By MIN LWIN
A gas pipeline in southern Burma is the scene of widespread rights violations, including forced labor and land confiscation, according to a new report released by the Human Rights Foundation of Monland (HURFOM).
The 104-page report, titled “Laid Waste: Human Rights along the Kanbauk to Myaing Kalay gas pipeline,” accuses Burma’s military government of committing “systemic, shocking and ongoing” abuses along the 186-mile (300 km) pipeline.
“The Burmese government’s Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise [MOGE] operates the Kanbauk to Myaing Kalay gas pipeline project, so the government bears responsibility for these human rights violations,” said Aue Mon from HURFOM, speaking to The Irrawaddy on Thursday.
The report details widespread human rights violations ranging from the daily commandeering of motorcycles and chickens to rape and summary executions. It also says that more than 15,000 acres of land have been confiscated to make room for the pipeline and to support 30 army battalions tasked with protecting it since construction began in 2000.
“They have already confiscated many acres of land. My land and plantations cost about 4 million kyat [US $4,000],” said one villager quoted in the report. “They took it without paying me one kyat.”
The report also details the rampant use of forced labor in the area along the pipeline. It says that local people, including children as young as 12, are routinely forced to do maintenance work on the pipeline, and to guard it and carry equipment for soldiers, at all times under threat of violent retribution for accidents or insurgent attacks.
“In one month, I was forced three to four times to be a porter… It was difficult, and we were beaten all the time,” said Nai Lot, 65, from the village of Mihtawhlagyi in Ye Township.
The abuses are “the predictable result of deploying large numbers of soldiers and encouraging them to extract what they can from the countryside, without oversight,” according the report.
“But abuses along the pipeline are also a deliberate, calculated part of the pipeline security effort,” it adds.
“There should be no question: projects like the Kanbauk to Myaing Kalay gas pipeline do not benefit the people of our country,” said Kasauh Mon, the director of HURFOM.
The Kanbauk-Myaing Kalay pipeline begins at the Total Pipeline Center near the town of Kanbauk in Yebyu Township, Tenasserim Division, and passes through five townships in Mon State and Tenasserim Division, ending in Myaing Kalay in Karen State, where the gas is used in government cement factories.
Burma’s pipelines have long been controversial, with rights groups claiming that they are built on land taken from local people, often using their unpaid labor. They also attract a heavy military presence, resulting in further abuses, rights groups say.
The British company Premier Oil, which signed a contract with MOGE in 1990 to extract gas from the Yetagun gas fields in the Andaman Sea, and the French oil giant Total, which signed an agreement to harvest gas from the Yadana gas fields in 1992, have both accused of complicity in the Burmese regime’s routine rights violations.