Forced labour for future Indo-Myanmar gas pipeline

Vol 7, PW 8 (02 Jul 03) People & Policy

GAS FROM Myanmar to energy-hungry India through an overland pipeline transiting Bangladesh now looks distinctly possible.

When first gas arrives, India will have to thank not just Myanmar's repressive military junta and the state-owned Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise but also several thousand forced labourers now at work laying the groundwork in anticipation of transit rights from Bangladesh. PETROWATCH learns that last May Myanmar authorities commandeered several thousand people to lay a new road and facilities for a future gas pipeline to the Bangladesh border.

We understand that the use of forced labour began soon after a joint Indo-Myanmar survey of existing jungle paths in western Myanmar. The new road begins from the Myanmar town of Kyaukpru - in the north western part of gas-rich Arakan state and travels 160-km to the Bangladesh border town of Teknaf.

"For now they are only working on road construction," Ko Myat Thu, a senior leader of the Burmese opposition National League for Democracy tells this report. "But forced labour is also being used for earth-cutting for the future pipeline." Thu and other eyewitnesses say hundreds of people - men, women and children - can be seen trudging to the worksites everyday upstream the Kaladan river from the villages of Tarwaing-oing, Mreik Wa, Chin Lat Wa, Nwge Let Wa, Kung Chaung, Miza , Milet Wa and Tinnma."The workers have been forced to bring their own food, water, medicine, and tools to dig earth, break blocks of stone and dig drains," he adds.

"Military overseers have been seen supervising the forced labour." Plans are to complete the road and a shoulder for the pipeline by the end of this year. Myanmar dissidents protest that the scorching summer heat and lack of safe drinking water at work sites has lead to the outbreak of water-borne diseases in several places.

"We have reports of the deaths of at least seven people in and around Letpanwa and Paletwa townships alone," a Myanmar dissident said.