Forced labour, imposed on civilian populations by the Burmese military authorities since they seized power more than 4 decades ago, continues to be one of the most rampant types of human rights violations committed against the people by the SPDC troops in Shan State.
Despite the constant denial by the SPDC authorities, it is still being used routinely as well as occasionally, and requisitioned systematically as well as randomly, in many sectors of the SPDC troops’ activities all over Shan State.
It can still be seen widely used in construction of infrastructure and military facilities, in crop cultivation for the military, in military patrols and operations, in maintenance of military camps and property and in menial work at military bases and camps, etc..
Although efforts are said to have been made by the current SPDC junta to stop forced labour, or just to cover up the use of it, since 7-8 years ago when they succumbed to the pressure of the international community and issued a ban on it, in reality there has been little improvement in the situation of forced labour over the years.
Forced labour has been given different names by the junta and people are being forced to use those names, e.g., “voluntary help”, when talking about it, in an attempt to make it appear as something else.
But the requisition of it has always been coupled with threats, intimidation and extortion. In some cases people were told in advance that they needed to help the military in the future or face the consequences.
SITUATION OF FORCED LABOUR IN STATE INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS
Unpaid forced labour of the civilian populations in State infrastructure is still being used en masse by the SPDC military authorities in Shan State. In virtually all cases, people have had to provide their own food and use their own tools for the duration of forced labour.
The following 3 reports are instances of forced labour used in State infrastructure:
MASS FORCED LABOUR IN NEW ROAD CONSTRUCTION PROJECT IN LOI-LEM AND LAI-KHA
Since late 2006 up to the present, SPDC military authorities have been forcing people en masse to work on a new road building project in Loi-Lem and Lai-Kha township.
The road is being built on a new route where there has not been any road previously, although some sections include ox-cart trails and footpaths used by the local people, joining Loi-Lem and Lai-Kha township and is about over 30 miles long.
Since around November 2006, people in Loi Naang village tract in Loi-Lem township have been forced by the SPDC troops of LIB513 to work on the said road construction. Villagers of Maak Mer and Loi Naang and other villages have to build the 8-mile section of the road between the 2 villages.
The 5-mile section between Loi Naang and Nam Lin is the responsibility of the 2 villages and some others. From Nam Lin village, the road continues to Son Kuay village and to Wan Tawk village in Naa Mang village tract in Lai-Kha township.
The exact distance between Nam Lin village and Wan Tawk village is not known, but it is estimated that the whole length of the road, from Maak Mer village in Loi-Lem township to Wan Tawk village in Lai-Kha township, is over 30 miles long.
About 4-5 villages, comprising not less than 170 households, in Loi Naang village tract in Loi-Lem township had been forced to work on the road building when this report was received earlier this year, although the situation in Lai-Kha township was not known, and the road construction is said to be continuing up to the present.
According to some refugees who had to work on the said road project, the road had to be 4 yards wide, measured by the SPDC troops, and steep slopes on low hillsides had to be dug down 3-4 yards deep to make the road as level as possible.
Small ravines had to be filled with earth up to the height of 2 feet to 1 yard upon which rocks had to be paved. A layer of earth was required to spread on the rocks after which stones were paved upon the earth. Finally sand was then spread over the stones and pressed by beating and bumping until the road was hard and smooth.
MASS FORCED LABOUR IN ROAD CONSTRUCTION IN MURNG-TON
For about 3 months, from mid November 2006 up to February 2007, people from several villages in Murng-Ton township were forced by SPDC troops of IB65 and LIB524 to split rocks and pave the road between Naa Kawng Mu and Pung Pa Khem villages.
Each of the following villages was required to provide a certain number of forced labourers every day as shown in the list below:
1. Naa Kawng Mu village = 30 labourers
2. Huay Aw village = 30 labourers
3. Pung Pa Khem village = 40 labourers
4. Ton Pherng village = 10 labourers
5. Pung Aan village = 10 labourers
6. Ta Kwaang village = 10 labourers
This meant that for 3 whole months there were around 130 labourers working on a daily basis at different points of the road between Naa Kawng Mu and Pung Pa Khem villages, which was about 15 miles long.
Villagers were required to choose rocky hills that were not very far from the road sections assigned to them and split rocks, transport the rocks to the work sites and pave the road all by themselves. The SPDC troops provided nothing whatsoever.
In addition to not being paid for their time and labour, the villagers had to provide their own food and use their own tools while working on the road to which they had to go on a rotation basis to fill up the required quotas of workers each day.
MASS FORCED LABOUR IN STATE PROJECTS, COUPLED WITH EXTORTION AND BULLYING, IN MURNG-SART
Since late November 2006 up to at least the time this report was received earlier this year, people in Murng-Sart township were forced by the SPDC authorities to work in expanding an airfield, fixing a football field and expanding physic nut plantations.
Money was also extorted for the airfield and the football field, and those who dared to question the orders of the SPDC authorities were scolded and threatened by none other than the most senior SPDC authority in Shan State, Lt. Gen. Kyaw Win, himself.
On 18 November 2006, the Chief of BSO-2 (Bureau of Special Operation No. 2), Lt. Gen. Kyaw Win, flew from Kaeng-Tung to Murng-Sart by a military helicopter and called a meeting of all the officials and community leaders of Murng-Sart town at the base of LIB333.
At the meeting, Kyaw Win said that the Murng-Sart airfield was too short for some aeroplanes to land and needed to be expanded and, to do that, help from the people in terms of labour and money was needed, and such help was also necessary to fix the town’s football ground.
In addition to voluntary labour of the people, 2,000,000 kyat of money contributed by the people was needed for the expansion of the airfield, and also 500,000 kyat was necessary for fixing the football field, he said
The people’s help was also badly needed to expand the physic nut plantations in the township, which would one day become income generating activities and would help boost the local economy, which was good for the local people, he added.
During the meeting, a government health officer pleaded with the commander to reduce the amount of money people needed to contribute because they also needed to provide their time and free labour, and he suggested that 500 kyat per household would be reasonable.
The commander then scolded the health officer saying, “Who do you think you are to suggest something on behalf of the people. Shut up! You are only a lowly health worker and you can be sacked right away”.
After that no one dared to say anything for a while. But a certain trader who owned a tangerine plantation and a 4-storey house, and who had been helping local SPDC authorities in terms of lending money and paying for their frequent partying for some time, thought otherwise and posed a question.
The trader wanted to know if there were markets that would surely buy the products of the physic nut plantations. However, the question angered the commander and he said, “How dare you argue with me. Do you think because you have money and a 4-storey house I’ll be afraid of you. Do you want to be rolling on the ground in front of me?”
Eventually, as usual, Murng-Sart townspeople had to collect money among themselves and contribute to the airfield and the football field, in addition to having to send 50 labourers to work at the sites every day until they were finished.
SITUATION OF FORCED LABOUR IN BUILDING AND WORKING FOR MILITARY CAMPS
Up to the present, SPDC troops in Shan State have often used forced labour of the local people in fixing and setting up new military outpost camps, and routinely used forced labour of the same people to work for them in the maintenance of the camps and crop cultivation, etc., which was evident in the following 3 reports:
FORCED LABOUR AT A NEW MILITARY CAMP IN LAI-KHA
During December 2006 and early 2007, villagers in Naa Poi village tract in Lai-Kha township were forced by SPDC troops of IB287 to work in building a new military camp and preparing land for cultivation of coffee and other crops. Up until the present, at least 2 villagers per day have been required to wait at the camp on standby to serve as errand runners, guides and/or porters as necessary.
On 1 December 2006, a contingent of about 60 SPDC troops from IB287, based in Kae-See township, came to set up an outpost camp at Nam Hu village in Naa Poi village tract in Lai-Kha township and forced people from the surrounding villages to work for them.
People from at least 4 villages, Nam Hu, Tao Laai, Maak Laang Leo and Naa Ung villages, comprising about 120 households in all, were required to provide 25 labourers to work from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm every day, providing their own food and receiving no pay.
Villagers had to work in rotation which returned to each person every 4 days until the work was finished. The work mainly included:
1. Building the military camp
2. Clearing and preparing land for coffee plantation
3. Clearing and preparing lands for growing corn, bean, sesame and pineapple
4. Mini-tractors were also forced to work in transporting building materials and other things every day
The land areas the villagers needed to clear and prepare for crop cultivation for the SPDC troops were said to be not less than 600 acres in all.
Furthermore, at least 2 villagers were required to be on standby at the camp every day to be ready to serve immediately when guides and/or porters were needed or errands needed to be run urgently.
The SPDC troops initially told the villagers that they were working on orders from higher-up and needed the villagers’ help to complete the work, and the villagers needed to work properly and willingly for their own benefit.
The SPDC troops even threatened to forcibly relocate the surrounding 3 villages to Nam Hu village near the military camp if the villagers showed signs of unwillingness by being negligent at work or deliberately coming late to work.
VILLAGERS FORCED TO REBUILD A MILITARY CAMP IN KAE-SEE
During the end of 2006 and early 2007, villagers of Paang Kaad village in Wan Khem village tract, Kae-See township, were forced by SPDC troops of LIB131 to rebuild dilapidated buildings and dig new trenches in a military camp.
In December 2006, SPDC troops from LIB131, manning a camp north of Paang Kaad village, called the village leader of Paang Kaad village to the camp and told him that they needed the help of the villagers to replace the old buildings in the camp.
Since the camp was situated near the main road, it was not proper for passing high ranking military officials to see it in such a dilapidated state, said the SPDC commander of the camp. “With a new and tidy camp, we would be praised by our superiors and you would be safe from all dangers under our protection,” he added.
In addition to having to provide free labour for the duration of the construction work, the 30-40 or so households of Paang Kaad village also had to provide building materials which included 3 hardwood pillars per household, each of which had to be 5-elbow-lengths long and at least 1-elbow-lenght in circumference.
Furthermore, the villagers of Paang Kaad vilalge were also required to dig new trenches in and around the camp after they finished building new housing for the SPDC troops. The trenches were required to be 4-elbow-lengths deep and 2-elbow-lengths wide.
According to the local villagers, the SPDC troops from LIB131 manning the camp have been forcing people from not only Paang Kaad village but also the other villages in Wan Khem village tract to do one thing or another for them since they came to the area in early 2005 up to the present, all without pay.
VILLAGERS FORCED TO BUILD WATER PIPELINE TO DIVERT WATER TO A MILITARY CAMP IN MURNG-TON
In November 2006, villagers of Pung Pa Khem village in Murng-Ton township were forced by SPDC troops from IB254 to buy water pipes and necessary equipment and lay a pipeline to bring water to their camp.
The villagers were forced to provide money for the purchase of 600 plastic water pipes and all the other necessary parts and equipment from Thailand, altogether worth about 2,000,000 kyat, to construct the pipeline.
The pipeline was laid from a distant water source in the hills to the military camp at Pung Pa Khem village, using forced labour of the villagers. Shifts of about 35 villagers per day had to work for 15 days until it was finished.
The water was said to be only for the SPDC troops manning the camp. The villagers were not allowed to use the water even though it was the fruit of their money and labour and the military camp was just close to their village, Pung Pa Khem.
SITUATION OF FORCED CROP CULTIVATION
Dry season rice cultivation is one of the yearly routine types of forced labour people have been required to provide for the SPDC battalions in their respective areas. People have also had to provide land, usually their own rice fields, and work from start to finish for the duration of the summer rice crop cultivation.
The following are 2 of such incidents:
PEOPLE FORCED TO GROW RICE FOR THE MILITARY IN KAENG-TUNG
Since around January 2007, people in Kaad Pha village tract in Kaeng-Tung township have been forced by the SPDC authorities to grow dry season rice for the military. People were also forced to provide sacks of sand and build a dam to divert water.
Each of the several SPDC army battalions in Kaeng-Tung township chose some of the people’s rice fields and forced the local farmers to cultivate the summer rice crop for them in their respective areas, as they had done in the previous years since many years ago.
The battalion based south of Kaeng-Tung town, a Support and Transportation unit, had chosen rice fields in Kaad Pha village tract, about 10 miles east of Kaeng-Tung, and required the local villagers to cultivate rice for them from start to finish.
The villagers were also required to build a dam to divert water to the those rice fields. In addition to having to provide free labour to build the dam, they also had to provide sacks of sand to build it. Each of the 1,000 or so households in Kaad Pha village tract had to provide 1 sand sack, which required them to buy the empty sacks at the rate of 120 kyat per sack and fill them up with sand.
According to the local people, SPDC battalions in other village tracts in Kaeng-Tung township have also forced people in their areas to cultivate summer rice crop for them, all in the people’s rice fields, all from start to finish and without pay.
PEOPLE FORCED TO GROW RICE FOR THE MILITARY IN MURNG-NAI
Since around January-February 2007, people in Naa Khaan village tract in Murng-Nai township have been forced by the SPDC troops of IB248 to cultivate the dry season rice crop for them.
The SPDC troops have chosen the people’s rice fields that were close to water sources to grow their rice crop, a strain called “Mawbi” after the name of the township in the lowland Irrawaddy delta region where it was originated.
The local farmers have been forced to take all the responsibilities in cultivating the rice crop from start to finish, all without pay and without being relieved of any other types of forced labour and extortion imposed on them by the authorities.
SITUATION OF FORCED PORTERING
Forced portering has been one of the most tiresome types of forced labour widely and openly used until recently by the Burmese juntas’ troops since they seized power more than 40 years ago.
Although it has been reduced to some extent since a few years ago, forced portering is still used by SPDC troops especially in the rural areas of Shan State, as can been seen in the following 2 instances:
PEOPLE FORCED TO SERVE AS UNPAID PORTERS IN KAE-SEE
Since early 2005 up to the present, people of Paang Kaad village in Wan Khem village tract, Kae-See township, have often been forced by the SPDC troops of LIB131 to serve as unpaid porters during their patrols in the area.
Since their setting up of an outpost camp, about 1 km north of Paang Kaad village, in early 2005, the SPDC troops from LIB131 manning the camp have been forcing the villagers of Paang Kaad village to often work for them unpaid, including portering for them on their patrols.
The SPDC troops often demanded 3 villagers from the village headman to go with them on each of their frequent patrols during which they forced the villagers to serve as guides and porters, sometimes for many days and nights. Sometimes, they just seized people on the roads, in the farms and even in the villages to use as porters.
Villagers from other villages in the village tract have also been forced to do the same, but Paang Kaad villagers have to bear most of the brunt because of their close proximity to the military camp. The villagers could not refuse or avoid being conscripted as forced labourers by the SPDC troops, and they received nothing for their labour.
According to a newly arrived refugee at the Thai-Shan border from the said area, he was conscripted as a porter by a patrol of SPDC troops from LIB131 on 15 January 2007 and had to go with them for 5 days and nights.
When he left his village, there were several other villagers who were thinking of fleeing because of the worsening situation, and those people would also come to the Thai border because they did not have any other places to go to, he added.
PEOPLE FORCED TO SERVE AS UNPAID PORTERS IN MURNG-KERNG
Since around mid 2006, people in Murng Khun village tract in Murng-Kerng township have been forced to serve as guides and porters by the SPDC troops from Kae-See-based LIB131 and Murng-Kerng-based LIB514.
Because Murng-Khun village tract was situated between Murng-Kerng and Kae-See towns, SPDC troops from both townships often came to patrol the area. The villagers saw patrols consisting of troops from LIB514 or LIB131 on a more or less regular basis, sometimes up to 4-5 times in a single month.
When the SPDC troops came, they ordered village leaders to provide them with villagers to serve as guides and porters, or they just forced people they found in the villages, on the roads and in the farms to go with them, usually for not less than 5 days.
Furthermore, in addition to the worsening situation of forced portering, the situation of other types of forced labour and abuse, e.g., extortion and robbery, has also been getting worse, and all these abuses have been forcing people to flee.
Since late last year, 2006, a number of people from the areas of Murng-Kerng and Kae-See townships have fled to the Thai border, mostly in small separate groups. According to those refugees, there were still many people in the areas who would come to Thailand if they could find enough money to cover the journey.
OTHER TYPES OF ACTIVITIES CONCERNING FORCED LABOUR
The following is an instance of how Burmese military authorities used to forewarn people as to what could happen to those who failed to provide the demanded forced labour:
SITUATION OF FORCED LABOUR IN MURNG-PAN
At the end of 2006, people in Wan Tham village tract in Murng-Pan township were told by the SPDC troops of LIB595 that during the coming year, 2007, they would still be required to provide help in the form of voluntary labour to the military as usual.
On 7 December 2006, the commander of LIB595 called a meeting of village and village tract leaders of Wan Tham village tract at the military base and told them that in the coming 2007 they would have to continue to help the Burmese military like in the previous years.
Those who did not want to help the military and would like to move away to different places were free to do so, he said, but their houses and property, including their farms and fields, would be confiscated by the military, and there would be no way for them to get them back later.
The help the villagers needed to provide free to the military included the following routine types of work:
1. Cultivating rice crops for the military from start to finish
2. Cultivating onion, garlic and corn for the military from start to finish
3. Cultivating physic nut and sesame for the military from start to finish
4. Gathering bamboo and fixing fences at the military base at least once a year
Those who failed to provide help on the day of their turn would have to pay a fine of 1,000 kyat per person per day immediately to the concerned authorities.
SHRF MONTHLY REPORT -- MAY 2007