No hope for reform on Burma's slave railway

DESPITE the hopes for democracy that rose with the release of Aung San Suu Kyi last month, Burma's military government shows no signs of changing its methods. Thousands of ethnic Mon civilians are being used as slave labourers on the Ye-Tavoy railway to secure a multi-million- dollar gas-pipeline project.

Funded by Total of France and Unocal of the US, the pipeline, cutting across rebel Mon territory, will provide Thailand with 525 million cubic feet of gas per day under a 30-year contract worth pounds 250m per year for the military government, the State Law and Order Restoration Council, or Slorc.

The 110-mile long railway will facilitate the deployment of Slorc troops in the rebel zone, but the more immediate concern for the Mon is the forcible relocation or destruction of their villages, and the forced conscription of civilian labour. The New Mon State Party estimates that up to 150,000 people were used in last year's dry season on the construction of the railway. Conscription involves the arrival of Slorc troops at Mon villages and the demand for one person per household. If no man is available, they take a woman. If no woman, a child.

At Payaw refugee camp there are plenty among the 3,500 people to testify to Slorc atrocities. Jo Sein, aged 40, spent 12 hours every day digging up to 20 feet for the laying of the track in the mountainside. He escaped during the night, risking his life, arriving at Payaw after a three-day walk through jungle.

Nai Sor Teh, aged 35, worked for a month on a different site chopping trees. "Those not wanting to work from illness were beaten with rifle butts." But the workers, he said, had no toilet facilities and fell ill due to the lack of sanitation. There were medical supplies, but only for the troops. Workers had to bring food to supplement the few rations shared between them daily. "The Slorc are dividing families; they take from us the chance to earn a living." Nai Sor Teh says that the labourers encouraged children at the site to rest, but the soldiers beat them and ordered them to work. Some children were as young as 12.

At the NMSP Tavoy District camp, Nai Ban Ya Mon interprets the softly spoken words of a shy 21-year old woman, Mi Sheinta, from Demokran on the west coast. She said soldiers arrived at her village, and ordered people to leave their homes after throwing their possessions into the sea at gunpoint. Two village heads were beaten for resisting and the village was burnt to the ground.

Thailand's policy of "constructive engagement" with Burma continues to operate on the basis of economic interest. For the Mon, civil liberties are clearly connected to trade and investment. One of their concerns is to link human rights issues to the broader economic ones.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Admin Assistant

£12000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An expanding Insurance Brokerag...

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Mechanic / Plant Fitter

£24000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Lancashire based engineeri...

Recruitment Genius: Service Advisor

£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

Recruitment Genius: Service Advisor

£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders