FBR REPORT: Western Burma Update: Burma Army abuses in both conflict and non-conflict areas
Karen State, Burma
2 May, 2012

  • Western Burma Overview
  • Arakan State: Forced labor, rape, child conscription, commercial project update, natural disasters
  • Naga areas, Sagaing Division: forced labor and religious persecution
  • Chin State: forced labor

Western Burma Overview

In Arakan State, Chin State, Naga areas of Sagaing Division and other areas of Burma, the frequent demands of Burma Army forced labor often are so great that people cannot take care of their own livelihoods. According to one Arakan man from Mariwa Village, Paletwa Township who is now an Internally Displaced Person (IDP) on the border, “The government is not good. All the time forced labor and more forced labor. We cannot take care of our farms and we do not have time to work at our farm. Then the animals were destroyed at our farm. So we have many problems to live in Burma.” (Interview: 22 February 2012.) Burma Army abuses remain prevalent even though most of these areas have little or no armed resistance. While the Burma Army is more likely to commit violent abuses such as burning homes and killing villagers in conflict areas, daily oppression such as forced labor and extortion continue in areas without active fighting.

Arakan State

Human Rights Abuses: Rape, Child Conscription and Forced Labor

On 5 April 2012, the Arakan Liberation Party (ALP) signed a ceasefire agreement with the Arakan State Government including an end to fighting and freedom of movement for unarmed personnel. The government did not commit to any troop withdrawals or Burma Army movement restrictions in conflict areas, despite a pattern of Burma Army atrocities against civilians in the area. Many IDPs are scattered along the mountainous borders with India and Bangladesh, having fled from frequent Burma Army demands for forced labor, extortion, and instances of beatings.

In May 2011 in Nygpourchawn Village, Paletwa Township, a 29-year-old ethnic Khumi woman was raped by a Burma Army soldier who entered her home while she was home alone. The father of the victim decided not to report the incident because he suspected there would be no punishment for the perpetrator. Note: Paletwa Township is in Chin State, but is home to many Arakan villages.

On 27 October 2011, a 14-year-old boy from Aurama Village, Buthidaung Township was recruited by the Burma Army with promises of an education. The recruiting commander was Sergeant Soe Aung from Infantry Battalion (IB) 234. The parents of the child were later denied access to him when they requested to see him at a recruit center in Sittwe Township. This is a common occurrence for children recruited by Military Operations Command (MOC) 9 in nearby Kyauk Taw Township, where they are recruited and cut off from outside contact.

Map showing area of report

Sixteen Arakan people from Piedown Village, Paletwa Township, were forced to carry rations and ammunition for 60-70 soldiers in Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) 344 commanded by Major Kray Naing Oo. According to one victim, a 50-year-old farmer, each porter had to carry two heavy weapons. They portered for the army column for eight days, going from Piedown to La Ba Wa Village and back, then portered for nine days to a border post and back. During the patrol, one of the villagers sustained an accidental knife wound to his arm but was refused medical treatment by the soldiers, who said he should use “jungle medicine”. The villager recalled instances of beatings if villagers arrived late for forced labor duty, and said that the village chairman had been beaten by the military as well.

A 28-year-old farmer from Doechawnwa Village, Paletwa Township, was called for forced portering of arms, ammunition and rations along with nine other villagers on 3 October 2011 by a patrol from Infantry Battalion (IB) 20 led by Myo Man Thun. Along the way they fled to the border because the load was too much to carry, and now live as IDPs. He said, “we would like to return to our home village but we are afraid of Burma Army torturing and killing.”

A 27-year-old farmer from Mariwa Village, Paletwa Township, fled to the border from his village after frequent demands from the Burma Army including extortion of food and money, forced labor, forced portering and being forced to serve as a night sentry. In Mariwa Village, villagers were forced to build a perimeter fence around the village, including the Burma Army outpost in the village held by IB 232, for which Soe Man Lwin is Second in command. Twelve villagers per night are required to work as night sentries at the village gate. According to the man, “If we don’t take [sentry duty], we are beaten by Burma Army.” In an interview on 22 February 2012, he said, “Now we cannot return to my village. If we return to my village, we are beaten and tortured by Burma Army.”

About two or three times per month, Burma Army patrols check boundary markers on the international border and force villagers to guide and serve as porters. The porters are intermixed with the soldiers to be used as human shields to prevent ambushes. On 18 February 2012, a 28-year-old man from Salinewa Village, Paletwa Township, was called to be a guide for a patrol from LIB 550 commanded by Lt. Khan Maung Kyi. He was beaten after showing the wrong way through the jungle.

In the second week of July 2011, twenty villages were forced to send 400 bamboo poles to Tarraweye Village’s Burma Army Camp. Though the current market price is 30,000 kyat per 100 poles of bamboo, the Burma Army compensated the villagers 1,000 kyat per 100 poles. Later, the Burma Army sold the bamboo for 25,000 kyat per 100 poles.

Burma Army units known to be operating in Northern Arakan State and Paletwa Township including LIB 344, IB 232, IB 289, LIB 550, IB 20 and IB 55, all under Burma Army Western Command. Their weapons include assault rifles, RPGs and M79 guns.

Medical treatment at Piedown Village, 11 March 2012

During their last relief mission, Arakan FBR teams treated 255 medical patients. Previously in July 2011, FBR teams met a 32-year-old mother in Wa Pram Village who stepped on a nail but could not afford medical care. By the time an FBR medic reached her, her foot had become infected and progressed nearly to the point of requiring amputation. The FBR medic treated the wound and provided approximately US$500 to go to a hospital. The ALP contributed US$200. Because she was able to go to the hospital, her foot was saved and she is now recovering.

Commercial activities

Construction site at Maday Island shows the insignia of two corporations involved in the pipeline project: China National Petroleum Company and Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise. Daewoo Intl. (Korea), ONGC Videsh (India), KOGAS (Korea) and GAIL (India) also have a stake in the project. Photo 2 February 2012
Homes of Maday Island residents, affected by loss of land and fishing areas by pipeline construction. Photo 2 February 2012.

Construction continues on the 2806-kilometer-long Shwe Gas Pipeline, which is being built to carry natural gas from sites offshore from Arakan State through Burma, and into China. It also includes a deep sea port and an oil pipeline to deliver imported oil to China. The pipeline reaches land at Kyauk Phyu in Arakan State and runs across Maday Island before continuing northeast into China. Fishing has been prohibited around the pipeline and bridge construction areas near Maday Island, leaving up to 1000 of the island’s residents without work.

In September 2011, Burmese Minister of Industry Oo Than Htee announced to Parliament that the gas will be exported to China and not used in Arakan State. Protesters around Arakan State are demanding access to a portion of the gas being exported as well as access to 24-hour access to electricity. Some protesters have been detained and investigated for such activities.

Natural Disasters

Heavy rains flooded parts of Arakan State last year.
Fire destroyed 1272 shops at the Central Market of Minbya Township, Arakan State

There are food shortages especially in the highland areas of Arakan State due to heavy rainfall last year which created poor conditions for rice farming. In addition, multiple fires have caused heavy losses throughout Arakan State throughout the month of November. The first occurred on 1 November 2011 in Kyaknimaw Villager, Ramree Township, destroying 200 houses and leaving 800 people homeless. On 12 November 2011, the Central Market of Minbya Township caught fire, burning 1272 shops and causing billions of kyat in losses. In Mrauk-Oo Township, a fire burned nine establishments near Lakuck market and ten million kyat was estimated in damages. On 19 November, in Sitesa Village, Myebon Township, fire destroyed 146 houses. All fires were accidental, but have caused major losses for Arakan people ranging from the loss of their homes to that of their livelihood.

Forced Labor and Religious Persecution against Naga people

In this section, names of people and villages have been abbreviated to protect the identities those mentioned.

Naga women forced to porter for Burma Army, 9 March 2012
Map of Naga areas

The Burma Army continues oppression against Naga people in Northern Sagaing Division and Kachin State. Naga villagers live in fear of the Burma Army due to frequent demands for food, forced labor, forced portering and poor treatment including beatings. On 9 March 2012, nine people from N— Village, including two children, were forced to carry rations for IB 237 from N— Village to P— Village.

Young boy forced to porter for Burma Army, 9 March 2012
Soldiers from IB 237 travelling with forced porters, 9 March 2012

On 21 March 2012, the village headman from C— Village was hit twice in the back with a rifle butt by soldiers from IB 297. The soldiers demanded one pig from the village, and the headman responded saying that all the villagers were in the fields and he would find them a pig from the villagers that evening. In response, the soldiers beat him.

According to a 36-year-old Naga villager, IB 52 under Commander Kyaw Soe routinely demanded villagers to serve as porters while also taking the villagers’ livestock. In P— Village, IB 229 used one villager as a porter for heavy equipment and later beat him when he was unable to handle the heavy load. The same battalion forced villagers from H— Village to serve sentry duty and as porters for the construction of a nearby Burma Army Camp. In M— Village, soldiers ordered 10 porters as well as 20 kilograms of rice and 2 chickens. In L— Village, soldiers forced villagers to porter for four days to a Burma Army camp, forcing villagers to give over their animals as payment if they could not physically work.

In K— Village in 2010, the government administration gave 24 sheets of roofing to the village and demanded that the villagers build a school within three months or face steep fines. The value of the 24 sheets is 1,000,000 Kyat but the cost borne by villagers was 1,600,000 Kyat. Later, newspapers and television inside Burma announced that Naga villages including K— Village now have schools provided by the government.

During the last relief mission in Naga areas, FBR treated approximately 350 medical patients.

FBR team member treats Naga child with an ear problem, T— Village, 17 March 2012.

Religious Persecution

During their recent mission, the Naga FBR team interviewed a Christian pastor who, along with his congregation, faced religious persecution at the hands of Burma Army Battalion 229. The incident itself took place in 2005. The interview is reported here to indicate the fear of the Burma Army that exists amongst many ethnic people.

Interview with Pastor U —–, 14 March 2012: I was ordered by Nanyun Baptist Association to serve as a minister for the 16 believer households in Kyet Tun Village (village name changed to protect victims). When I stayed in Kyet Tun Village, on 16 December 2005 I was arrested by Burma Army Infantry Battalion 229. And they arrested me beside the camp in Kyet Tun Village. First, the commander Thet Tun Naing pointed my throat with his pistol and shouted at me that I was a swindler then hurt me. He accused me that I was collecting taxes for the Naga insurgents and I was a fake pastor. When he shouted at me also he slapped me more than ten times and checked my pocket and look at my ID card and ministry card and slapped my face with the cards. Then Commander Thet Tun Naing met the Christian villagers and asked them “would you all enter in Buddhism or not. If you would not do like that you were not allow to stay in Kyet Tun Village anymore. And you have time one week to think about it.” But the Christians didn’t say anything, and then he slapped the Kyet Tun leader two times but the Kyet Tun villagers said that they would not change.

Then commander Sun Win Naing (serving under commander Thet Tun Naing) chopped the nape of my neck three times with his hand. When I felt dizzy, I lied down on the guarding house and controlled my body. Then Thet Tun Naing accused me that I was a Naga rebel and asked me many questions and tortured me badly. Then he ordered the village head and village committees to check my house, and when they didn’t see anything he ordered commander Sun Win Naing and other soldiers to tie my hands on my back and blindfolded my eyes with clothes then they took me to camp and put me in jail the whole night.

The next day 17th December, they took me to Nyaw Kwa Camp and put me there for two days. On 18th about at 8 or 9pm the commander Thet Tun Naing forced me to drink alcohol until I felt drunk and asked me where am I from, and where are the other people with me, what is my position, where are your equipments and then what is my unit? When he asked me the questions like this, I said that “I have no any idea about it and I was not belonging to it. Then I said I am from Nanyun Baptist Association and I was a missionary at there. So I could not answer you any other things. If you want to know about me you can ask Nanyun Baptist Association.” I just answered like that. Then he hit me till my blood flowed from my nose and he went back. Then he went to talk about it with the battalion commander and came back and asked me the question again and persecuted me as the same things like that for three times until 11pm. Then he shouted to me that “you are a very stubborn pastor, so you have to wrestle with me and the loser must be killed.” He threatened me like this. Then I told him “I came here not to do the competition with anybody. I was here as missionary for believers in Kyet Tun Village.” Then he said “Hey man, don’t tell like this, come on and we will wrestle” and then he pulled my hand and ordered me to kneel on the door frame and he told me “Hey stubborn pastor, now you are going to be finished, you will not be able to meet your association leaders, your family members and you will have to do nothing with your ministry because you have to go to Yangon soon. And now you pray!” Then I spoke to God and pray for them and pray for Kyet Tun Village. After the praying he ordered me “Now bend down your head on your knees as your praying position.” Then I had to stay like this position about 2 to 3 minutes till I felt my neck pain and I didn’t make any sound. Then he shouted at me “Hey stubborn pastor, have you died? Get up! You man, the stubborn pastor and the rebel provider, go back to your bed!” And then he tied my hands on my back and my legs and my neck with the bed until I could not move at all, like I was a dead body. Then he told me “Tonight you have to die like that and you have to use toilet on your bed like this position.” And he told me that tomorrow 9 o’clock we will meet our Major and he will have the electricity and we will use the electrical shock to pain your body and at that time don’t say anything if you get the trouble. He said, “Just say the same words that you say tonight.” Then he went back. After he left, a sergeant who was guarding around came and released me, so that I could sleep well for that night.

The next day he took me to Kyet Tun Village and he didn’t let the commander to see me. When we entered in village he changed my clothes and let two soldiers guard me at my left side and right side and took me to Kyet Tun Camp. Then at that night they made the fire and we slept beside fire. The next day early morning one of the commander (I didn’t know his position), he came to me and pretended to asked me a question, but he didn’t ask anything. And he ordered me to write something as he said. Then he asked me to write that “I declare that Kyet Tun Village become Buddhist.” Then when I was ordered to write like this, I said “No, I can’t do it. It is not possible. I will never agree that Kyet Tun Village become a Buddhist village. I could not write like this.” But he said to me that even if you didn’t write we have to sign. And he strongly forced me to write. Then I have to end my writing like that.

After then he took me to a different part of Kyet Tun Village and when we entered the village they showed me Rev. U Ch—-‘s house and took me to a different house. And they kept me there the whole day without food. The other days they gave me food, but then when they didn’t give me food, I asked for the food from Kyet Tun Villagers. The next morning at 8 o’clock the commander That Tun Naing came to me and untied the rope and he said “Pastor, now you are finished.”

The interviewed pastor is now living in another Naga village in Sagaing Division.

Forced labor in Chin State

In this section, names of people and villages have been abbreviated to protect the identities those mentioned.

There has been no widespread conflict in Chin State for several years. The Chin National Front (CNF) fought against the Burma Army for 23 years, though the conflict was localized to a small area in southwestern Chin State. The CNF signed a ceasefire with the government on 6 January 2012. In spite of years of relative peace, Burma Army demands for supplies, forced labor and other abuses are still present.

Map of Chin State

In Chin State, Burma Army patrols often do not carry their own rations, but demand food from local villagers. On 28 January 2012 at 2pm, a Burma Army soldier named Min Mu Aung in IB 50, commanded by Ku Me Zaw and based at Tibual Burma Army Camp and under Northwest Command, demanded 2kg of rice and a chicken from C—, age 45, from S— Village, Falam Township, Chin State.

Burma Army forced labor also continues in Chin State. On 8 April 2011, V—, age 32 from S— Village, was forced by IB 50 to spend one day working on the perimeter fence of Tibual Camp. Troops based at Tibual Camp demand forced labor from nearby villages multiple times throughout the year. In some areas of Chin State, demands for forced labor and portering are enough to cause people to flee the area. About 500 people from Thantlang and Matupi Townships of Chin State have fled to Ta— Village, Ka Lay Township, Sagaing Division to avoid the demands of forced labor. While formerly they worked their own farms, many now earn incomes as day labourers.

People in Tl— Village receive mosquito nets from FBR team. 23 January 2012
FBR medic treats patient, P— Village, 4 March 2012

FBR helps build a latrine in O— Village, which was destroyed by the Burma Army on 10 June 2000. After the villagers fled, only a fraction returned. Photo 11 February 2012


God bless you,
Arakan, Chin and Naga FBR teams