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February - 2011

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COMMENTARY : Forced Labour
        Various types of forced labour that have been imposed on the people of Shan State, and all the peoples of Burma for that matter, by the successive Burmese juntas’ troops over the last 4-5 decades have continued unabated, at least up to 2010, and the perpetrators have enjoyed the culture of impunity.
        Although an ILO liaison office has been present in Burma and has been, under the agreement it managed to get from the ruling military junta, encouraging people to complain against forced labour for some time, there have so far been very few complaints, and even fewer culprits have been punished.
        This has been apparently mainly due to the halfheartedness on the part of the Burmese military authorities. Even if the ILO has been sincere in its effort to help eradicate forced labour, wholehearted cooperation of the ruling junta is most necessary to be successful.
        Last month, there was news that the military junta was preparing legislation that would allow legal trade unions, with the right to strike, which was to be presented before a new parliament that had recently been elected.
        However, with all the parliaments dominated by current and ex-military men, there seems to be little chance for them to allow the ILO to play a wider and more effective role.
        In this month’s issue, some of the various types of forced labour other than “forced porterage”, which will be the main theme of next month’s issue, are reported.
        Mass forced labour of the people has been continually used over the last several decades by the Burmese military authorities in Shan State in building and maintaining state infrastructure such as roads, military facilities, etc..
        Usually the people have never been paid for their time and labour or compensated in any other ways. They have to not only provide their own food but also in most cases have to use their own tools and means of transport to fulfill their forced labour duties, also with no remuneration.
        The following are some such incidents that took place in mid 2010:

        During mid 2010, people in Murng Zid village tract in Nam-Zarng township were forced to work in a road construction project by the SPDC troops of IB247 so hard that many people had to flee due to lack of time to work for their own survival.
        For several weeks, starting from May 2010, villagers of Murng Zid village tract in Nam-Zarng township were forced to cut logs and put them up along mountain slopes where a road was being constructed.
        The road, leading from Murng Zid village tract in Nam-Zarng township toward Murng Pawn village tract in Loi-Lem township, had been under construction from some time. A section of the road in Murng Zid area was dug along steep mountain slopes.
        Because of heavy rains in late April and early May, the earth in many places of the newly dug road had been washed away by rain water, causing landslides and leaving big, deep scars on the surface and the side of the road.
        To repair the damaged road and prevent landslides, villagers of Murng Zid village tract were required to erect wooden logs along the side of the road, put layers of leaves and branches horizontally across the logs and fill them up with earth.
        The villagers were also required to provide the needed logs at the rate of 3 logs per household per day for several days. The villagers had to cut the logs in the forest and bring them to the road where they could be loaded on trucks and transported to where they were needed.
        This requirement was in addition to other routine forced labour the villagers had to do in the road construction, e.g., splitting and gathering rocks, stones and sand and transporting them to the work sites to be used in paving the road.
        During several weeks of this tedious work, many families who had few male members but were required to work at the road construction sites almost all the time, could not earn enough to feed themselves and had to move to other places, including Thailand, in search of better means of survival.

        In June 2010, people in Lai-Kha and Kae-See townships were forced to repair roads and build a military camp, by the SPDC troops of IB286, IB64 and members of a Shan ceasefire group for many days, including more than 100 forced labourers per day.
        Starting from 3 June 2010, SPDC troops of Lai-Kha-base IB64 and Kae-See-based IB286 forced people in their areas of control to repair the road joining the 2 townships, from Ta Maak Laang village east of and near Lai-Kha town up to Murng Nawng village in Murng Nawng village tract in Kae-See township.
        From Wan Saang village tract in Lai-Kha township, at least 40 able bodied men had to go and work in repairing the road every day, including 10 villagers from each of the following 4 villages - Maak laang, Wan Saang, Kun Hung and Wan Thi.
        From Paang Saang village tract in Lai-Kha township, 15 villagers from each of the following 3 villages, altogether 45 forced labourers, had to go and work every day - Zalaai Khum, Zalaai loi and Ho Nam villages.
        Villagers from Wan Mai, Nawng Kaa and Mawk Zaam villages in Murng Yaai village tract in Kae-See township also had to go and work as forced labourers on a daily basis for many days to repair the road section between Murng Nawng village and the border with Lai-Kha township.
        From around mid June 2010 up to the end of the month, villagers of Wan Saang village in Wan Saang village tract in Lai-Kha township were also forced to build a new stronghold by members of a ceasefire group, requiring at least 20 villagers to work on a daily basis.
        During early and mid 2010, people in Murng-Nai and Nam-Zarng townships were required by the SPDC military authorities to build fences around all the lamp posts and pylons leading from a power plant in Murng-Nai up to Nam-Zarng.
        In early 2010, SPDC authorities issued an order requiring people in Kaeng Tawng sub-township in Murng-Nai township and people in Nam-Zarng township to build fences around each of the lamp posts and pylons that had been erected in their respective areas.
        Starting from the electricity plant at Taad Long waterfall in Kaeng Tawng sub-township, the pylons and lamp posts were set up along the way towards the northwest up until Kho Lam village in Kho Lam village tract in Nam-Zarng township. From Kho Lam, they continued southwest along the main road up to Nam-Zarng town.
        The fences were to be built with pointed bamboo pickets. The fence around each lamp post was to be at least as big as 2-yard square. People in Kho Lam village tract had to take care of the lamp posts in both directions - those coming from Kaeng Tawng area and those going towards Nam-Zarng town - up to the frontiers of their village tract.
        People in Kaeng Tawng had to take responsibility from the power plant up to the border with Kho Lam village tract in Nam-Zarng township. People in Kaad Lur village tract in Nam-Zarng township had to work between Kho Lam village tract and Nam-Zarng town.

        In mid 2010, people in Naa Poi village tract in Lai-Kha township were forced to clear the sides of the roads in the area of a ceasefire group for several days by members of the group working on the order of the SPDC authorities.
        In May 2010, members of a Shan ceasefire group, whose base was situated at Nam Hu Pya Tham in Naa Poi village tract in Lai-Kha township, forced the villagers of Pa Mai, Kung Yom, Wan Hai, Khur Nim and Ton Hung villages to clear the sides of the roads in their area.
        Not less than 20 villagers from each of the 5 villages mentioned above had to go and work every day clearing trees, brush and bushes from the sides of the roads as wide as about 100 yards of on both sides.
        The villagers had to work in rotation for a whole week using their own tools to complete the forced labour duty. They also not only had to provide their own food but had to occasionally share it with some of the SPDC soldiers who oversaw the work.
        Mass forced labour of the people has been routinely and frequently used over the last several decades by the Burmese military authorities in Shan State in agricultural work.
        The work has included growing rice and other seasonal crops for the military virtually every year; working all year round in military-run plantations such as physic nuts, etc.; growing and maintaining trees such as teak and other kinds of hardwood.
        People have been forced to work without receiving any remuneration from the authorities. They generally have to provide their own food and in most cases use their own tools. In many cases, they also have to provide their own farm lands to grow crops for the military.
        The following are some such instances that took place in mid and late 2010:

        From April to July 2010, villagers of Naa Khaan village in Naa Khaan village tract in Murng-Nai township were forced to cultivate dry season rice for the military by the SPDC military authorities of IB248.
        In July 2010, at harvesting time, not less than 50 Naa Khaan villagers per day were forced to reap the rice, which they had been forced to cultivate since April, for several days. The villagers had to work from morning to evening, providing their own food and drinking water every day.
        When senior military officers came to inspect the rice harvesting, SPDC soldiers who were overseeing the work joined the villagers in reaping the rice, pretending as if they had been helping the villagers all the time. However, no sooner had the officers left the site than the soldiers stopped working.
        According to the local villagers, it had always been like that since the beginning when they started to till the rice field. The SPDC troops pretended to be working hand in hand with the villagers when concerned authorities came to inspect the forced labour site, while in reality only the villagers were actually working.
        The SPDC military authorities liked to boast that they were helping the people in every way they could. However, when a storm took away the roofs of many houses in Naa Khaan village in April 2010, and the villagers asked for some iron roofing to repair their houses, the authorities were silent, they said.

        In 2010, many people in Kun-Hing township were routinely required to work all year round in physic nut plantations managed by the SPDC troops in the township.
        For instance, villagers of Nam Lan and many other villages in Ho Paang village tract in Kun-Hing township were required by the SPDC troops of IB246 to regularly work in maintaining their physic nut plantations all year round.
        To fulfill this forced labour duty, which required 15 to 20 workers each day, the villagers had to work in rotation. Each household had to provide 1 forced labourer to work for 1 day at a time, and about 5 times a month.
        That meant that every household in the village tract had to go and work as forced labourers in the physic nut plantations 5 days a month, and every month during the year 2010, providing their own food and receiving nothing for their labour.
        From August to around the end of 2010, SPDC troops of the Murng-Nai-based Artillery Unit forced villagers of Wan He village and Murng-Nai townspeople to grow corn for the military on the farm lands of Wan He villagers.
        From start to finish, the villagers and the townspeople were required to work as necessary in cultivating the corn until it was harvested. Villagers of Wan He village also had to provide parts of their farm lands for the corn.
        For several months during the time needed to cultivate the corn, town and village people had to take turns and routinely work for the military, using their own tools and providing their own food, and receiving nothing for their time and labour.

        In mid 2010, people in Murng-Ton township were forced by the SPDC military authorities to grow hardwood trees for the military.
        On 4 July 2010, 2,500 saplings of hardwood trees were transported on military trucks, from a military base in Murng-Ton town where they and many more saplings had been and were being grown, to Hawng Lin village.
        The saplings brought to Hawng Lin village were of 2 kinds, known in Shan as Mai Zalaan and Mai Kai Long. Of the 2 kinds, Mai Zalaan was a very hard kind of wood and was widely used to make sleepers for supporting railway tracks.
        Although it was known that those saplings were meant to be planted in the area using forced labour of the local people, the details of where and how they were to be planted were not yet available when this report was received in late 2010.
        Apart from having to personally provide frequent forced labour for the military, the people also have been required to often use their own vehicles to serve the military.
        The vehicles included all kinds that were allowed to be owned by the ordinary people, e.g., cars, trucks, motorcycles, ox-carts, boats and even bicycles, etc..
        When vehicles were conscripted for forced labour, their drivers or caretakers were almost always required to be conscripted with them. In most such cases, both the drivers and their vehicles not only received nothing, but also had to provide their own food and fuel.
        The following are some such incidents that took place around mid 2010:
        In 2010, SPDC military battalions based in the area of Kaeng Tawng sub-township in Murng-Nai township forcibly and frequently used civilian mini-tractors in transporting their troops and rations without giving anything in return, not even fuel for the tractors.
        During a short period of time in mid May 2010, the SPDC troops in Kaeng Tawng area forcibly used civilian tractors not less than 2 times, one to transport their rations and the other to transport their troops.
        On 16 May 2010, a villager’s mini-tractor was conscripted at Ta Kun village in Ton Hung village tract by the SPDC troops of LIB576. The tractor was forced to carry 3 rice sacks, one big tin of cooking oil, 5 viss of salt and vegetables, and some SPDC troops.
        The tractor was required to transport the said rations and troops from Ton Hung village to the electricity power plant at Taad Long waterfall where a contingent of SPDC troops were stationed to protect the place.
        On 19 May 2010, SPDC authorities at the military training centre at Waeng Kao conscripted 2 tractors from Wan Jawng in Kun Mong village tract, 2 from Long Sur village in Ton Hung village tract and 2 from Nam Tum Tai village in Ton Hung village tract.
        The tractors were forced to carry troops from the training school to the base of LIB569 at Kun Mong village and from there to the base of LIB576 at Ta Kun village, and then to the base of LIB574 at Khaai Maak Na east of Pa Saa village.
        After visiting the base of LIB574, the SPDC troops returned to the training centre and released all the tractors on arrival without giving them anything for their time and labour. For the costs of the fuel, the tractor drivers were told to collect them from the other villagers in their respective village tracts.
        Each of the tractors consumed at least 10 litres of fuel during the time of this forced labour and the cost of 1 litre was 1,500 kyat at the time. People in each of the 3 village tracts had to gather among themselves 30,000 kyat to pay for the fuel of 2 tractors.
        In mid 2010, a villager motorcycle was forcibly used to supply electricity to run a wireless communication device for hours by a patrol of SPDC troops from IB296, at Paang Sak village in Kaeng Lom village tract in Kun-Hing township.
        Although patrols of SPDC troops usually carried with them small generators that could be turned by hand to produce electricity for wireless communication devices, they often forcibly used villagers’ motorcycles instead where and when they were available, or used forced labourers to turn the generators.
        On 29 May 2010, a patrol of about 50 SPDC troops from IB296 forcibly conscripted villagers mini-tractors in Kaali village tract and came to Paang Sak village in Kaeng Lom village tract, in Kun-Hing township, where they released the tractors without giving anything for their service.
        While staying in Paang Sak village the SPDC troops conscripted a villager’s motorcycle to run their communication device. The SPDC troops joined their device to the battery of the motorcycle with wires to get electricity.
        To maintain the level of electric power in the battery they kept the engine of the motorcycle running all the time the communication device was being used. In this instance, it was 2 hours straight, consuming 2 litres of fuel and costing 3,000 kyat of money, which inevitably had to be provided by the motorcycle owner.
        It was learned that patrols of SPDC troops came to Kaeng Lom village tract area more or less regularly every month, about 3-4 times a month. Almost every time, villagers were forced to provide motorcycles to supply electricity for their communication devices, in addition to many other types of forced labour.

        In mid 2010, 3 ox-carts of the villagers of Nawng Yom village in Murng Nim village tract in Kae-See township were conscripted and forced to carry military rations and equipment by a patrol of SPDC troops coming from Murng-Kerng township.
        Sometime in May and June 2010, one evening, at about 4 o’clock, a patrol of about 80 SPDC troops came from the direction of Murng-Kerng township to Nawng Yom village in Murng Nim village tract in Kae-See township.
        In Nawng Yom village, the SPDC troops looked for vehicles that could be used to carry their things. But they could only find 3 carts for which draught oxen were available at the time. The ox-carts belonged to Lung Thawn, Saang Naw and Saang Nu of Nawng Yom village.
        The SPDC conscripted all the 3 ox-carts together with their owners to drive them. The carts were loaded with many things including clothes and backpacks, equipment and rations, and headed back towards Murng Khun village tract in Murng-Kerng township.
        The villagers had to drive their ox-carts all night and all day without rest before they were released. They also had to provide their own food and received nothing for their time and labour from the SPDC troops.