Rathedaung: Burmese army’s Light Infantry Battalion (536) base in Rathedaung in Arakan State has been forcibly collecting firewood from the local villagers for its brick-kiln, according to the villagers.
The army is said to have ordered the villagers in a number of villages located at northern part of Rathedaung Township to distribute a stick of firewood (that has an approximate girth of 1.6 feet and length of 5.6 feet) per household for its brick-kiln in the area by 22nd of December.
The villagers are from the villages of Kyaukhtaran, Maungphrurwa, Ngasanbor, Rasoechaung, Amyaktaung, Kyaukkonboat, Kharuchaung, Thapraykya, Paythadu, Rakaungchaung, Ohnchaung and Zeegong situated in northern Rathedaung Township.
“We were ordered to give the firewood through our village administrators by the army. It was also written in its order that the household that fails to give the firewood will be fine”, said one of the villagers from the area.
The villager said the army has received estimated over 2,000 sticks of firewood worth about five lakhs kyat for its brick-kiln from the villagers by its forcible order.
The soldiers of the LIB (536) who are currently being deployed for undertaking security in Akartaung, Kanseik and Sinkhontai (Muslim) Villages due to recent communal riot in the same area are said to have passed their battalion’s order to the villagers.
According to the villagers, the army has stated in its order of collecting firewood from them that it cannot send the Muslim villagers to the jungles to get firewood because of the security concerns in the area and if the Arakanese villagers do not wish to give firewood, it will have to use Muslim villagers for its firewood.
They said they had to agree with the army’s order because they worried that the undesirable violence would take place again in their area if the Muslim villagers would come to the jungles and mountains near their villages in the present situations.
The Burmese government has announced that there is now no forced labor perpetrated by its armed forces in the country and that any cases of forced labor can be reported to it or to the ILO and any personnel suspected of using forced labor will be prosecuted under civilian laws.
The villagers however said they do not know whether it can be classified as forced labor or not, but they had to give firewood to the army in fear of its order as well as repeat of communal riot in their area.