FORCED LABOUR IN MATUPI TOWNSHIP
Border Area Development means torture, forced labour, displacement of families and destruction of an ordinary villagers in the border areas “My name is Tuan Hrang (name change for security reason), 48 years old and I am from Capaw village, Matupi township, Chin State. Our village is situated between Sabawngte and Lailenpi village. There is a Burmese army camp under the command of Major Maung Maung stationed in Sabawngte village which is half a days walk from our village (about 12 miles) and there is another Burmese army post in Lailenpi village which is 24 miles away from our village.
Thus, the army always compels us to work for them. The situation became much worse in our area last year when the army started to implement a border area development project. In January 1999 Major Maung Maung and Lt. Myo Swe issued an order to construct a road for cars between Sabawngte village and Lailenpi village under this project. We were forced to work on the road for the whole year with no time to work for ourselves. We were not paid at all for our labours. Also, we had tocarry our own rations, medicines and all the tools necessary for road construction.
The work was very hard and we had to work from dawn to dark. The food was not very good so we became sick. Some people suffered from malaria and some from diarrhea. Some people even died from their illnesses. The sick people were allowed two days rest only when his/her condition was at its very worst. We were not even allowed to go to church for Sunday worship service. The working conditions were terrible. The road we constructed had to be 10 feet wide and, as it is mountainous area, the embankment of the road is about 10 to 20 feet high. The soldiers guarded us when we were working. They forced us to work until 9 or 10 PM, and only after that, allowed us to eat our supper. We become very weak and thin because of excessive work and lack of nutrition. Since the Burmese army battalion stationed itself in our area, forced labour, torture and all kinds of harassment are no longer strange in our daily lives. Our village of 60 households used to be quiet and a nice place to live but now we have only 30 households left. Many families fled to Mizoram State in India and many peoples moved to other villages or towns. Now the population of our village is about 200 and only about 50 of us are able to work. Most of the time we have to spend our labours working for the army and there is no time left to work for ourselves.
As a result, we will surely starve in the coming year. Major Maung Maung and Lieutenant Thin Lin Aung of Sabawngte army camp issued an order on December 9,1999 for the following five villages to reconstruct the road: Capaw, Sabawngte, Sabawngpi, Darling and Hlungmang
1. They demanded 60 workers from Capaw village but only 15 people could show up.
2. They demanded 80 workers from Sabawngte village but only 40people could show up.
3. They demanded 80 workers from Sabawngpi village but only 38 peoplecould show up.
4. They demanded 80 workers from Darling village but only 40 peoplecould show up.
5. They demanded 60 workers from Hlungmang village but only 12 peoplecould show up.
The army demanded 340 people to reconstruct the road from five villages but only more than a hundred people could work. While working, the soldiers punched, kicked and beat us whenever they wanted. We were not even allowed to go to our villages to celebrate Christmas. Being Christians, Christmas celebrations are the most joyful time for us. However, last Christmas, we were working as forced labourers in the jungle. Many forced labourers got sick but they did not receive any medicine or treatment from the army. Thus we have to find medicine by ourselves. The slogan “Border Area Development” sounds great but in reality it means forced labour, torture, displacement of families and destruction of the lives of ordinary villagers in the border areas just like what happened to our village.
A YOUNG BOY DROWNED WHILE RELAYING A LETTER FOR THE ARMY
My name is Pu Vu Leng, 40 years old Chin Christian. I am a farmer from Sabawngte Village, Matupi township, Chin State. Rizua village is two days walk from our village, Sabawngte. The military ordered me to relay a letter to Rizua village. The letter was from 2ndLt. Thin Lin Aung of Aimed forces No.3107/Khalahyah 273 Battalion to Major Maung Maung. On December 27,99, I walked to Darling village. The following day, I and a boy named Khai Tlua started to walk to another village, Capaw. When we were crossing Bawinu River, the boy was drowned. This boy is the youngest of 8 children in the family. Since the family is too poor to support him to go to school, the boy helps his parents on farming.
His body was found on the evening of the same day and was carried to Sabawngte village and the people in the village buried him. Even though he died on journey ordered by the military, the family was not given any helps by the military. In view of the New Year 2000, people wanted to celebrate continuously Christmas throughout New Year. Unfortunately, the celebration was interrupted by the death of this boy. No one dared to make any complaint to the military. The military used the people as they like. But they ignored what people suffered and even death. People in Sabawngte village suffered most because there is a military camp.
NO RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN BURMA
The majority population of Chins are Christians and religious persecution is a major concern in Chinland. The following statement demonstrates how the Burmese military regime systematically carried out religious persecution up on the Chin peoples in Burma. Below is an excerpt from a statement made by Pu Zo Tum Hmung during the Baptist World Congress held in Melbourn, Australia in January 2000.
Human Rights Under the leadership of General Ne Win, the Burmese Army has ruled Burma for 38 years, sometimes in uniform and sometimes under the guise of civilian dress. Since 1988, when the Army brutally repressed nationwide democratic uprisings, there has been neither Constitution nor legislature in Burma. Held at gunpoint, the people must answer “yes” to the Army’s orders, regardless of truth or reality. Dictatorial rule has led to severe economic hardship and civil unrest in Burma. According to the United States Committee for Refugees based in Washington DC (1988 USCR World Refugee Survey) there are more than 215,000 refugees from Burma living in Thailand, India, Bangladesh, and Malaysia. Approximately one million refugees are internally displaced, a number that increases daily. These reports are telling of the human rights situation in Burma .Indeed, forced and unpaid labor are so widespread in Burma that in June1999 the International Labor Organization passed the following resolutions: “That Government of Myanmar should cease to benefit from any technical cooperation or assistance from the ILO,” [ILO Resolution 28-C (a)] and “That the Government of Myanmar should henceforth not receive any invitation to attend meetings, symposium and seminars organized by the ILO.” [ILO Resolution 28-C (b)]. Moreover, since 1989, the United Nations General Assembly has passed annual resolutions urging the Burmese Army to stop violating human rights. The resolutions have been to no avail.
There is no religious freedom in Burma. Because the military regime is Buddhist, religious persecution is directed primarily at the ethnic minority groups, such as Christians and Muslims. Out of a population of 48million people, only 4 percent are Christian, while more than 80 percent are Buddhist. In August 1999, the Roman Catholic Bishops of Myanmar and the Myanmar Council of Churches stated in their letter to the Military Regime head office in Rangoon the following concerns: “Christian mission work was not permitted in some states and townships, forbidding church worship services, arresting and persecuting believers, ministers forced to stop their work, Christians forced to abandon their beliefs and destroy crosses”. On September 9, 1999, the US Department of State, in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, released its first Annual Report on Religious Freedom. The report provides accurate documentation of the Burmese Army’s systematic violation of religious freedom in Burma. In addition, the State Department has designated Burma, along with China, Iran, Iraq, and Sudan, as one of five countries of particular concern for violations of religious freedom. On September 23, 1999, the Burmese military regime responded in typical fashion to the 1999 State Department Report, stating: “The 1999 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom issued by the Untied States Department of State is inaccurate and misleading.”(Embassy of the Union of Myanmar in Washington, DC). This statement is not true, as I will demonstrate on a case by casebasis:
1) Freedom to Construct Churches
The military regime does not permit the construction of “churches” Rather, they must be built as “centers.” Yet even where the army grants permission to build a “center,” its future remains unsure. The Granite Factory in Yeik Htoo, 120 miles from Rangoon, is an exemplary story. There, Christian workers representing several different ethnic groups, including the Karen, Kachin, and Chin, received permission to build a center in June 1999.When the Center was all but complete, the Army ordered them to destroy the center. Similar incidents occurred in Haka, the capital of the Chin State, where the Baptist Churches in Haka constructed the Carson Memorial Hall in honor of the first missionary to Chinland one hundred years ago. Construction of the Hall was set to be complete before the date of the centennial, March15, 1999, and planned to display the works of the missionary and Chin cultural and historical records from the past 100 years. However, in early 1999,the Army ordered that construction of the churches is halted. As a result, the churches could not display our homage to the mission work during the centennial celebration. Unlike Christians and Muslims, Buddhists do not need permission from the Army to construct pagodas. Indeed, the regime’s Ministry of Religious Affairs has been providing funds for the construction of the International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University in Rangoon for the training of Buddhist clerics. This University opened in December 1998. In contrast, Christian and Muslim institutions were nationalized in 1964-65 and placed under control of the Army. There is no record of the Army ever having destroyed a Buddhist pagoda. On the contrary, the Army often forces Christians and Muslims to construct pagodas without pay. These examples are indicative of the fact that in Burma there is freedom to exercise religious beliefs if those beliefs are Buddhist, but not if they are Christian or Muslim.
2) Freedom to Preach
Pastors, Preachers and Evangelists must be extremely cautious in their preaching, particularly with respect to social and economic issues. In the Kaleymyo area of the Sagaing Division, the Military Intelligence maintains files on each pastor and has warned them, one by one, not to preach on economic injustice.
3) Freedom to Assemble
All conferences and Christian meetings are subject to authorization by the Burmese Army, a power that the Army exercises in an arbitrary and unjust manner. In 1999–the year of the Chin Christian centennial celebrations–the army rejected the churches’ appeals to celebrate in March, the centennial month. The Army granted permission to celebrate in April 1999, but ordered that no more than 4000 people would be allowed to participate. The Army also refused to allow former missionaries and Baptist leaders from the United States to participate in the centennial celebration.
4) Christian Literature
During February and May of 1999, the Army seized 16,000 copies of the Bible in Kachin, Chin, and Karen in Tamu town of Sagaing Division, which were printed outside the country. As of today, these Bibles remain in the Army’s hands. Christian publications must pass the inspection of the censorship authority. More importantly, contents of any proposed publications in ethnic languages must be translated to Burmese so that the Army can check the contents. For example, in 1998, the Chin Association of Christian Communication (CACC), based in Haka, went to the Censorship Office in Rangoon to publish as mall Chin literature book on the Haka dialect. One of the sentences in the book stated, “Jesus is Lord” (Zisuh cu Bawi a si). The Army forced the CACC to delete that sentence.
5) Employment Injustice Based on Religion
On December 20, 1999, I interviewed Major ….Lian….. (full name omitted for security reason)who fled to the ………………..in September 1999. Mr. Lian completed the course of officer military training and served the regime for 23 years. All of his classmates who were Burmese-Buddhist were promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Mr. Lian also should have been promoted to that rank in light of his excellent reputation and service of seniority. However, the promotion authority in Rangoon informed him that only if he abandoned Christianity and became a Buddhist would he receive the rank of Lt. Col. Mr. Lian refused the offer and fled to the United States. Mr.Lian told me that other Christians are similarly denied promotions based on their religious identification.
6) Racial Discrimination Based on Religion
On April 1, 1996, the military regime imposed a new law of inheritance on the non-Buddhist people. This law stated that all non-Buddhists must apply at military court for the inheritance of their fathers. This law is in direct violation of the customary law of the non-Buddhist people. Reconciliation Violations of human rights and religious freedom will continue in Burma unless there is democratic change. We need to change both the system and the rulers. To this end, we need a peaceful solution by way of true reconciliation. The battlefield is not the place to achieve reconciliation. Neither military might nor gun power, nor thirty-eight years of military rule, have resolved the civil wars in our land. The regime should learn this lesson, and come to the dialogue table, as the United Nations and international community have repeatedly urged. True reconciliation must be based on the will of the people. Burma needs the involvement of outsiders, and I believe our Baptists friends have a significant role to play. However, we must also learn our lessons. The cease-fire agreement signed by the regime with the involvement of church leaders inside the country only strengthened the Army politically because the church leaders remain under the army’s control. This kind of cease-fire agreement will not lead to national reconciliation. Cease-fire should be for the purpose of political dialogue under the intervention of international bodies such as the United Nations. I ask the Baptists not to provide any assistance directly or indirectly in the cease-fires arranged under the military regime’s control. Rather, I ask that you engage in pressuring the military regime to enter into a tripartite dialogue with the democratic forces, and the ethnic groups.
The 210th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Churches of the United States condemned the Burmese Army in the following words: “The illegal government of Burma is one of the world’s brutal and repressive military regime. Call the Presbyterian Church (USA) to pray for the people of Burma and to encourage world pressure of the genuine democratic government to be installed” (R. 98-20). Please remember that out of the Christian population in Burma, approximately 75% belong to the Baptist denomination. I request you, our Baptist brothers and sisters, to join with the voice of the Presbyterians, in calling for justice, peace, and change in Burma. We the people in Burma want freedom from persecution and freedom to exercise our beliefs.