their corn and chillie fields. I don't know what they do with all the crops, but I think chillies are already included in their rations so maybe they sell the ones they grow for their funds. In our own fields we can grow 30 or 40 tins of paddy per acre, and we have to sell 7 tins to SLORC [at one fifth of market price or less], and we also have to give them money. Now rice costs 600 Kyat per tin around Mong Hsat - if we mill 2 1/2 tins of paddy we get 1 tin of rice. The price is not increasing, but people have no money to buy it anyway.

I heard that they are expanding the [Mong Hsat] airport so that Fokkers or even jets can land there. That's why half of Vieng Wai village was taken by the Army, because jet planes are very powerful so the runway has to be long. They measured it and marked it with some flags already. I don't know what they did after that. Vieng Wai is a Lahu Christian village with more than a hundred houses. The new runway they marked goes straight into the village. They haven't built it yet, they just took the measurements.

I think eventually, the entire area is going to be one big Army camp.



NAME: "Tun Aung"          SEX: M          AGE: 29 Lahu Christian farmer
FAMILY: Single, parents still alive, 5 brothers and sisters
ADDRESS: Nong Pa village, Mong Hsat township      INTERVIEWED: 9/6/96

My village is 2 miles from Mong Hsat town, to the west. It has more than 30 houses. I left 3 weeks ago. By the time I left Mong Hsat, they had taken villages already so they could extend their military camps. Half of the village of Nong Bo was taken by the military, so the villagers didn't know where to go. Before there were 5 Battalions around Mong Hsat. Now they want to add another 2 Battalions. One of these 2 Battalions will be set up in Nong Bo village. That's why they took the village area. So the people from the half that they took, they don't know whether the Burmese are going to arrange a relocation place for them or not.

The Battalions already there are #333, 527, 49, an Artillery Battalion, and a Byu Ha [Strategic Command Headquarters]. The 2 new ones haven't come yet. They're just preparing the places for them. The soldiers from the other 5 camps are doing it. Two captains came to Nong Bo village, met the headman and gave the order. I was not there, but I heard. I have some close relatives in that village. The headman called all the villagers to gather together and told them what he had been ordered. After hearing from the headman the villagers said, "So where are we supposed to move to?" They discussed where and how to move. Now they don't have a place to live. The headman said he was not able to do anything. He said it was an order and they could not disobey. He said "If you don't obey they will beat you". They gave that order on about March 15th. The headman said, "By the deadline time we have to move, no matter what. If you don't, they will strike [the word 'htoo' used can mean beat, shoot, etc.]" I don't know the deadline date. I left before that. Not only half, they said that within 5 months all the villagers will have to move. They didn't say to where, people don't know. They will get nothing.

There are two new camps: one will be at Nong Bo, and one will be along the way to Mong Pying. My village is Nong Pa. We had the same experience in 1984. Now Battalion 333 stays in Nong Pa. Nong Bo is just 1 mile from Mong Hsat town. They give orders like that to villages close to the town. Now altogether that makes 3 villages, Nong Pa, Ay Din Gone, and Nong Bo, ordered to move [for Army camps since 1984]. For the new camp on the way to Mong Pying, they took the area near the entrance of Nah Sah and Ko Nah villages. So now there are 3 places, and also 3 roads: Mong Hsat to Nong Pa, Mong Hsat to Nong Bo, and Mong Hsat to Nah Sah and Ko Nah. Nah Sah and Ko Nah are on the main road to Mong Pying, but the roads to Nong Pa and Nong Bo are small. I have no idea why they are sending more Battalions, but it is not only in our area, it is happening in all the towns of Shan State.

I know they have taken land. They have taken all the farmland belonging to people. They took all the farmland along the roadside on the way to the [Mong Hsat] airport, they divided it into many pieces and then resold it. They made new land registration for that land. They do that with all the farmland and then they don't give the land back to the farmers, they sell it. The land along the road was divided into plots 60 feet square, and they resold them to the people from the town, those who were able to buy. They sold each plot along the roadside for 30,000 Kyat. Those a little bit away from the road were 20,000 Kyat. The farmers who lost their land along the airport road, they didn't have any idea where to go. If they wanted their land back they themselves had to buy it back again. Some did, some did not. The rest was bought by townspeople and traders.

The airport is about one and a half miles from town. It is for military use and also for passengers. It is quite big. Fokkers can land there. It is the third largest airport in Shan State. There are civilian flights, but half of the seats on every flight are reserved for the military. The rest is for civilians. When the military don't use the seats they sell them to people on the black market. They fly to Kengtung and Taunggyi, actually Hai Ho [flights for Taunggyi go to Hai Ho, 25 km. from Taunggyi]. Especially on the flight to Hai Ho, very few people can get a seat. If you want to go, you have to buy a ticket on the black market for 3,000 Kyat. To Kengtung is 2,000 Kyat. People almost always have to buy their tickets on the black market. There are 3 flights a week.

As for forced labour, even the people from the town have to volunteer. We have to bake bricks, plant teak trees, and before planting them we have to clear the area. They plant teak in the Army's area, around the camp. At 333 Battalion in Nong Pa. More than 10,000 teak trees. They didn't say why they are planting those trees, they just call the people to do loke-ar-pay ['volunteer', actually forced, labour] labour doing it. Four days a week we have to go work for them. All day long, morning till evening. I myself went there very often, and I had to work all day long until 4 p.m. They gave nothing, and we had to take our food along with us. While we were working there were some soldiers in charge. They gave us some trouble. For example, if anyone did anything wrong they were beaten. Sometimes the trees we planted fell down, and they beat the person who planted it. They beat them very badly. Some were hospitalised. I was beaten once, with a stick. I cut down one of the trees by accident, and they beat me. It was very painful.

In the village they also collect porters and if you don't want to go you have to pay money. If we can't send 3 people, we can give them one mule. One mule costs 30,000 Kyat. So for each person it is 10,000 Kyat. If we go as porters, each time is for about a month, but some people run away within 4 or 5 days. This happens whenever they have fighting. Times like now, we only have to go for loke-ar-pay['volunteer', actually forced, labour], not as porters. But even when there's no fighting we still have to send them mules. Our village has to send five mules. There are three sections in our village. It is 30,000 Kyat for one mule.

We also have to help build the road from Mong Hsat to Mong Ton. Sometimes that road is unusable. We have to work for about a week. I myself usually have to go for that. After the Thais built this road it became bad again, parts of it turned to mud, so we still had to go and repair it. We had to get rid of all the mud. We used small logs, about this big [about 4-6" diameter], and laid them on the road. That was last year. Every year at this time, the road becomes unusable. Roads are being built everywhere. To Kengtung, to Mong Pying, they are always building. Everywhere people have to go for labour. There's a new road under construction, direct from Mong Hsat to Kengtung. It doesn't pass Mong Pying or Mong Pyak, it just goes directly. There's another road to Mong Pyak and Kengtung, but they don't use it now. People cannot travel on that road. On the new direct road it is forced labour. There are 5 villages that have to work on that new road: Wan Li, Pa Beh Ko, Nong Tau, Mong Pu, and Nong Nu. All of them are close to the new road. The building started this January. It is still under construction, it will be just an ordinary dirt road. It will take one year, and all the villagers have to take turns working until it is finished. It is up in the mountains, up and down. The building has started from Kengtung. Later it will also start from Mong Hsat. The Kengtung half is being built by the villagers from Kengtung area, and the Mong Hsat half will be built by villagers from Mong Hsat area. All of it is being done by hand. There is also road-building from Mong Hsat to Mong Tung [west of Mong Hsat near the junction of the Salween and Nam Hsim rivers; not to be confused with Mong Ton, which is southwest of Mong Hsat].

At the present time in all the villages around Mong Hsat, each village has to give 5 viss [8 kg.] of meat every week. Now they are building a new bridge, the Nam Hkok bridge. The villagers have to pay to build that bridge. It costs 100,000 Kyat. This bridge is on the way to Mong Tung, towards Tachilek.

For now, most of the people are patient and stay there. But some who cannot pay the money for fees to the Burmese run away.



NAME: "Maung Shwe"          SEX: M          AGE: 50 Akha Christian (RC) farmer
FAMILY: Married, 6 children aged 12 to over 30
ADDRESS: Mae Poong village, Mong Hsat township      INTERVIEWED: 10/6/96

["Maung Shwe" was interviewed after fleeing to Thailand as a refugee.]

When I was there [before I came here] I was Animist, now I am Christian, Roman Catholic. Four of my children came here with me, the oldest of them is 17 and the youngest is my 12-year-old daughter. Mae Poong is more than 2 hours by foot from Mong Hsat, to the east. In the village there are no less than 100 houses, and not only Akha but also Chinese live there. There are more than 50 households of Chinese. There are also a few Lisu.

We arrived here about 1 month ago. I came because they used us as coolies [forced labour], and we also had to pay money to the Army very often, and give them mules. They used us for carrying sacks of rice, [Army] camp labour, digging and moving their belongings. We are forced to work in their camp every day, on their camp buildings. 10 people, up to 15, for each village. Oh! I can't count how many times. Every day, continuously. I didn't go myself, my son went almost every day. Each time they called 10 or 15, and we took turns. The villagers have to dig ditches, cut down trees, then they themselves have to carry the trees. We also have to carry sacks of rice with mules. They use mules to carry the sacks of rice. We have to find mules for the Burmese soldiers, and they never give them back. We give them our mules, and they don't return them. Every week we have to give mules. I myself had to find and give them 7 mules already. The cost of each mule depends on its size and age: some cost 3,000 Kyat, 4,000, or up to 5,000 Kyat. Altogether, our village has given the Army over 300 mules already.

Each village has to give them 14 viss [22 kg.] of meat once a week. Each week we have to prepare it in advance, we have to cooperate together and gather 14 viss of meat. And we have to pay porter fees. At least 200, 300, up to 500 Kyats, each person. Not only once a month. Two or three times a month, sometimes more. I can't remember how many times some months. And we have to pay money to them for buying mules or horses. The Akha and the Chinese have to do all these things equally. It is #49 Battalion. Their camp is as big as #333's camp in Nong Pa village. It is a bit of a distance from the village.

The Army also takes the farmers' land. They took all the land aroung Mong Hsat town. All I know is that all the land was taken by the Army, I don't know what they do with it. My oldest 2 children are married, but I brought the other four here with me. Others from our village are also leaving - most of the others went to xxxx village in Chiang Rai province. More than 40 families have already fled to Thailand. That includes Akha, Lisu, and Chinese. Most of the other villages around ours have completely moved already, except only one village is left now. They [the Army] didn't give an order, it is just beyond people's endurance so they are leaving. The Burmese don't stop them. I could go back home. But no way will I return home!