Residents forced to contribute unpaid labor and money in reconstruction and repair of DKBA barracks
December 16, 2009
HURFOM, Pa-an: Residents of Pa-an township area in Karen State have been forced to take part in the repair and reconstruction of 2 Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) barracks. Villagers have been forced to contribute manual labor and building materials, or pay an arbitrary fine to DKBA battalion commanders, according to local sources.
Demands to local villagers have been for timber and building materials for repairing and rebuilding the 2 existing military barracks of DKBA Battalion No. 333, which is located in Law Pu village, Pa-an township. Villagers unable to provide timber or manual labor have been ordered to pay between 5,000 to 10,000 kyat according to Dae Mu, 33, a resident of Noekawaw village.
“The DKBA Battalion No. 333, Commander Saw Phoe Law Ae’ called a meeting with village headmen in the 1st week of this month at Law Pu DKBA base and ordered those village headmen to provide timbers and other building materials such as nails, leaves for the roof, bamboo etc.,” Dae Mu reported. “Construction started in the 2nd week, with villagers living in Wae Pyan Chaung, Lat Pa Tan, Baw Tabyu, Htee Phoe, Noe Ka Waw, Mae Lae Chaung, Mae Lae Chaung Wa, Mee Bhone Chaung Wa and Tagaung Boe villages being forced to contribute labor. Some households had to find wood, and those who couldn’t were required to pay money, like my household. I had to pay 5,000 kyat towards the construction of Law Pu DKBA barracks.”
According to residents living in Mae Lae Chaung and Meebone Wa villages, nowadays timber and bamboo have been very difficult to find, forcing households to pay the arbitrary fine for failing to contribute construction supplies.
Saw Mu Htaw, a 55 year old farmer from Mae Lae Chaung village explained why the environmental impacts have coincided with continued human rights abuses in the area, from his own personal experience, “The situation changed a lot compared to five years ago. In the past, when the Burmese or DKBA troops demanded wood and bamboo, it used to be very easy to go and cut [timber and bamboo] in the forest near the village. But at the present time, nearly all the forests close to our village are empty. Also [in] our lives we have ended up empty handed due to a lot of unpaid labor, extortion and other abuses committed by both Burmese and DKBA troops who carry out military operations against the KNU in this area.”
To complete the orders of DKBA commander Saw Phoe Law Ae, Baw Tabyu and Htee Phoe villagers were gathered at Law Pu DKBA base on the 2nd week of December to work for repairing and building the two barracks. A 60-year-old ethnic Karen villager from Htee Phoe village, Pa-an township, and who asked to keep his name private, recounted, “Because we could not find any timber or pay the fine, we had to contribute work. Most of my [fellow] villagers survive in their life on hand to mouth day labor, so how can they pay fine or buying the required timber? For my family, I went to work at Law Pu DKBA base. I took me one day of work from my village, [working at] the construction site with my own food and materials. Of course this is not the first time – there have been nearly 100 times I have been forced to work for both Burmese and DKBA soldiers, at this point.”
Most of the villages mentioned contain 50 to 70 households, where villagers survive living hand-to-mouth as day labors, short season crop cultivators, harvesters of leaves used for roofs, and hunting. In addition, living standards of many of these villagers are extremely low, often with residents unable to afford enough food each day. This instance of human rights violations is the same sort as those that have come before, the 60-year-old villager explained, “Most of the times when the authorities force us to work, they say that they are doing local development. But in reality, they are just using us as unpaid labor ¬ in the end our lives will end with [our] empty hands. There is really no choice [for us] at all.”