Rhododendron publication – VOL.II No.V MAY 1999

Forced labor In Thantlang, Chin State

The Burmese army in the Thangtlang area, Chin State, continuously forced the villagers including men and women, the old and young, the pastors, the teachers and students without attending school, to build the car road (50 miles long) between Vuangtu village and Thantlang town from dawn to 11:00 Pm without a rest, except the times of lunch and dinner. The army officers ordered them “to complete the road before the coming monsoon season that starts normally in the end of May.” Nothing is provided for the villagers.

A very tired man, Pa Za Kung, from Vomkua village, who took a rest in a moment, was beaten and killed on the spot by the army on 5/5/99, on account of taking rest without permits from the army. Another man, aschool teacher of Salen village, was beaten by the army and sent to the hospital for treatment who is in a serious condition.

On 11/5/99, the forced labors were ordered to explode (dynamite) the rocky road. After that they were forced to pick up the stones on the road while the stones have been being rolling down on the road from ( above ) the high rock. Villagers explained the army to pick up then stones when the stones are in normal condition but the army refused, beat and forced them again to pick up the stones. The rolling stones, therefore, hit and pressed one man from Vomkua villages, and each two perosons from Ze Phai and Hriphi villages. Their friends saw and went to rescue them but the army ordered not to rescue them, rather they said, ” Don’t help them, if they are killed by the stones it is for the country.” The army beat and forbid not to rescue the persons those who are under the pressure of the rocks. “All were seriously injured and sent to the hospital who are now in serious conditions,” said by our reporters.

Today, 28 families of Ze Phai village deserted their homes and villages, and went to India where they are living as refugees due to forced labors, human right violations and difficult living .

Source: MIZZIMA News Group

Nine Burmese refugees who went on a hunger strike on March 22nd in front of UNHCR offices in New Delhi were sent to Tihar Central Jail. The strikers were arrested by police a second time on March 25th when they returned to make their silent protest against the rejection of their claim to refugee status.

They appeared in court and were represented by Rajesh Talwar, the Legal Counsel of the South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre ( SAHRDC ). The refugees were formally charged under Section 14 of the Foreigners’ Act of 1946 with illegal entry into India and were sentenced to be held in legal custody. Under the act, they could be given a maximum 3 months in jail after which they would face deportation back to Burma.

The youthful refugees, between the ages of 16 and 27, mostly from Chin State in Burma, crossed the Indo-Burma border areas about a year ago to take refugee in India due to repressive measures of the military regime in Burma. They applied to the UNHCR office in New Delhi for refugee status but their cases were rejected.

The strikers were taken away by police on March 24 from a roadside platform where they were lying in front of the UNHCR office but were released later the same evening. They returned to their post the next morning.

In a letter to the Chief of Mission of the UNHCR, they said they preferred to die in front of UNHCR office in Delhi rather than go back to Burma where they would be imprisoned or killed by the military regime.

In reply, the UNHCR warned the refugees to call off their strike saying that police intervention would be called for, should they refuse to do so. It had examined their cases, the UNHCR said, and found no grounds to recognize them as refugees. Meanwhile, in a letter directed to the UNHCR, the General Secretary of India’s Samata Party, Ms. Jaya Jaitly, asked the UN refugee organization to review the cases of the nine. She said Samata had been providing sympathy and support on a purely humanitarian basis to refugees who had come to India to escape jail or death in Burma. Ravi Nair, Executive Director of the SAHRDC, said that his organization would challenge the case of the arrested Burmese refugees as well as the 1946 Foreigners’ Act in Supreme Court of India. He plans to organize an international campaign to question the UNHCR’s unwillingness to address the problems of the Burmese asylum seekers in India.


The following interviews were conducted in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh by a human rights monitor from Images Asia in February1999. These Chin villagers interviewed came from 3 villages in Paletwa township, Southern Chin State: Khan Tlang, Lung Phum and Tahai.

They all fled to Bangladesh during the first half of 1998.Several armed opposition groups are active in that area and as a result the Burmese Army is carrying out a brutal counter insurgency programme against the civilian population. Excessive forced labour, portering and extortions are systematically imposed on the villagers. At the same time, these villagers have to pay taxes to the opposition groups. In this region the tax burden is especially heavy as several ethnic opposition armies, Chin and Rakhine ( Arakanese ), are operating and they are all targetting the same villages for funds. Those villagers are caught in a crossfire. Ironically it is because they provide funds to the “insurgents” that the Burmese Army conduct such harsh retaliation campaigns. Their communities and livelihoods being destroyed, they have no choice but to abandon their villages. Many families seem to move first to the border area, becoming internally displaced. As the situation is not substantially better along the border, they gradually cross the international border and take shelter in the Mizoram State of India or the Chittagong Hill tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh. It is estimated that between 500 and 1,000 Chin refugees are scattered in the Hill tracts in Bangladesh and are surviving in difficult conditions. A larger number have chosen to escape to Mizoram where it is easier to mingle ethnically and linguistically.

Name : “Zing Par” (not her real name)
Sex: Female
Age: 41
Ethnicity: Chin
Religion: Christian
Occupation: Slash-and-burn farmer
From: Khan Tlang village, Paletwa Township
Marital status: Married with 3 children (2 daughters and one son) Her husband is sick and cannot work, she supports the family alone
Interview date: 5.2.1999

Q : When did you arrive here?
Zing Par : We fled our village because we had to suffer too much. We were tortured by the Burmese Army! They forced us to work for them all the time. Even, we, the women and the girls, were forced to work in their camp, while they took our husbands and all the men as porters during their patrol. When our husbands went as porters, they didn’t receive any food. There is an army camp in Khan Tlang. We don’t know which battalion, but their headquarters are in Paletwa. We, the women and children, were called to cut grass in their camp for the whole day, everyday. They didn’t give us any food, nor any wages for our labour. We didn’t get anything from the army. Moreover, they collected rice and money from us. The Burmese soldiers are living off the people. We could no longer endure this unbearable situation, so we decided to leave Khan Tlang and flee to the border. We stayed in a village there for a while in 1997 [on the Burma side of the border]. One night in February 1998, we were informed that the army had surrounded our place. All the villagers decided to run away secretly. We couldn’t carry anything. We fled with only the clothes that we were wearing and with our children. It was night time. The army was chasing us and fired at us. The next morning we crossed the border just before the soldiers caught up with us. Here is my husband. He is a sick man. He is suffering from malnutrition because the army always called him as a porter and they never gave him any food [he is very thin and cannot walk properly].He was suffering so much. That is why he became like this. Because of the army!

Q : Did all the villagers from Khan Tlang flee?
Zing Par : There were about 150 families. Most of them fled. Only one family is left there because they have connection with the Army. Some fled to Bangladesh, but most went to Mizoram. Because in Mizoram, the people are Mizos [same ethnic group]. It is easier for us to get work and survive there.

Q : How often did your husband have to be a porter?
Zing Par : Two or three times a week! We couldn’t work for ourselves. Every time, he had to carry for one day, or two days each time. Sometimes they even called him at night.

Q : How many days could he work in a month?
The Husband : In a month, I could only stay about 5 days at home. Even in the rainy season, when there was flood, we could not sleep, and we were forced to cross rivers.

Q : What did you have to do at the army camp?
Zing Par : They ordered me to carry sand from the river bank to the road. Inside their camp, but also outside in the village. They were building a road. The men had to carry for them as porters and, at the same time, the women had to work in the army camp. Only the elderly people and the small children could stay at home. Fathers and mothers, as well as the elder brothers and sisters had to work. My youngest daughter here is now 12 years old. She had to carry water at the army camp too.

Q : How did the soldiers call the workers?
Zing Par : The soldiers came by themselves in our village, and grabbed anyone at random. Everyday like that!

Q : Did they ever beat anyone?

Another Villager : Even though we were working for them, they forced us to work very fast. When I was carrying, my head load was very heavy and I couldn’t walk fast. Then they kicked me with their boots and hit me with a bamboo stick. They hit my legs and my back quite badly. I also had to repair their barracks, fetch water from the river and build fences around their camp.

Q : When did that happen?
Zing Par : Since CNF started their activities. Since that time, we are suffering a lot.

A Villager : When we are going to our fields with a bag of rice, they accuse us that we are carrying it to CNF, and they beat us. In the past we had to do a little bit of labour for them, not much, but after CNF started operating, it became continuous and serious. More and more…

Zing Par : They ( the Burmese soldiers )come to check our rice. If we have 3 kg of rice, they take 2 kg for themselves. Moreover, every month, they collect 500 Kyats from each family. They also take from us whatever animals we had, our chickens, our pigs. They never pay for anything they take. Whenever they see that the animal is fat enough to eat, they demand it from us. When we go and ask for compensation, they beat us and answered to us: “This is what you have to do! You must give us!”

A Villager : They ( the Burmese soldiers ) even said: “This is not your country. This is our country! If you don’t want to give us, then go away from this country!”

Zing Par : Anything they see in our house they steal. They even take our own properties, our clothes. They stole my back-strap loom and my money. They robbed 1,000 Kyats from me. In front of me! They came into my house and pointed a gun at me, and then they robbed me.

Q : What do you think about CNF?
Zing Par : They never entered into our village. Whether they are good or bad, we don’t know. CNF collected funds in our village through the——. We had to pay anyway. But we feel much worse that we had to support the Burmese Army. The Burmese Army extorted a lot of money from us, and they also tortured people. They always inquired about the taxes for CNF but we never told them. Those who are suffering the most are the traders who are going to Bangladesh from time to time. They grabbed them, beat them and accused them: “Of course, you are helping CNF and you are carrying their letters!”

Q : What about landmines?
Zing Par : There were many landmines around our villages. I never heard of any people stepping on them, but so many animals blew up, especially at night. We had to be careful for landmines since 1988. The Burmese army usually warned us not to walk here and there, especially along the small footpaths, not the main paths that the army and the civilians are using for traveling [small footpaths are used by opposition armies].

Q : What was the situation in the border village where you stayed in1997?
Zing Par : The situation was not good there either. Several [opposition] armies were active around there, and they all demanded money from us. But the Burmese Army was especially bad. One day, the troops stayed overnight in the village and ordered the people to organise a cultural night. For that, they called all the villagers to gather at one place. One woman did not join to attend the programme. The commander of their group, a Lieutenant, saw a light in her house. He got angry and just fired at the house. She got killed.

Q : What do you hope for the future?
Zing Par : For the future, I hope that we can stay here, and that we could improve our life like other people. There is a high school here [2 hours walk away], a market to sell some of our production and some communication with the outside world. My children can now go to school. My daughter is now in 2nd Standard and my son in 1st Standard.

Name : “Tin Er” (not his real name)
Sex: MaleAge: Around 45 (not sure himself)
Ethnicity: Pual Nam (Chin sub-group)
Religion: Animist, now Christian
Occupation: Slash-and-burn farmer
From: Khan Tlang village, Paletwa Township
Marital status: Married with 3 children
Interview date: 5.2.1999

Q : When did you arrive in Bangladesh?
A : In February 1998. The Burmese Army was treating us like dogs, not like human beings. Their troops always took us as porters. I was a porter so often. We even had to bring our own food along with us. They ordered to carry for 3 days and then we were forced to stay for one month if they did not find anyone to replace us. Just before fleeing to Bangladesh I was a porter for 10 days for four times consecutively. In between, I had only 4 or 5 days for myself. We had no time to work.

Q : Have you ever been beaten?
A : When we were porters or when we worked at their rest camp, they beat us if we were too slow. They beat me when I worked at the rest camp. Also, once, in 1997, I slid on the way because my load was very heavy. I fell down and they beat me with a bamboo stick on my legs and in the lower back. They even hit me on the head. 30 families fled in 1997.

Q : Did they ever kill anyone?
A : They did kill a Khumi Chin. Many Khumi Chin [ one of the Chin tribes in Southern Chin State] are forced to be porters. One of them was sick and couldn’t walk anymore. He fell down with his load. The soldiers ordered him to get up and continue walking. But he couldn’t. Then the soldiers killed him with a knife. They cut his belly open and threw his organs in the Kaladan river. After that, the army charged all the porters 50 Kyats each to pay compensation to the father of the killed porter. The compensation was not even paid by the army.

Q : Did you see the killing?
A : I didn’t see the killing but it happened near our village in 1996. Our villagers had to organize the burial of the dead body.

Another man : I saw the dead body. After they killed him on the path just outside our village, they called us and ordered us to bury him. After the burial, the soldiers came again to our village and demanded10,000 Kyats from the villagers to give compensation to his family. This Khumi porter came from Pa Kang Wa village [Paletwa Township], a Khumi village.

Q : Did you hear about any other killings?
A : They are especially bad with the Rakhine and the Khumis.

Another Man : Around 1989, they caught me on the way back from the market with other people. They took us all as porters. They were searching for CNF and Rakhine rebels. Day and night we had to walk without any sleep and without food. One day, they grabbed a Rakhine in Turuai market to show them the way. When he missed one junction, they became angry and they cut his neck. I saw his dead body. They threw it beside the road. We also heard about 6 killings done by the soldiers of Khan Tlang camp. Six people got killed at the same time near our village: 4 Khumi and 2 Rakhine. We don’t know why, but we saw the dead bodies and we had to bury them all. I don’t remember exactly when it happened but I was around the time when CNF started its activities.

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