The Burmese army has been using hundreds of prison inmates as porters and human minesweepers in the recent conflict with a breakaway faction of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), according to a human rights group based in the Thai border town of Mae Sot.
An estimated 600 prisoners have been sent to the conflict area since fighting broke out between the Burmese army and the DKBA on Nov. 7, said the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP), citing accounts from three recently escaped prisoners.
“This shouldn’t happen in any situation,” said Bo Kyi, the joint secretary of the AAPP, speaking to The Irrawaddy on Wednesday. “They are, in effect, executing these prisoners by other means.”
He added that the AAPP would continue to investigate the matter and release a statement when it has gathered further evidence. If the claims were true, he said, “It would definitely constitute a crime against humanity.”
The three porters, who all came from Pakokku Prison in Magway Division and were assigned to the Burmese army’s Palaw Tapo camp in Myawaddy, Karen State, escaped to Mae Sot on Tuesday and are receiving help from local groups that support refugees on the border.
The oldest of the escaped prisoners, Thaung Htay Oo, 28, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that they were part of a group of 30 inmates from the same prison who had been sent to the area to act as porters.
“We couldn’t pay a bribe to the prison officials, so we were sent to the front line,” he said. “We had to carry ammunition, equipment and food for the soldiers. The worst thing is that they used prisoners to clear minefields ahead of their advance.”
He added that he and the two other escaped prisoners—Tin Zaw Min, 21, and Moe Yarzar, 17—fled to Thailand to escape the fate of other porters they had seen.
“There were many prisoners who were injured by the landmines after they were forced to walk ahead of the soldiers. We ran away because we didn’t want the same thing to happen to us,” he said.
Moe Yarzar, the youngest of the three, said that he and the other prisoners from Pakokku Prison were sent to the front line at the end of December, along with other inmates from prisons in Meiktila, Hpa-An and Kawkareik.
“Tin Zaw Min and I were sentenced to five years after we beat up a policeman who slapped my mother. The situation in prison was bad, but on the front line it was much worse. That’s why we decided we had to get away, no matter what happens,” he said.
He added that even old men were sent to the conflict area if they couldn’t pay a 100,000 kyat (US $120) bribe to prison officials.
Sources on the border say that clashes that took place between DKBA Brigade 5 and Burmese troops on Sunday and Monday were the most intense since fighting started two months ago, suggesting that the Burmese regime is stepping up its efforts to crush the rebel group.
DKBA Brigade 5 is led by Col Saw Lah Pwe, who broke away from the DKBA, a longtime ally of the Burmese regime, late last year.
Other armed groups opposed to the Burmese regime, including the Karen National Liberation Army and the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front, have cooperated with Saw Lah Pwe’s Brigade 5 since fighting started on Nov. 7.
Meanwhile, Thailand’s government announced on Wednesday that Thai nationals were prohibited from crossing the border into Burma, after a Thai man was reportedly abducted by members of the DKBA and held for a ransom of 300,000 baht ($9,800).
Sources by : irrawaddy