Forced labor forces villagers into exiles

Despite ceasefire agreements signed with the two Shan State Army (SSA) factions, forced labor appeared to have increased in 2012 in rural Shan State after the Burmese army, taking advantage of the truce, brought in more troops to take up new positions, reported Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) in its December issue.

The report describes conscription of villagers as guides and porters, carrying equipment and fetching water to the Burma Army’s hill outposts. In addition, they had to provide chickens, all free of charge, to the bases, as in Nam Zarng.

Other townships included in the report are Murng Paeng (Mong Piang), Murng-Su (Mong Hsu), Kae-See (Kehsi), Larng-Khur (Langkherh) and Kun-Hing (Kunhing).

As the Burma Army pushed further outside urban areas, confrontations became unavoidable despite ceasefire agreements, and the villagers acting as guides and porters were inevitably caught up in the crossfires.

Ethnic Shan from Burma work on a construction site in Chiang Mai (Photo: John Hulme)

One of the families that arrived on the Thai border explained that they had a very difficult life. When they had to go as porters, there was no one left to feed their families, especially when they had to go for many days. “I am the head of my family and the only adult man who needs to work to support the whole family,” a villager from Langkher told SHRF. “When I had to frequently go away to serve the military, sometimes as long as 10 days at a time, the rest of my family, who are only women, children and elderly, hardly had anything to eat.”

According to an aid worker, more than 1,000 people had crossed the border into Fang district, Chiangmai province, during the July-November 2012 period. “If you add up those that have not passed through our aid station, it’ll be at least 5 times that figure,” he said. “And few of them are going back.”

Deputy Labor Minister U Myint Thein signed an MoU with International Labor Organization (ILO) in Naypyitaw in 16 March 2012 to end forced labor by 2015, according to New Light of Myanmar.

There are now an estimated 1 million registered foreign workers and 1.5 million or more unregistered migrant workers in Thailand with 75% + likely from Burma, 20% from Cambodia and 5% from Laos and other countries, according to Andy Hall, Institute for Population and Social Research (IPSR), Mahidol University.


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