Rhododendron publication – VOL.II No.IV APRIL 1999

Interview with a Chin villager in Sagain Division, Burma
Source:The Rangoon Post

I left because there were so many problems in Burma. I had problems with the army because when I was doing forced labor in January this year, I heard about the killing of a soldier on the railway construction so I was worried about my cousin’s sister. She was also working on the railway with her baby but she was working at a different place than me. I was so worried about her that during rest time I asked a soldier if I could go there but he wouldn’t allow it. When I had to start work again, I couldn’t do it and I just stood there. That soldier ordered me to work but as I didn’t do it, he beat me. Then I left the work.

My quarter is part of Kalemyo town. For workers, SLORC gave an order to the town council and the town council ordered the people. They tell how many people have to come from each quarter. The town council must get the quota of people they ask for. The people of Storm quarter were divided into 6 groups. Each of these groups was divided in two: A and B. At any one time, all 6 groups had to go. When they first started, everyone had to go. But later, they called only A and then B could rest. When A finished, then they called B and A could rest. About 160 people from our quarter had to go at a time, in all 6 groups. We had to work about 20 miles away from Storm, near Nat Chaung. It was according to their orders. The first time it was in Tang Go, near Nat Chaung, about 22 miles away, and then in Zing Gelin, near to Kalemyo. Different places each time. It was always according to their orders. I had to go with my own bicycle. At night we couldn’t go back home. We were kept near the river because we had to cook for ourselves. So that place was a little far from the worksite, about 2 falongs [1 falong = 220 yards, so the distance was 440 yards]. The women stayed together at another place. We had a large roof covered with a plastic for all of us. There were three elderly men among us and they arranged everything for us. For the women, they built some huts with bamboo and branches. There were no guards at night. For work, the men between 20 and 30 years old had to dig the ground. The teenagers, and there were many of them, had to carry the ground. It was hard work, especially digging. I had to carry the ground, but not only that. It depended on the situation. I also had to load the ground into baskets.

Most of the workers were young, mainly teenagers. One girl was only 10 years old. No one else from her family could go. There were old people about 50 years old. They were working as cooks for the other people. There were many women there, and most of them were old women. Some babies were brought along with their mothers. The women did the same work as the men, but everyone was always changing duties with each other. We had to bring our own food. The people had to bring their own tools. No salary. It was a must for each family to go. But the rich people hire someone else to go for them. So for them, there is no problem. But for those who cannot pay, they must go. That’s why sometimes young children and old women have to go. If you couldn’t go, some people had to pay 1,200 Kyats, some 1,500 Kyats. It depended on the villager. I think it depended on their family conditions. [These are fines paid to SLORC if a family cannot go or hire a replacement.]

At work, some groups had 20 people, others 30 people. It varied according to the group. There were soldiers around. They didn’t do anything. Just walking here and there to watch us. If people weren’t working, they hit them. Sometimes on the back, sometimes on the head. There was a boy who was very young. The soldier was also very young. About 20. They started quarrelling, the soldier called another soldier and they hit the boy badly. He was badly injured on his head and he was hospitalised in Kalemyo. The leader of the B group sent him to hospital. He was in hospital for about 1 week. Problems between soldiers and villagers happened all the time. Most of the workers were young and it was very hot. Many wanted to go and swim in the river after their work and also during the work time. That was not allowed. Some young soldiers had problems with those from B group who were swimming and they started quarrelling. Then, a senior officer came and called all of the young villagers to their camp. They never came back. Maybe they were killed.

As far as I know, 6 people died on this railroad while I was working there. Some died in the river. It was very hot and the river was very big. Two boys went to swim and drowned. The others died because of malaria. Most of the people got sick, but it was a must to keep working. Even in the rainy season, if the weather was fine, they were calling the people. It depended on the weather. Each group had to do a stretch of embankment: the height was 30 feet, the length 40 feet and the width about 15 feet. Also, my younger brothers and sisters had to crush gravel at home, in the town. They had to do this three times. The first time, they had to make 1 foot X 10 feet X 10 feet of gravel. The second time, SLORC demanded 60 cooking-oil tins of gravel [big tins, about 15 litres each]. They had to send the gravel to the railway by themselves.

The last time I worked on the railway was in March 1995. Some of the villagers were called after March, but mostly before March. By March, the construction was over. But afterwards, they were still calling villagers to pour water on the tracks to harden the ground. Now they also call people to guard the railway, not all the time, but it happens sometimes when an important person comes. Most of the troops on the railway were not from Kalemyo. They were from Gangaw [most likely Infantry Battalion #50]. There are many Battalions around Kalemyo, #87, #88, #89, also Military Intelligence. There is a quarter called San Piang very close to the army camp. Many soldiers are staying around Kalemyo. So there are many problems with the villagers. Mostly the junior soldiers are causing troubles to the villagers. Sometimes they take their bicycles. They don’t ask, they just use them. The women don’t dare go out in the streets, only in groups of two or three. They are so afraid of being raped by the soldiers. They call people to the army camps for cooking. They don’t call only the people, but also their vehicles. Whenever they need them, they order them to come to carry all the army things.

These camps have been there since 1989. The soldiers occupied the graveyard. They also called local people for loke-ar-pay [‘volunteer’, but actually forced] work. The graveyard was from the Roman Catholic Church. They announced that the tombs must be taken away within three days, otherwise they will be destroyed. So the people had to take their bones. But most of them couldn’t. Then the bulldozer came to destroy. This order was given by Major Aung Khin. While the bulldozer was destroying and crushing the tombs, one of the crosses stood up again after the bulldozer passed over it. The bulldozer passed again over that cross but again the cross stood back up. So the bulldozer driver was freaked out and did not dare pass over again. But Major Aung Khin ordered him to pass over again. The driver refused and wouldn’t dare destroy the cross. He was dismissed on the spot and Major Aung Khin drove the bulldozer himself and destroyed all the graveyard. The stronger people are called as porters. Not many from my quarter, but I know of two boys from Storm who had to go as porters for up to two months before they were released, in December 1994. There are so many taxes: house taxes, bicycle taxes 25 Kyats per year, TV taxes 150 Kyats a year, even if you have a tape recorder it is 60 Kyats per year.

There was a USDA rally held in February 1995 [Union Solidarity Development Association, SLORC’s attempt to establish a ‘mass support’ organisation – people nationwide are forced or threatened into joining and attending rallies, which are then shown in the media by SLORC as signs of popular support]. The government occupied one of the female high schools to organise it and it was attended by General Khin Nyunt himself [Secretary-1 of SLORC and head of Military Intelligence]. A group was formed in the school of each quarter of town, and the USDA members also went. [Note: those who fail to attend USDA rallies face possible expulsion from school, loss of their jobs, having their water or power cut off, or beatings and fines.] I left and arrived at Moreh, at the Manipur [India] border on 17 March 1995. I know nothing about how my family is doing now. [Note: Moreh is on the Manipur side opposite Tamu. Chin refugees get no assistance in Manipur, so some try to get to Delhi and register as ‘persons of concern’ with UNHCR to receive 1,200 rupees (US$35) per month – however, UNHCR is now rejecting many people who apply for this. India has never signed the international conventions on protection of refugees.]
Source: Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG)

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