Shan Human Rights Foundation

December - 2012

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COMMENTARY: Forced Labour: Forced Portering Continues

The forcible use of unpaid civilian porters, one of the worst types of forced labour imposed on the people of Shan State by the Burmese army troops for decades, is still continuing in many places up to the present, despite the Burmese military authorities having promised to stop it some years ago.

Up until about a decade or so ago, “forced portering”, as the use of civilian porters is commonly known, has been so widely used and the victims so brutally treated by the Burmese army troops that it has become one of the most feared types of forced labour up to the present.

Over the past decade, the use of forced portering by the Burmese military has been somewhat reduced, and some years ago they promised to completely stop using it. However, it has never completely stopped and has continued to occur virtually all the time in one place or another, in varying scales and frequencies.

Furthermore, it appeared to have increased in early and mid 2012 in many places in rural Shan State, after the Burmese army brought in many more troops and took up many new positions, and there have been many armed clashes between the troops of Burmese army and the Shan resistance.

This happened, ironically, following a ceasefire between the Burmese government and one of the Shan resistance groups. Most of the clashes appeared to have taken place because of the Burmese army’s offensives, indicating that for some reasons the military was not going the government’s way.

Although SHRF would very much like to celebrate the international Human Rights Day, which falls on 10 December annually, with good news and positive views, it could not yet do so because there have been so many negative things on the ground that still need to be voiced.

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CONTENTS: Themes & Places of Violations reported in this issue

*Themes: All the reports in this month’s issue are about the use of unpaid civilian forced labourers, especially as guides and porters, and a few incidents of other violations, committed by Burmese army patrols in rural Shan State during the period from early up to late 2012.

*Places: Nam-Zarng, Murng-Paeng, Murng-Su, Kae-See, Larng-Khur and Kun-Hing

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ACRONYMS:

LIB = Light Infantry Battalion (e.g. LIB246 = Light Infantry Battalion No. 246)

IB = Infantry Battalion

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SITUATION OF FORCED PORTERING IN NAM-ZARNG

Up until at least late mid 2012, Burmese army troops in Nam-Zarng township have still been forcibly using unpaid civilian porters and guides, routinely as well as randomly.

Civilian guides and porters were used during military operations and patrols, and routinely kept on standby at military bases and camps.

The following are some such instances:

VILLAGERS FORCED TO SERVE AS PORTERS DURING MILITARY OPERATION IN NAM-ZARNG

In July and August 2012, about 20 villagers in Murng Zid village tract in Nam-Zarng township were forced to serve as porters for several days by the Burmese army troops during an offensive operation against the Shan resistance troops.

On 29 July 2012, a combined force of about 80 Burmese army troops, from IB247 and LIB516, came by 4 military trucks to Murng Zid village tract in Nam-Zarng township and forcibly seized about 20 villagers to be used as guides and porters.

The Burmese troops then left their military trucks at Murng Zid village and set out on foot to patrol the area, forcing the villagers to guide them as well as carry their things that included foodstuff, ammunition and military equipment.

On 31 July 2012, the Burmese troops attacked a stronghold of the Shan resistance troops on Loi Yae mountain range some distance southwest of Murng Zid village. After 2 days of fighting, the Burmese troops still could not seize the stronghold and they retreated back to Murng Zid, where they released the villagers.

However, the Burmese troops continued to be stationed at Murng Zid for some time and ordered the village and village tract leaders to conscript new civilian porters and keep on standby, saying that they would soon attack the Shan stronghold again.

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VILLAGERS FORCED TO SERVE AS PORTERS AFTER BEING ROBBED OF THEIR CHICKENS IN NAM-ZARNG

In mid 2012, villagers of Maak Mong Mon village in Maak Mong Mon village tract, Nam-Zarng township were robbed of their chickens, and 2 of them were forced to serve as unpaid porters for 3 days, by the Burmese army troops from LIB516.

On 2 June 2012, a patrol of about 80 Burmese army troops from LIB516 came to Maak Mong Mon village in Maak Mong Mon village tract in Nam-Zarng township. As soon as they got into the village, the Burmese troops spread out and seized villagers’ chickens.

Some of them went into villagers’ houses and chicken sheds and seized all the chickens they could get, while some of them threw stones and sticks and shot catapults at chickens in the streets and house compounds and killed as many as they could.

After a short while of commotion, as chasing and seizing of chickens caused a lot of noise and confusion, altogether not less than 18 viss (1 viss = 1.6 kg) of villagers’ chickens, live and dead, were forcibly seized by the Burmese troops without asking or paying for them.

As the Burmese troops left the village, they forced 2 villagers, Zaai Thun and Zaai Nu, both men, to go with them to serve as guides. However, when they got to a place out of sight of the village, the 2 villagers were forced to carry all the chickens and go with them for 3 days before they were released.

According to the villagers, 8 of them together lost about 18 viss of their chickens to the Burmese troops this time around. At the contemporary rate of 4,000 kyat per viss, which they could easily get in the market, the villagers felt they had lost a large sum of money.

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ROUTINE USE OF FORCED LABOUR OF CIVILIAN GUIDES AND PORTERS, AND EXTORTION, IN NAM-ZARNG

From early up to at least mid 2012 when this report was received, villagers in Wan Heng village tract in Nam-Zarng township were forced by the Burmese army troops of LIB516 to routinely serve as unpaid guides and porters, and regularly provide chickens.

At least 3 times a month, patrols of Burmese troops from LIB516 routinely conscripted villagers, especially of Nawng Wo and Kung Pok villages which happened to be not very far from their base, in Wan Heng village tract to serve as guides and porters.

Furthermore, these 2 villages were also required to regularly provide free chickens for the troops at the base of LIB516. Each village had to send 5 viss (1 viss = 1.6 kg) of chickens to the base on a monthly basis, free of charge. Village headmen were responsible to see to it that the porters as well as the chickens were available.

As consolation, the Burmese troops told the villagers that for the help they had given to the Burmese military they would be exempt from having to provide new recruits to the Burmese army, as they planned to recruit new members later in the year.

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SITUATION OF FORCED PORTERING IN MURNG-PAENG

The use of unpaid civilian guides and porters, which has been a longtime practice of the Burmese army troops, has continued unabated in Murng-Paeng township, at least up to mid 2012.

It has even increased in many places in 2012.

The following are some such instances:

 

VILLAGERS FORCED TO ROUTINELY SERVE AS UNPAID GUIDES AND PORTERS IN MURNG-PAENG

In July and August 2012, villagers of several villages in Murng Pu Long village tract in Murng-Paeng township were forced to routinely serve as guides and porters by a combined force of Burmese army troops from LIB360 and LIB528.

On 22 July 2012, a combined force of about 80 Burmese troops from LIB360 and LIB528, with 10 members of a local Lahu people’s militia force being forced to act as guides and fight alongside them, attacked a stronghold of the Shan resistance troops in Murng Pu Long village tract in Murng-Paeng township.

After about 3 1/2 hours of fighting, the Burmese troops retreated to Wan Tong village in the same village tract to treat their wounded. From then on, they continued to stay there and forced the surrounding villages to provide unpaid forced labourers to serve as guides and porters.

Villagers had to stay with the Burmese troops at their place on standby day and night, ready to serve them as necessary. Many villages in Murng Pu Long village tract had to work in rotation in order to be able to fulfill this forced labour duty.

Villages affected included Kaeng Hin, Zawm Tawng, Kun Kawk, Paeng Saang, Lawn Keo and Waeng Kao, all in Murng Pu Long village tract. At the time when this report was received in late 2012, these villages still had to routinely provide guides and porters to the said Burmese troops.

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FREQUENT FORCED PORTERING CAUSING A VILLAGE TO BECOME ALMOST DESERTED IN MURNG-PAENG

In mid 2012, villagers of Ta Long village in Murng Pu Long village tract in Murng-Paeng township were frequently forced to serve as guides and porters by Burmese army patrols, causing many to flee and the village to become almost deserted.

In May and June 2012, a contingent of Burmese army troops from Murng-Ton-based LIB519 came to Murng-Paeng township and were stationed at Ta Long village in Murng Pu Long village tract, with the intention to patrol the areas on the eastern bank of the Salween river.

Almost every day, the Burmese troops went out to patrol the said areas all day and mostly came back to Ta Long village in the evening. Every time, at least 3 villagers were required to go with the Burmese military patrol to serve as guides and porters.

At the time, there were only about 8-9 houses in Ta Long village because many had already gradually fled due to intense forced labour imposed on them by many other Burmese military patrols over the past several years.

Ta Long village, located on the eastern bank of Salween river, would soon be deserted if the situation continued to be the same for some more time, said a local villager who had fled to the Thai border in late 2012. People simply had virtually no time to tend their farms or fish in the river to survive.

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INCREASED FORCED PORTERING IN MURNG-PAENG

Since early up to at least mid 2012 when this report was received, the use of unpaid forced civilian porters by the Burmese army troops have increased in many places in Murng Pu Long village tract in Murng-Paeng township.

Over the last several years, there have already been rampant use of unpaid forced civilian porters in Murng Pu Long area in Murng-Paeng township by the Burmese army troops. Since earlier this year, the use of civilian porters was said to have increased in many places.

Earlier this year, soon after they announced that a ceasefire had been reached between them and the SSA-S (Shan State Army-South), the Burmese military sent in more troops and took up more positions at strategic places in Murng Pu Long area, and increased their patrolling activities.

As the numbers of Burmese troops and their activities increased, the use of civilian forced labour by them has also increased, especially forced portering. The Burmese troops in the area have been using civilian porters to sent rations to those taking up remote positions over the years, and that has now increased.

One instance of that was the outpost camp at Kung Kaw hill, between Murng Pu Long village and Paeng Long village in the same village tract. As the number of troops manning it increased, so did the use of civilian forced labour.

Rice and other rations had to be occasionally sent to Kung Kaw hill outpost from Murng Pu Long village, using civilian porters to transport them. Virtually every village in Murng Pu Long village tract was required to provide 5 porters each time.

Each time, about 60 porters were required to carry rice from Murng Pu Long to the outpost camp, a mountainous journey that took at least 1 day and 1 night to complete. Villagers of Paeng Long village, however, did not have to carry rice, but were given a special duty to perform: provide water.

Every day, 6 villagers of Paeng Long village had to fetch water at a source down the hill and carry it up to the hill top where the outpost was located. Paeng Long villagers were given this forced labour duty because their village was the closest to the camp compared to other villages.

Because it has become more and more difficult to find time to earn enough to feed themselves, many villagers have come to Thailand to find a better means of survival. Those who met SHRF at the border in mid 2012 said that many had already come, and many more would be coming if the situation did not get better soon.

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SITUATION OF FORCED PORTERING IN OTHER TOWNSHIPS

Up to as recently as late 2012, forced civilian guides and porters have still been rampantly used by the Burmese army troops in many other townships such as Murng-Su, Kae-See, Larng-Khur and Kun-Hing.

In 2012, the use of civilian guides and porters has increased so much in many places that it has caused many people to flee to other places, including Thailand.

The following are some such instances:

 

MANY DAYS OF MASS FORCED PORTERING IN MURNG-SU AND KAE-SEE

In July 2012, more than 30 villagers of Murng Zarng village in Murng-Su township were forced to serve as unpaid porters for 8 consecutive days by a combined force of Burmese army troops as they patrolled parts of Murng-Su and Kae-See township.

On 10 July 2012, a combined force of several Burmese army units, based in Kun-Hing township, came by several trucks to Murng Zaang village in Murng Zaang village tract, Murng-Su township, and stopped in the village.

The Burmese troops then disembarked, left their trucks in Murng Zaang village and set out on foot to several villages in the village tract, where they stopped and ordered village and community leaders to provide 5-6 villagers from each village to be used as guides and porters.

After they had gathered more than 30 villagers, the Burmese army troops set out to patrol the eastern parts of Murng-Su township for some days. They then crossed over to Kae-See township and continued to patrol the eastern parts of it.

For 8 days and nights, the villagers had to carry various things, including foodstuff, ammunition and equipment, and walked with the military patrol and also acted as guides when necessary. They were released as the Burmese troops conscripted a new batch of guides and porters.

“They said they have stopped using civilian porters. In fact, they are still doing it”, complained one of the villagers, who had been conscripted with the said porters, from Murng Zaang area who have come to the Thai border in late 2012.

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FREQUENT AND LENGTHY FORCED PORTERING CAUSING PEOPLE TO FLEE, IN LARNG-KHUR

In mid and late 2012, villagers of Nawng Oi village in Nam Tok village tract in Larng-Khur township have been frequently forced to serve as unpaid porters, and many days at a time, by the Burmese army troops, causing many to flee.

During the period, patrols of Burmese army troops from IB99, who came to patrol Nam Tok village tract area several times a month, conscripted a few civilian guides and porters from Nawng Oi village virtually every time.

Since Nawng Oi was a small village with only about 40 houses, each household was required to provide an able bodied man at least once a month for several days, even though they took turns and worked in rotation. This caused an unbearable burden for families who had few men.

One of the families who have come to the Thai border in late 2012 explained that it was very difficult for them to fulfill the forced labour duty because they had few men. When they had to go as porters, there was no one left to feed their families, especially when they had to go away for many days.

“I am the head of my family and the only adult man who needs to work to support the whole family. When I had to frequently go away to serve the military, sometimes as long as 10 days at a time, the rest of my family, who are only women, children and elderly, hardly had anything to eat”, complained a family head.

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CIVILIAN GUIDES FORCED TO CARRY AMMUNITION IN KUN-HING

In mid 2012, 2 villagers that had been conscripted as guides by the Burmese army troops were also forced to carry ammunition when they were outside of the villages, in the areas of Ngaa Teng and Wan Lao village tracts in Kun-Hing township.

In early June 2012, a contingent of about 50-60 Burmese army troops, consisting of troops from different units in Kun-Hing township, gathered at Kali village in Kali village tract and set out on foot to patrol the areas south of Kun-Hing town.

The Burmese troops patrolled the areas east of the Nam Paang river in Kaeng Lom village tract for several days without giving any trouble to the villages in the area. When night came, they just camped at the place where they happened to be, and they had not conscripted any guides and porters.

On 6 June 2012, after they crossed to the west of Nam Paang river and patrolled the area of Kaeng Kham village tract for a while, the Burmese troops continued to patrol the area of Ngaa Teng village tract and went into Son Saang village at about 11:00 a.m.

The Burmese troops said they needed guides to take them to Wan Lao in Wan Lao village tract and conscripted 2 villagers from Son Saang village, and set out towards Wan Lao. After they left Son Saang village for a short while, however, the 2 villagers were also forced to be porters.

One of the villagers was forced to carry a number of 60 mm shells and the other had to carry boxes of small ammunition. When they got near Wan Lao village in Wan Lao village tract, however, the villagers were relieved of their loads by some Burmese troops who carried them into the village.

The 2 villagers had to go into the village with the Burmese troops acting as guides. In the village, the troops ordered the host villagers to prepare packets of rice and gave them to the 2 guides, and released them afterwards.

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