Dweh Loe township in Papun district say:Burma: Children forced to carry frontline supplies

4.July 2011 KIC news

The Burma government has repeatedly denied the use of forced labor to international organisations, but villagers from Dweh Loe township in Papun district say the Burma army has forced men, women and including children, some as young as 11 to porter rations for their troops.

In March 2010, in his report to the UN Human Rights Council, Tomas Ojea Quintana, the special rapporteur for Myanmar, detailed a “pattern of gross and systematic violation of human rights which has been in place for many years.”

In January this year the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva examined Burma’s human rights record as part of its first Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Burma’s delegation, led by Deputy Attorney General Dr. Tun Shin, categorically denied state-orchestrated widespread, systematic and persistent human rights violations against the people of Burma.

Meanwhile in eastern Burma the army continued to abuse civilians. In a four-month period beginning in early January until the end of April this year, the Burma army used a rotation system where they forced civilians from 10 villages in Dweh Lo Township in Papun district to carry army supplies.

Light Infantry Brigade 215 and Infantry Brigade 96 of South Eastern Command run the army camps located in Win Maunge village.  The camps have a combined strength of about 400 soldiers. In order to supply their outposts on the frontlines, they rely on forcing villagers to be porters.

A 22-year-old villager, who was forced to be a porter told Karen News he saw people as young as 11 and as old as 60, forced to porter.

“Our village was ordered that every household had to transport five sacks of rice. My father and my 16-year-old brother and I had to carry the sacks. I also saw children as old as 11 being used as porters. It took us a one-day round trip place to carry the supplies to the camp. Young children had to be helped by their parents’ as they got tired. They [Burma army] ordered the village head to arrange the porter roster. No one wanted to go, we go out of fear…we have no choice.”

Villagers said children were not exempt, anyone who was able to carry a load had to go, starting from the biggest village; Win Maunge with 200 household, to the smallest village; Tha Yet Pin with 30 households.

Local civilians say soldiers are worried if they transport their supplies by truck KNLA fighters would attack, so they use villagers instead. The Burma army use villagers in a relay system to cover the distance between their base camp and outposts. A villager told Karen News that the Burma Army supplies are carried from one village to the next in order to reach the furthest outpost.

“Villagers from the first village have to carry it to the next village, and villagers from that village carry it to next one in the supply chain. This goes on until the supplies arrives at their destination. Supplies include rice, chili, bean, salt and tinned sweeten milk.

A Win Maunge villager, who for security reasons asked not to be named, told Karen News that it is not unusual to see children carrying the supplies.

“A girl, 13, from Win Maunge village tract was ordered to carry supplies. She did not have her own food. Adult from the same village as the girl took care of her. She was young and was unable to carry the large loads. The girl became sick from the work.”

The villager said children are kept working on the supply lines even during fighting between the Burmese army and the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA).

The villager explained that due to hardships caused by Burma’s economic crisis, many under age children have to work to help their families make enough to live on.

“When the Burma army order villagers to porter, many parents get their children to go instead of them or if they are too young get them to help them carry the supplies.”

A Karen Human Right Group (KHRG) report cites the case of a 17-year-old convict porter who had been used to carry food supplies and military supplies during a Burmese army offensive in the Palu district.

“The soldiers forced us to go in front of them to clear landmines. They forced us to clear the ways and dig trenches. They told us that if we step on landmines and injured, they won’t give us treatment. They will shoot us dead.”

KHRG is a community-based organisation documenting human right violations in Eastern Burma areas.

Following Burma’s 2010 national elections, the Burma army launched a fresh offensive to against a Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) faction and KNLA fighters in Walay, Palu and Manerplaw. During the offensive, the Burma army used many convict and villagers as porters, including many young people under 18-years.

In a systematic process the Burma army took more than 800 convicts from Insein, Tharyarwaddy, Mandalay, Thayet, Taungzun, Mawlamyaing and Pa-An prisons and forced them to be porters during the offensive in Walay, Palu and Manerplaw.

In early January 2011, the Burma army Light Infantry Battalion 217 forced 400 villagers from 30 villages in the Papun district to carry their supplies to frontline camps.

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