What next for human rights abuse in Burma?

Burma’s military government has by now dramatically compounded the death and misery brought to its country with Cyclone Nargis. While carrying on with the same sort of games it has played against the global community for years, it has caused untold needless loss of life and greatly magnified people’s suffering today and tomorrow.

The regime has failed to open the door to sufficient foreign aid for the millions who need help. Its agents, whether under orders or of their own accord, have also obstructed local and overseas efforts to deliver relief and have misdirected their energies at futile exercises like the holding of the May 10 constitutional referendum and the arrests of state officers accused of not staying at their posts throughout the havoc of that day.

The authorities have been scrambling to get back on top and at least give the appearance of being in control. Once they’ve obtained a semblance of normalcy and official behavior becomes a little more coherent, human rights abuses directed against storm refugees and people in nearby areas especially will increase.

To begin with, the emptying out of afflicted coastal regions could become a permanent feature of Burma’s map. Entire villages and their populaces have been swept away; with them have gone council offices and registrars containing records of land titles and other important documents. Whole islands are now all but deserted, the survivors moved elsewhere or concentrated in isolated temporary camps.

There have been no public announcements about what will happen to those who have been relocated, but as in Burma all land is technically state property and as its uncompensated seizure is commonplace, military and civilian officials will be eyeing these areas with a view to something other than simply letting villagers back to rebuild.

Where rebuilding does go on, it is likely to be accompanied by a dramatic increase in demands on the citizenry to pitch in. There is a lot that needs to be done. Who will do it? Not international agencies. They won’t get free rein. Not domestic businesses and joint ventures. They are promoting themselves as do-good donors because of lucrative contracts to construct things like government schools and hospitals. The remaking of small bridges and canals, digging of ditches and repaving of side roads is going to fall to the locals.

Although the International Labour Organisation has reduced the use of forced labor in Burma, even in normal times the practice is still widespread. Its national office will have its work cut out in the coming months, as town and village authorities increasingly slip back into old habits and give their constituents orders to turn up at 6:00 a.m., one person per household, with tools and the time needed to reinforce an embankment or byway.

The increased demands on people’s hours will be accompanied by more on their pockets too. The levying and collecting of tax in Burma is ordinarily haphazard. Officials will both be obliged and emboldened to seek more money and stuff from more people more often. Already there are reports that traders have had goods confiscated in the name of cyclone victims, and that villagers have had to give increasingly large amounts for basic services. As the cash crisis hits home, petty bureaucrats and security forces will shift their shortfalls onto the ordinary folk underneath them, who are already suffering from galloping price increases and severe unemployment.

Other routine human rights abuses are equally likely to grow in number during the rest of the year and into the next. There was a story this week that children orphaned due to the cyclone had been picked up and taken away in army trucks, ostensibly for special care. Elsewhere government thugs beat back angry crowds of people who had seen but not received emergency supplies. Such incidents will readily multiply.

Although it is impossible at this time to know precisely what will occur in the coming weeks and months, it is clear that the people of the delta are not going to get the amount of help they need as soon as they need it, if ever. Hundreds of thousands are weakened and in desperate straits. The government having treated them with a greater amount of enmity than sympathy will need to use its many coercive methods to keep them where and how it wants them to be, or at least, to prevent them from getting to wherever and however it doesn’t want them to be.

The displaced, hungry, sick and homeless are not going to be able to organize and protect themselves from the inequities of officialdom as usual. They have lost their livelihoods, houses, families, contacts and their ordinary means of survival and self-defense. They are going to need the special interest not only of humanitarian groups but also human rights defenders and bodies at home and abroad throughout this period of heightened risk.

Rights advocates, journalists and specialized agencies need to ready themselves now to respond to the wave of abuses that are sure to follow this emergency period, and make sure that they have the money, people, means and mentality to react quickly and effectively to reports of incidents as soon as they arise, for arise they shall.

Source: What next in human rights abuse in Burma?

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8 responses to “What next for human rights abuse in Burma?

  1. Western Burma Struggling with Shortages
    By BISWAJYOTI DAS / REUTERS WRITER / TAHAM, Wednesday, May 21, 2008 (on The Irrawaddy)

    They may have escaped Cyclone Nargis, but people in western Burma are struggling to cope with soaring inflation and food shortages in the wake of the disaster that struck the Irrawaddy Delta food bowl.

    Prices for basic foods have more than tripled in western parts of Burma, heavily dependent on supplies from the delta where the May 2 storm wrecked rice fields, killed livestock and forced thousands of farmers off the land.

    It may get worse.

    People have begun hoarding rice, salt and edible oils as they prepare for the arrival of the monsoon sometime next month, which will make roads impassable and supplies even scarcer.

    “The situation is very bad here,” said U Myo, a 60-year-old retired teacher in Taham, a small town about three hours’ drive from the Indian border.

    “People have no money to buy food, medicine and baby food,” she said. “The government seems completely unmoved by the suffering of the people.”

    A state pension amounts to a cup of tea a month, but a kilogram of rice sells for 1,500 (US $1.3) kyats, three times higher than before the cyclone. The price of little more than a litre of edible oil has nearly tripled to 8,000 kyats ($ 6.9).

    “You can well imagine my difficulty,” U Myo said.

    Many villagers sell firewood, ginger, onions and fish on the Indian side of the border to earn money to buy food and medicine. But Burma’s weaker currency has made it harder to buy Indian goods, residents said.

    “Life has become hell here,” said the owner of a ramshackle roadside tea stall, who asked not to be named because of fears of recrimination from the Burmese authorities.

    “A family needs a minimum of 150,000 kyats ($130) to buy food for the whole month. Where will they get the money to survive?”

    Shopkeepers say they are running their businesses at a loss.

    “We are unable to buy stocks as wholesale market prices have gone up to more than double retail prices,” said another grocery shop owner in a village on the way to town of Kale, around 140 km (90 miles) from the Indian border.

    Burma’s military government has appealed for $243 million in agricultural aid for the delta, the country’s main rice- and salt-producing region.

    The disaster has triggered fears there will be no harvest next year unless delta farmers can quickly plant a new crop.

    “We will face a severe food crisis by September as our stocks from this year’s harvest will last for only another three months,” said a middle-aged housewife and mother of three. “Once the rain starts there will be no supply coming, prices will further increase and there will be an acute food shortage here,” she said.

  2. Perhaps I’m naive but it seems to me that countries are constantly bringing charges in EU courts against American leaders. Here we have a group of “generals” who are quite obviously responsible for the deaths of thousands of their countrymen. Why haven’t these thugs been brought before the World Court or some such on charges of Crimes against Humanity?

  3. Cyclone Increases Army Looting on Burma Borders
    By BISWAJYOTI DAS / REUTERS WRITER / KALE Saturday, May 24, 2008, (on The Irrawaddy)

    Cyclone damage to the Irrawaddy delta, Burma’s rice bowl, has caused a surge in looting in its restive border areas by poorly paid troops worried about food shortages, residents and human rights groups say.

    In the northwest town of Kale, which is reliant on the faraway delta for much of its rice and salt, local residents said soldiers had stepped up seizures of rice, fish and firewood since Cyclone Nargis hit the former Burma on May 2.

    In the evenings, soldiers were stopping villagers at checkpoints on their way back from the market and taking their cash, often out of fear their pay will be diverted to the cyclone-hit areas, victims and eyewitnesses said.

    “The situation has turned worse after the cyclone,” a former transport department officer told Reuters in the town of 300,000 people about six hours’ drive from the Indian border.

    “Even the army supplies are restricted and they are not sure when they will receive their salaries,” he said.

    Soldiers in army-ruled Burma are poorly paid—a private earns just 14,000 kyats ($12) a month—making extortion an endemic problem, especially in the border areas where various ethnic militias have waged guerrilla war for decades.

    But around a dozen people interviewed in the town said the situation had become much worse in the three weeks since Nargis, which left 134,000 people dead or missing in the delta and another 2.4 million in dire need of aid.

    “The military has no sympathy for the people,” said a government clerk. “They have no emotion or human feelings. They behave like animals.”

    Next month’s arrival of the monsoon rains, which makes the jungle-clad mountainous region’s dirt roads impassable, is adding to fears about a shortage of staples such as rice, salt and edible oils, causing ordinary people to stock up.

    Soldiers have put up check points on roads and are charging vehicles up to 100,000 kyats ($89) to pass.

    “There is complete lawlessness here. Whatever the army says is the law,” another resident said.

    Security personnel are everywhere in the town, armed with automatic rifles and walkie-talkies.

    “These are the people responsible for food shortages and price rises here,” said a leader of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), who asked not to be named.

    “Military officers are not concerned about people’s welfare and they have no knowledge of civil administration. They only know how to squeeze civilians.”

    Debbie Stothard of Bangkok-based human rights group ALTSEAN said she had heard similar reports from eastern Shan state of military units seizing food and supplies since the cyclone.

    “They’ve started grabbing food for themselves because they are scared there will not be enough food left,” Stothard said. “It’s about them wanting to make sure they have enough supplies.”

    In Kale, soldiers were even demanding bribes to allow food and clothes donated for cyclone victims taken to a Buddhist monastery for distribution, residents said.

    “Senior generals have lost control over these units,” said one businessman selling Chinese-made electronics. “They are operating independent of the central command.”

    ———————————–

    Cyclone Survivors Forcibly Evicted
    By SAW YAN NAING Saturday, May 24, 2008, The Irrawaddy

    Thousands of homeless cyclone survivors from rural areas who sought shelter and aid in Bogalay and Mawlamyinegyun have been forcibly expelled from the towns by local government officials over the last five to six days, said sources in Rangoon and Bogalay.

    Speaking to The Irrawaddy by telephone, a resident in Bogalay said, “The authorities won’t allow refugees to stay in town. They are sending them back where they came from.

    “Firstly, the yayaka (Ward Peace and Development Council) sent refugees who have the ability to work to Maubin town and forced them to work as laborers—digging rocks in a quarry for as little as 1,000 kyat (US 0.88 cent) per day. But some refugees wouldn’t work and ran away,” she said.

    Min Zaw, a businessman in Rangoon who visited cyclone victims in Bogalay, also said that the local authorities were urging refugees who were taking shelter on the roadsides to stay out of sight while officials and aid donors were in town.

    “The yayaka drove through town and announced by loudspeaker that nobody could stay in the street,” he said. “They said that if their leaders and donors saw people living in the streets, it would hurt their dignity.”

    Some refugees were detained in local police stations while others were forcibly marched out of town and left in rural areas, Min Zaw said.

    Meanwhile, members of the pro-junta group, the Union Solidarity and Development Association, asked private donors not to deliver food and supplies into the hands of the refugees, telling the donors that it would make the refugees lazy and dependent on aid, said local sources.

    Volunteer donors were asked to hand aid and cash donations over to local authorities instead of delivering supplies directly to the victims, added the sources.

    Meanwhile, Ohn Kyaing, the spokesperson for a relief team sponsored by the opposition National League for Democracy, said that a group of refugees in Mawlamyinegyun was also forced by local authorities to return to their villages in cyclone-ravaged areas.

    On arrival in Mawlamyinegyun on May 10, he estimated that thousands of refugees were seeking shelter in Mawlamyinegyun alone.

    Ohn Kyaing said he also visited Bogalay and witnessed thousands of cyclone victims seeking shelter in monasteries and schools while many were forced to return to their devastated villages. He said he saw more than 4,500 refugees staying at nine monasteries in Bogalay.

    Meanwhile, a total of 9,200 cyclone survivors from 84 villages in Mawlamyinegyun, who were moved to relief camps in Wakema Township in the delta, have been evicted and sent back to their native villages as part of a resettlement plan, state-run newspaper The New Light of Myanmar said on May 24.

    About 30 Burmese private companies have been involved in the reconstruction process in cyclone-affected areas in the aftermath of the disaster with assignments by the regime to organize and undertake relief and resettlement work in 17 affected townships, according to a Xinhua report.

    There are about 400 villages in Bogalay Township, according to local data. The UN said that 95 percent of Bogalay Township was destroyed by the storm on May 2-3.

    Meanwhile, residents in Bogalay said that refugees were not receiving sufficient food and shelter from the government and nongovernmental organization, said sources. However, they added that philanthropists and private donors have continued to make donations to refugees at local monasteries and schools.

  4. Myanmar may use forced labour in cyclone recovery – ILO
    By Stephanie Nebehay

    GENEVA, May 30 (Reuters)– The International Labour Organisation warned on Friday of an increased risk Myanmar’s ruling military may try to use forced labour — including children — to rebuild the country after this month’s cyclone.

    The ILO has been at loggerheads with the former Burma for more than a decade over what the United Nations agency calls a widespread practice of forcing villagers to work on infrastructure projects or as porters for the army.

    It is also concerned about the recruitment of minors into military service in the secretive state whose ruling junta has been heavily criticised by the West for its reluctance to let in foreign aid workers following Cyclone Nargis, which struck on May 2 and left 134,000 people dead or missing.

    As Myanmar seeks to recover from the devastating storm, the ILO said U.N. agencies and relief workers must be aware of “the increased risk of incidences of forced labour, child labour, human trafficking and migrant labour as the authorities and individuals come to grips with the sheer size of the tragedy.”

    The ILO is working with Myanmar authorities to “ensure that the reconstruction effort does not involve the use of forced labour in any of its forms,” it said in a report on Friday.

    Steve Marshall, ILO’s liaison officer in Yangon, submitted the report to the annual International Labour Conference, being held in Geneva through June 13. A key committee of ILO’s 182 member states will hold a debate on Myanmar on Saturday.

    “From the ILO’s perspective it is important to assist communities but the reconstruction work must be done in line with international standards,” Marshall told Reuters on Friday.

    So far, there have not been any verified reports of forced labour linked to the disaster, he said, adding: “We’re not saying it isn’t happening.”

    Myanmar passed a decree in October 2000 abolishing forced labour, which is banned under an ILO Convention it has ratified. The Geneva-based agency was allowed to open an office there two years later to help it eradicate the practice.

    But the ILO said in its report some victims of forced labour were harassed or detained in the past year when they sought to report abuses. This had discouraged many others from coming forward and distorted official figures.

    Some 89 allegations of forced labour have been lodged under a complaints mechanism set up in February 2007, the report said.

    “The incidence of harassment and detention of persons associated with its application has severely limited its operation,” it said of the mechanism. “The number of complaints therefore cannot be seen to reflect the size of the issue.”

    Six young labour activists, sentenced to between 20 and 28 years in jail last year for helping organise a May Day workers’ rights seminar, remain in prison, the ILO report said.

    (Editing by Laura MacInnis and Mary Gabriel)

    —————————

    UN Confirms Cyclone Refugees Forced Back to Devastated Villages
    By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, Friday, May 30, 2008 (on The Irrawaddy)

    Burma’s military government is forcing cyclone victims out of refugee camps and “dumping” them near their devastated villages with virtually no aid supplies, the United Nations said on Friday.

    Eight camps set up earlier by the government for homeless victims in the Irrawaddy delta town of Bogale were “totally empty” as the clear-out continued, UNICEF official Teh Tai Ring told a meeting of aid groups.

    “The government is moving people unannounced,” he said, adding that authorities were “dumping people in the approximate location of the villages, basically with nothing.”

    Camps were also being closed in Laputta, another town in the delta, a low-lying area that took the brunt of Cyclone Nargis nearly a month ago.

    Centralizing stricken people in the centers had made it easier for aid agencies to deliver emergency relief since many villages in the delta can only be reached by boat or over very rough roads.

    Aid workers who have reached some of the remote villages say little remains that could sustain the former residents. Houses are destroyed, livestock have perished and food stocks have virtually run out. Medicines are nonexistent.

    The UNICEF official said some of the refugees were “being given rations and then they are forced to move.” But others were being denied such aid because they had lost their government identity cards, he said.

    There was speculation that authorities did not want “a refugee mentality” to set in, with camp inmates dependent on aid for a long period of time.

    Terje Skavdal, a senior UN official in Bangkok, Thailand, said he could not confirm the camp closures but that any such forced movement was “completely unacceptable.”

    “People need to be assisted in the settlements and satisfactory conditions need to created before they can return to their place of origins,” Skavdal, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told reporters. “Any forced or coerced movement of people is completely unacceptable.”

    Aid groups say Burma’s military government is still hindering foreign assistance for victims of the cyclone, while the junta has belittled the aid efforts as mere handouts of chocolate bars.

    Foreign aid workers are still awaiting visas, and the government is taking 48 hours to process requests to enter the Irrawaddy delta, the groups said.

    They said the International Red Cross was waiting for permission to send 30 foreign staffers into the delta.

    “We urge speedy implementation of all agreements, on access, visas and use of logistical assets,” Skavdal said. “We need to see more relief experts, including [those] from the [International Red Cross], getting into the delta as soon as possible without bureaucratic hindrance.”

    While saying there have been “promising indications that the government is moving in an overall right direction,” the real test remains implementation on the ground, he said.

    An estimated 2.4 million people remain homeless and hungry after the May 2-3 cyclone hit Burma. The government says the storm killed 78,000 people and left another 56,000 missing.

    “The Burmese government is still using red tape to obstruct some relief efforts when it should accept all aid immediately and unconditionally,” US-based Human Rights Watch said.

    “By still delaying and hampering aid efforts … the generals are showing that, even during a disaster, oppression rules,” it said in a statement.

    The junta has also barred naval vessels from the United States, France and Great Britain, which were poised offshore with humanitarian supplies. The French have been forced to dock in Thailand and turn over relief goods to the United Nations for shipment into Burma.

    While welcoming millions of dollars from the international community for cyclone relief, Burma lashed out at donors for not pledging enough.

    State-run media condemned donors for pledging only up to US $150 million—a far cry from the US $11 billion the junta said it needed.

    The Myanma Ahlin newspaper, a government mouthpiece, said in any case cyclone victims could get by without foreign handouts.

    “People from the Irrawaddy delta can survive on their own, even without bars of chocolate donated by the international community,” it said, adding they can live on “fresh vegetables that grow wild in the fields and on protein-rich fish from the rivers.”

    The reference to chocolate bars appeared to be metaphorical. No aid agency is known to be distributing chocolate, which would be impractical in the country’s tropical heat.

    The isolationist government only agreed to allow foreign aid workers in after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe last weekend.

    The country’s leaders are leery of foreign aid workers and international agencies, worrying they could weaken the junta’s powerful grip. The generals also don’t want their people to see aid coming directly from countries like the US, which the regime has long treated as a hostile power.

    —————————

    Karen cyclone refugees sent back to villages
    (Photographs in Burmese version)

    May 30, 2008 (DVB)–Nearly 500 cyclone refugees from the Irrawaddy delta taking shelter in Christian missionary compounds in Rangoon’s Ahlone township have been ordered back to their villages, according to aid workers.

    Most of the refugees are ethnic Karen Christians from villages around Labutta township area in the cyclone-devastated Irrawaddy delta.

    They were brought to Rangoon by the Yangon Home Mission Karen Baptist Association and were kept in the group’s compound in Ahlone township.

    An aid worker said the refugees were ordered by Rangoon divisional chief general Hla Htay Win yesterday to go back to their villages within 24 hours.

    “The Rangoon divisional chief said the refugees were to go back to the Irrawaddy delta by tomorrow – he said there were refugee camps to give them shelter,” said the aid worker, speaking on condition of anonymity.

    “But in reality, there is nowhere for them to stay.”

    Another missionary aid worker said a group of senior government officials led by the deputy religious affairs minister went to the compound where the refugees were staying and said they had arranged transportation to send the refugees back to their homes.

    “They said the 486 refugees taking shelter in the compound would be sent back to Labutta in 15 buses the next day,” said the aid worker.

    “Some of the refugees have been seriously traumatised by the cyclone and they are really depressed – they should not be sent back to their villages now.”

    A pastor at the compound said today that the refugees had been sent back to Myaung Mya in Irrawaddy division this morning in 11 buses.

    Reporting by Aye Nai

    —————————

    Over 1000 cyclone refugees forced out of Bogalay

    May 29, 2008 (DVB)–More than 1000 cyclone refugees from Bogalay taking shelter in Ma-au Bin have been forced by local authorities to leave the town and return to their villages, according to lawyer U Aye Myint.

    Aye Myint, from legal aid group Guiding Star, said he had encountered the refugees on 25 May on his way back from aid donation work in Phyar-pon, Kyeil Latt, Dadaye and Ma-au Bin townships organized by monks from Bago township.

    “We saw about 1000 refugees in 10 buses at the bridge crossing between Phyar-pon and Bogalay – we had to stop there for a while as the bridge was broken,” Aye Myint said.

    “I asked about 100 refugees where they were going and they said they were going back to Bogalay as they had been made to leave Ma-au Bin by local authorities,” he said.

    “They had some sort of ID cards pinned on the shirts with their names and ID numbers written on them. They said they didn’t know what the situation was in their villages and most of their homes had not yet been rebuilt.”

    Authorities have previously used waterways to transport refugees back to their villages but now are using buses to avoid overcrowding on boats.

    Aye Myint said another 1000 refugees had also been sent back to their villages from Ma-au Bin the previous night by local authorities who said there was not enough food for them.

    Reporting by Nan Kham Kaew

  5. Maybe out of subject or maybe not…

    I have read in some news agencies (not in many, actually) about something quite disturbing and I would like to ask you if you know something more about it: the the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres travelled to Bangladesh this week and visited the refugee camps of the burmese rohingya. Some of them expressed their refusal to go back to Burma without democracy. The next day, he met officials of the foreign ministry of Bangladesh and afterwards declared: “It is our objective to re-establish a trilateral mechanism among Bangladesh, Myanmar and UNHCR for repatriation of the refugees to Myanmar” and added “Enhanced cooperation that now exists between Myanmar and the international community will create opportunities in the future, hopefully for more meaningful dialogue.” Ironically, Guterres insisted that the re-establishment of the ‘mechanism’ will make possible for the refugees to return voluntarily.

    I can’t understand why or how the UNHCR have reached the conclusion that now is a good moment to repatriate these people, precisely when some weeks ago seemed that they were engaged in building in Bangladesh a more permanent settlement with australian money. It does not seem the best of the ideas in this moment…

    Thank you very much

  6. Carlos –

    Thanks for the question and also for your blog.

    The UNHCR’s role in Bangladesh has been greatly compromised for over a decade, when it started scaling down its work in the camps and there were many claims that it was involved in—or turning a blind eye to—actions that could constitute forced repatriation, which would violate international law. It is in a tight spot because Bangladesh is not a signatory to the convention on refugees, so there is no legally-binding arrangement for the UNHCR to work from there. Anyway, if you place the recent visit in the last ten years’ trajectory then it is not particularly surprising, even with the cyclone disaster.

    Here are some relevant documents going back some years already:
    Refugees International statement (2005)
    See also their Bangladesh homepage
    MSF report (2002)
    See also MSF Links page
    Human Rights Watch report (2000)
    International Studies Association working paper (2000)
    Amnesty International report (1997)
    And more links on Burma Library up to 2006

  7. Kyauk Tan villagers forced to work for aid

    Jun 27, 2008 (DVB)–Residents of Meepya village in Kyauk Tan township, Rangoon, have been forced to work on a reconstruction project in order to receive aid materials given by private donors.

    The villagers were told they would not receive the supplies unless they contributed labour to rebuild a dam that was damaged in the cyclone.

    About 500 households in Meepya village, which is located on an estuary, were damaged in the cyclone, leaving many people homeless.

    The village received assistance from private donors, but village Peace and Development Council chairperson U Aye Kyaw Myint and other members of the council seized the items and forced villagers to work on the dam on 26 May in return for aid.

    Villagers were angered by the demands, particularly as the PDC had already collected around 4.5 million kyat from local businesses and residents for the reconstruction of the dam but were not putting the funds to their designated use.

    Reporting by Khin Hnin Htet

  8. Charges of Forced Labor Emerge in Cyclone-Hit Areas
    By SAW YAN NAING Thursday, July 17, 2008, The Irrawaddy

    Thousands of people in hundreds of villages are being forced to labor for free under a military-led reconstruction effort in the cyclone-devastated Irrawaddy delta, according to sources in the area.

    Villagers in the hard-hit townships of Laputta, Bogalay, Pyapon and Dedaye say that local people, including children, have been told by Ward Peace and Development Councils and military troops that they must provide labor on a rotating basis.

    The work they are expected to do includes serving as porters, cutting bamboo and trees and cleaning up roads and villages. Some have also been put to work on construction sites, the sources said.

    The villagers, many of them living in camps for cyclone survivors, said that the duties imposed on them were preventing them from rebuilding their own homes or tending to their fields.

    “They [farmers] said that for the past month, they have been forced to work in rotation for the authorities. People who don’t work when it’s their turn have to pay a fine of 1,500 kyat (US $1.26),” said a source in Laputta.

    A refugee from the village of Kyar Chaung said that the authorities call on 100 men each day to carry sacks of rice. “Those who do not obey the order are driven out of the refugee camps,” he added.

    Another refugee, from the village of Kaing Thaung, said: “The authorities accuse people who don’t want to work for them of being lazy. They say that they are opportunists who are just waiting around to get everything for free.”

    There have been a number of reports of people in the camps being beaten and forced to leave. Some say that the authorities are looking for excuses to throw people out of the camps.

    Meanwhile, fishermen in the area have been ordered to catch prawns and fish for Burmese troops, said one fisherman in Ywe, a village in Laputta Township.

    The Burmese army unit responsible for recovery and reconstruction efforts in the Irrawaddy delta is Light Infantry Division 66, under the command of Brig-Gen Maung Maung Aye. As a commanding officer of Infantry Battalion 70 in Pegu Division and Karen State in the early 2000s, Maung Maung Aye was notorious for pressganging civilians into road construction.

    Sources in the camps for cyclone victims say that they have been told not to discuss the use of forced labor with visitors, and to inform the authorities about the presence of any unknown people in the camps.

    Burma’s military regime has been strongly condemned by international rights groups for its use of forced labor in building army camps and constructing basic infrastructure such as roads and bridges. Refusal to work on any of these projects has resulted in documented cases of detention, torture and execution.

    In June, the International Labor Organization said it was concerned that the Burmese military regime might use forced labor in reconstructing cyclone-devastated areas.

    The Irrawaddy’s correspondent Aung Thet Wine in Laputta also contributed to this report.

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