Army in Pegu forces young men to join army, villagers to work as unpaid laborers

November 18, 2008

HURFOM, Kyauk Kyi Township, Nyaunglebin District, Pegu Division: SPDC troops are forcibly conscripting young ethnic Karen villagers as the army launches an offensive against the Karen National Union (KNU) in Kyauk Kyi Township, Nayung-Le-Bin District, Pegu Division. According to local sources, villages that cannot provide the required recruits face must pay cash fines or work as forced laborers.

According to a HURFOM field reporter, Infantry Battalion (IB) No. 60 and Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) No. 264 are carrying out the forced recruitment of young villagers. Both battalions are located in Kyauk Kyi Township.

On November 7th, Lieutenant Colonel Ko Ko Aung, Commander of IB No.60, demanded that village headmen from Pattala, Waela-Taw, Thugabee, Inn-Nee, Noe-Nyar-Thu and Dow-Moo villages provide at lease one young man per village tract, said Naing Htoo Byaing, the Chairperman of the Kyauk Kyi Township KNU. “At lease six new members were asked to be supplied from these village tracts. We got the order from IB No. 60 that Lt. Col. Ko Ko Aung strongly required this set amount of recruits within two weeks. Any village tracts that could not afford to supply the conscripts have been ordered to pay 250,000 kyat (approximately $205 USD) per village as punishment,” said Naing Htoo Byaing. “Currently, all villagers are facing difficulties finding new recruits for the Army. On the other hand, people are too poor to give the money they (the army) demand.”

According to the HURFOM reporter, most villages arranged to pay the cash fines so they could avoid sending young men to the army. “I don’t know about Thugabee and Pattala villages, but the other four villages decided to pay 250,000 kyat each to IB No.60 because no one wants to serve with the Burmese Army. People were forced against their will,” Moo Htoo, 35, from Dow-Moo village, told HURFOM.

LIB No. 264 is also reported to be conscripting villagers as soldiers. The battalion is commanded by 1st Lieutenant Aung San Win and based near Natha-Kwin village tract in Kyauk Kyi Township. “Three days before the conscription by IB No. 60 [November 4th], LIB No. 264 demanded one man per village from Aye-Nine, Kyauk-Khegyi, Ka Moe L and Natha-Kwin be recruit into their battalion. LIB No. 264 is threatening the same punishment as IB No. 60 if each village headmen fails to supply the recruits. “No villagers want to join the Army but they have no money to pay fines demanded by Lt. Aung San Win’s troops. As the result, Lt. Aung San Win ordered each village headmen to send thirty villagers daily on rotations to work at LIB No.264,” said the HURFOM field reporter.

As a consequence of villager’s failure to provide conscripts or pay the fine levied by LIB No. 264, some villagers were also required to work as unpaid laborers. “Villagers were forced to fence off LIB No. 264 with bamboo. The soldiers demanded villagers make six layers of fences, and villagers were also forced to dig embankments between each fence around the battalion. Women and teenagers are also included in these unpaid jobs. They were forced to collect firewood and carry water for the soldiers,” an anonymous local witness form Natha-Kwin village told HURFOM. The forced labor continues, almost two weeks later, said a second source from Natha-Kwin

According to a Karen resident of Htat-Htoo village, located about three kilometers to the east of Natha-Kwin village, the same troops led by Lt. Aung San Win ordered all men to patrol the village daily when troops were temporarily based there during October. “We were required to guard everyday, divided into three groups. Each group contained five men on rotation during the time troops stayed here.”

According to a KNU official, conscription of villagers into SPDC battalions in Kyauk Kyi Township areas has been routine over the least three years, as have been the punishments for failing to provide recruits.

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