13 July 2011

From jailhouse to minefield


BANGKOK: “The soldiers told us if we were alive tomorrow we would be lucky,” said Tun Tun Aung, a prisoner originally from a town near Mandalay who was press-ganged into front-line duty by the Burmese Army along with 29 other convicts from Meiktila prison in December 2010.

He said there were about 1,000 prisoners in Karen State when his group arrived there, whereupon they were divided up into groups to carry bombs for the army. “We were never given food or water,” he said, recounting the arduous daily trek up mountains and through jungle, in the ever-dangerous region where Karen rebels have fought the Burmese Army since 1948.

His story is one of 58 separate accounts by Burmese convicts recorded by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG) in a new report, “Dead Men Walking: Convict Porters on the Front Lines in Eastern Burma,” which was released today at a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand. The document, based on accounts given by convict porters who were reportedly coerced into duty but later managed to escape, outlines cases of torture, beatings and summary executions.

Since elections held on Nov 7, 2010, fighting between the Burmese Army and ethnic militias in Karen, Shan and Kachin states, which are home to sizable ethnic minorities, has increased, making it likely that the numbers of convict porters has gone up as the army engages in more fighting with the militias. Full story at The Irrawaddy