60 TIMES A PORTER FOR THE BURMESE ARMY IN 1998
Mangte (name changed),a Chin villager from Saek village, Falam township of Chin State, had served as porter for 60 times in 1998. Other villagers also served as army porter as he did. He said: “Most of the time we had to carry chicken, pork, foods and house-wares that the army had looted from the villagers.” Interview with a Burmese army defector
Name : Zonunpuia
Nationality : Chin
Religion : Christian
Age : 17
From : Lungpi village, Falam township, Chin State
I was forced to join the Burmese army in 1994. [Zonunpuia was still a child when he was forcibly recruited]. When I was tending the cattle near my village with my friends, Burmese soldiers came to us and try to convince us to join the army.
Although we refused, they arrested us and sent us to Falam. Then, we were sent to Kalaymyo, Sagaing Division. Two days later, we were sent to Monywa where we spent two months. After two months in Monywa, we were sent to Mandalay, and a week later back to Kalaymyo. There the army gave us basic military training for four months at Sakhankyi military training fields. As soon as the training is finished I was posted at a company post in Falam of Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) 268 based in Kalaymyo.
There are many kinds of discrimination among the soldiers. So, most of the soldiers were morally very frustrated. Our salary is very low and always cut for any reason. It is hard to say how much my real salary is. It happened not only to the private soldiers but also to the Non-Commissioned Officers (NCO). That’s why we all are waiting for a good chance to run away from the army. The reason why I defected from the Burmese army is that I was forcibly recruited into the army and I don’t want to fight with my own brethren. For a long time I was waiting for a good opportunity to run away. When I was sick, I was hospitalized in Falam Civil Hospital and when I recovered, I fled away on my way to report to the regiment in March 1997. Lt. Col. Myint Thwe was LIB 268 commander while I fled.
FORCED LABOR: BUILDING A FOOTBALL GROUND
In April 1998, the Battalion Commander from Infantry Battalion IB 266 based in Hakha came to Lailenpi village and ordered the Lailenpi company commander Myo Swe to dig a footfall ground in Lailenpi. All the villages in the Lailenpi area were ordered to contribute their labor. The football ground must be completed in 1998. According to that order, Myo Swe demanded every village to send one person per household to dig the ground in Lailenpi. The villagers came to Lailenpi and stayed in relatives’ houses. Since June 1998 each villages came by rotation and worked for 3 to 5 days. Most of the laborers were old men and children, because the young men went to Mizoram, India to work during the summer vacation. This was reported to CHRO by a member of the Pintio village Council in Matupi township. Another villager from Lailenpi also confirmed that: “The working time was fixed by the army commander, from 9 a.m to 12 noon and from 1 p.m to 4 p.m. The villagers were guarded by soldiers while working. Some villagers didn’t bring enough food to stay at the work site for 5 days. They didn’t receive anything from the army and were not allowed to go back to their village. They had to share and could only eat ricesoup.”
CUTTING TIMBER FOR THE BURMESE ARMY
Ma Rai Pai (name changed), a female Chin student from Cangbong Block in Matupi town was interviewed in June 1998 and related the following incident: “SPDC troops led by a Major from IB 274 based in Mindat arrived at Phaneng village on 5.6.1998 ( Saturday )at 8 a.m. they arrested 8 villagers from Phaneng as well as 10 villagers from Ngaleng village. All these villagers were sent to Lunghlaw village and were forced to cut timber. The army did not provide neither tools nor food. Even on Sunday they had to work [they were not allowed to attend church service.
DEMANDING PORTERS AND A PIG
Pau No is a Chin village headman in XXX village, Tonzang Township(name changed and village name omitted for security reason). He complains that the troops very often come in his village and always demand porters and money. He said : “On 3.6.1998, 30 soldiers led by Major Thein Zaw Win, came into our village and spent one night there. On the next day, they ordered me to collect 28 porters. They threatened that if I fail to meet their demand, my village will have to provide them one pig. I managed to arrange 28 porters for them. However, they still demanded one pig.
THE ACCOUNT OF SAWM LIAN
The following statement is given by Sawm Lian. He is one of the refugees who escaped from such ill-treatments of forced labor, day and night forced sentry , forced pottering and planting land mines by No.34 LIB of SPDC’s army and escaped to Bangladesh border villages. The following conversation is received when interviewed with Sawm Lian who escaped to Thing Dawlte village on 17th June of 1998.
Q : Could you please tell us about your story?
A : My name is Sawm Lian. I am 35 years old. My Parents names are Thawn Lian and Tawk zing. My wife’s name is Par Hnem and I have two sons and a daughter. I am from Kantlang village, Paletwa township, Chin State. I belong to Chin ethnic. I am a Christian and I have passed 3rd grade. I escaped on 5th June of 1998.
Q : Do you know what is the name of the company of Kantlang army post or its regiment? Do you know who is in charge of the army post?
A : It is from No. 34 LIB, company 3. I do not know the name of the one who is in charge. He is a warrant officer 2. Because they keep secret of the name of the one in charge. If the villagers who work every day in the army post ask who the in charge of the army post is, the soldiers say that it is not their business.
Q : Do you know how many refugees have escaped to Bangladesh from Paletwa township?
A : I do not know the exact number but I believe there will be between 2,000 and 3,000 refugees along Bangladesh and India border. Because we, 13-villages of Mungnginwa, Petwah, Phuailewah, Muailewah, Satangwah, Samann, Ramritlang, Batlu Tlang, Muaila Wah, Aung Khaing, Long Kado Wah and Long Kado had escaped to India and Bangladesh borders during 1997 and 1998. Most of the people from Tarawa Ai village and Paletwa region which are from the inner part also had escaped from their villages. Without one house remaining, the whole village had abandoned their village. There are Poh Too Wah village, Ong Ti Wah, Kantlang and MeikWah have left to be escaped. I believe that the two villages, Ong TiWah and Pohtowah also have to escape very soon. People keep escaping at their own convenience because we are uneducated and we have no leader. No mass escaping. And also there is no refugees’ camp along India and Bangladesh borders. That’s why I could not give you the exact numberof the escaped.
Q : Could you please brief us, what is the main reason that makes you abandon your own village?
A : We have many reasons to say. There are 60- houses in Kantlang village. It is only 200-yards away from the army post. Every day we have to contribute two persons to carry water, 6-persons for sentry to the army post without pay. Moreover, we have to contribute 20-persons weekly to do cutting woods, digging trench, cutting bamboo trees to build army tent. They also asked us to inform them immediately when Chin National Army come into the village and we are forced to do sentry duty every night reasoning for village security. We also have to serve as porters every month. Whenever they sense Chin National Army movements, we have to serve as porters. Regularly, we serve pottering from Kantlang army post to Meik army post at the rate of one porter for one soldier. Especially in rainy season we have a very hard time to serve as porters because there are many dangerous big and small streams with its full speed of running water to crossover. It is only a day walk from Kantlang to Meik army post but it takes about 4 or 5 days in rainy season. We have to build bamboo raft for the soldiers because they do not know how to swim. We suffered different kinds of trouble because they do not provide food or medicines. Moreover we have nothing to cover from rain and no footwear either. The worst thing is that people and animals are often killed by land-mines planted by the army in and around abandoned thirteen villages. People are afraid of going to the forest because they often hear explosions of mines. In May of 1998 one villager was killed by land-mine when he went out to collect leaves in the forest. One reason of planting the land-mines is to prevent the donation given to the Chin National Army and another reason is that the army collected money, Kyat 7,000 per head from people who are doing selling cattle and doing business. So the cow merchants avoid through the forest in order to escape from money collection. In May of 1998 three merchants (names unknown) had been killed by land-mines.
Now there is a shortage of food in our region because of SPDC’s army’s way of oppression: forced labor, forced pottering and planting land-mines as we are depending on cultivation. We have no time for our own work. We have to buy rice from Tarawaine which is 3-days’ walk ( to and fro)at the Kyat( Kyat is Burmese currency) 130 per Pyee( 3-Kg). For a few more money, some people pulled their animals to Bangladesh and sold them there. They in turn buy some rice at Ruma Bazaar at the rate of 15-TaKa per Kg (Taka is Bangladesh currency). It takes 5-days (to and fro). We have to buy Bangladesh currency at Kyat 6 for one TaKa. The reason we abandoned villages and escaped to Bangladesh is, because of such horrible troubles made by SPDC’s army and hardship created by them. I do believe that it would also be the reason for the people who escaped.
Q : How do you survive in here? Did you ask for any assistance from local authorities? If so, did you receive any assistance? Or did you ask any help from any organization? If so, did you receive it?
A : I work a blue-color job. I work with local people in their fields. And I work as porter for local people. I could barely get for food in that way. The worst thing is there is no such a regular job to do. Now, in here, Bangladesh border area, people also face shortage of food, we have a very hard time to struggle for our daily food. We have to go into the forest and dig out some tree roots and bulbs of plant. We, older people have more resistance but it is very sad to see the children’s suffering. We could provide them sweet rice once a week only. We feel very sad when children’s are crying when they are hungry. But one thing we feel completely at ease with forced pottering.
Although we have asked food and medicine assistance from local Kalbary(village headman), we have not got anything till today. We could not make our request to higher authorities because of language problem and lack of money. So we have no alternative but to bear. We believe and hope that one day we could be able to escape from the pit of such horrible nightmare by the Grace of God. Although we receive some medicine from an organization called Chin Relief and Development Committee, it is not sufficient. We receive only a very little assistance.
Q: Do you have anything to add?
A: By the mercy and out of pity of Bangladesh border authorities and its army, we are allowed to have a refuge temporarily in here. However, we would like to let the higher authorities of Bangladesh know our situation and let the world know our misery and sufferings if you could help us.
FORCE LABOR AS PRISONERS OF WAR
This report is given to Chin Human Rights Organization by U Ta Lai, aged 40, Ngaleng village of Matupi township. He was personally involved at the scene. On 18 April of 1998, a corporal and a private from 274 Light Infantry post at Matupi town came to Phaneng and Ngaleng villages. They gathered 80 people from Phaneng village and 60 people from Ngaleng village and forced them to remove landslip between Haka and Matupi car road. They did not provide any food, medicine or equipment for it.
They took them to Lung Hlaw and Khua Ngang villages which are a day walk and ordered them to remove a landslip along the way until 10 p.m. without taking a break. They forced them to work for 4 days without giving a time for break and bath. Among the forced labours there were 10 old men, over 50 years of age, 4 children under 15 and 8 housewives. Taking an advantage of the soldiers’ order, aiming at their own benefits, U Khung Khen, an officer of Matupi township road construction department and Maung Bik, a technologist, distributed rice bags to Phaneng and Ngaleng villagers and ordered them to reconstruct the remaining road in landslip along Hakha and Matupi. They issued an order that if anyone fails to present, he would be given a severe punishment by higher authority and also said that no one could be exempted from portering.
The villagers who dared not oppose the order and work in road construction had no time to work for their own living. Hence, U Ta Lai and some of the villagers had left their lovely homes to work in Mizoram State of India. Now, they worry how they would solve their problems when they get home.
PUSHING INTO STARVATION
Since 1997 a company commander of No.539 Light Infantry based in Sinletwa has issued an order to send two persons from each village track of Pa Ra , Shia O and Ramritlang to Sinletwa army post. It takes a day to get there from these villages. When they got there they were forced to work cooking, carrying water, washing clothes, cutting firewood and constructing houses.
They were threatened to burn the village and impose a fine of Kyat 3,000 if they fail to send porters. Every month they had to provide 2-Viss(3.5Kg) of domestic fowl (alive) for the soldiers. The village had to arrange with any possible means because they were threatened to take an action against those who fail to do so. Besides, they were forced to set fire on their hill-side cultivation before the end of February. The army personnel repeatedly issued an order that whoever is against the order would be banned from doing cultivation for a year. The Chin people depend and make living on traditional shift cultivation.
In the process of shift cultivation there are moments of time to start working on clearing bushes, cutting trees, setting fire, transplanting, pulling weeds and harvesting. Setting fire of the cultivation field before proper time could affect the living of Chin people and would certainly lead to starvation.
FORCE LABOR IN PALETWA TOWNSHIP
In March 1998 Burma army Battalion 539 and 34 from Shinletwa, Paletwa township , Chin State had issued an order for the following villages such as Para, Sia u, Heimapi, Heimate , Ramri, Sweletwa, Pathiantlang, Sinowa, Ra U, Kinwa, Tahewa, Yokwa, Htonwa, Gilawng, and Mau to contribute 1,000 to 2,000 bamboo poles by each household for the army.
Any village absent to contribute, will face a fine of K1,500 to K2,500. The nearest villages have to walk a day to get to the work site, the bank of the Kaladan river, where the bamboos are located. Some villages such as Ma U and Para have to walk 2 days to get to the work site. The army didn’t provide any necessary material to the villagers . They had to carry their own food , medicine and every other essential thing. In order to fulfil the requirement, a person from every household had to spend at least 4 days to cut the bamboo. The army personnel made bamboo raft with which the villagers had cut bamboos and sailed it down to Arakan State for sale.
There is no any other way for the military personnel to get outside income around Shinletwa region. That’s why the villagers were forced to cut bamboo trees for the army. They were compelled to do this thing at least twice a year. Besides, they were ordered to serve as porters for all year-round. Every village has to provide 4 viss of chicken and a basket of rice (about 20 kg) for a month. Para village has to clear up the rout to No. 18 Indo-Burma border rout to No 18 Indo Burma border pole for three times a year. They also have to clear up the hill top 7 miles north of the border pole. Whenever they had finished doing this, they have to report to the Shinletwa army camp which is 3 day-walk from the village. The villagers didn’t get paid for doing this. The villagers around that region are facing a big problem for their living because they don’t have time to work for themselves.
Therefore, most of them are fleeing to India as they can’t live peacefully in their own village. CHRO have the army original order letter
PORTERING AT GUN POINT
The following villages Thlualam, Hriangkhan, Sialam, and Humhalh from Thantlang townshp, Chin State were forced to be porters from March 1998 till today by a company led by one major (name unknown) from Burma Army Battalion 309 Katha. 40 People from each village have to come to serve as porters to carry army supplies from Thantlang to Tikir village. One trip takes five days.
About 10 soldiers have been posted at every village along the way through Thantlang town to Tikir village. The villagers are forced to take sentry duty 24 hours a day. The army have threatened the villagers that they will burn the whole village if they were attacked by the rebels. The villagers are very busy to collect firewood, carry water from the well and provide food and all the necessities for the army. Those villagers have been forced to be porters so long and they are now facing a big problem for their living as they don’t have enough time to work for themselves