(Paletwa – 24th May 2019) Tatmadaw troops from the 77th Light Infantry Division (LID) currently based at Khamaungwa village, Paletwa Township, Chin State, have been forcefully recruiting local villagers and internally displaced people (IDPs) as porters since February 2019. In order to keep the base stocked with rice in Khamaungwa, supplies regularly make the journey from Paletwa Town, to Miza village by boat. From Miza, local people are conscripted to carry rice sacks on motorbikes to Cuanchaungwa village where IDPs and local villagers carry the loads the rest of the way on foot to the army base.
It is reported that locals from IDP camps and villagers along the route in Paletwa are paid 8000 MMK (Approx. 5 USD) per sack of rice. As two people are required to lift the sack, villagers are paid 4000 MMK each. On 15th May, 31 people, including 18 women, 4 elderly people and a local church pastor were recruited to carry rice between Cuanchaungwa and Khamaungwa – a fifteen-mile journey. The party set off at 7 am and reached their destination by 12 pm, porters are required to bring their own food and provisions for the journey:
“I’ve carried rations twice now, acting as a porter for the army is not beneficial to me. Two people have to carry the sack of rice and there is little time to rest. As I am getting old, these sacks are too heavy. I am very tired and my whole body is in pain. I have to take a rest for more than two or three days afterwards. I do not have the will to carry but the XXXX Village Administrator forced me to carry. I took three days of rest without working after the last time I carried. It is not worth it for me. Whilst half of one rice sack is heavy even for me, I think it might be much heavier for women as two women divide one sack as well” said one man who spoke to CHRO.
According to one village administrator, when the troops come and demand porters, he is reluctant to ignore such a request over fears of retaliation should the order be refused, “I couldn’t ignore them, as they asked for help and said they will pay for porters. At the same time, I am worried if they might do something if I don’t give them help.”
According to one pastor contacted by CHRO, forced labour is a monthly occurrence. Since February 2019 villagers from Tayakung village, Paletwa Township, were informed by the village administrator that one person per household required to carry army provisions from Tayakung to troops stationed along the Pyitaung mountain range and Buwachuang River. They are paid a fee of 5000 MMK for this three-hour journey:
“We are forced to do portering by the XXXX Village Administrator, he says it is a must and all villagers must carry [the provisions]. If a villager doesn’t carry, then he will be fined 5000 MMK and he must carry the next time. There are four pastors in the village and all of them have been forced to porter. If a household doesn’t have a man, the woman of the house will be forced to carry. Every time we carry, there are always at least seven women. The village head says, ‘I am not the one who makes you carry but the army assigned me to do this.’”
While the Tatmadaw initiate such widespread and comprehensive forced labour directives on entire villages for keeping the base stocked with rice, there remains a township-level ban on local people transporting rice from one place to another, either for personal supply or selling, creating problems in day to day life for locals and IDP populations. Other sources raised long term concerns related to loss of livelihoods and risks to their personal security:
“In our village, they used to take 15 to 20 villagers at a time. We carry the rations of the army from our village to Khamaungwa village, 15 miles away. Some people are paid 5000 MMK as a daily wage and some are paid 8000 MMK for a sack of rice. We have to carry [the rice] as they called and made us. Even though it is helpful for them, one difficult thing is our cultivation and farming chores are neglected as we are away being porters. It is certain that our farm chores will be seriously affected if this continues for a long time. When we are porters the soldiers also accompany us, but they carry nothing. Maybe they accompany us for our security? We are worried that the war might start as they come along with weapons”.
For some villagers who have transport, the demands do not pose the same problems. One 33-year-old man who transports rice from Miza to Cuanchaungwa using his motorbike said, “it is a help for them and at the same time I earn money, and so it is beneficial to me. I can carry loads about seven times a day as it takes only 15 minutes from my village. Seven of us used to carry loads together on our bikes at one time.”
* This News Report was first published in Burmese on 16th May 2019.
For further information please contact;
Salai Terah (in Burmese) : +95 (0) 9255934117
Salai Lian (in English/Burmese) : + 66 (0) 946831189
View this original press release here.