07/17/2008, 00.00
MYANMAR
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Nargis refugees exploited to rebuild entire areas of Burma

The military junta uses the work of adults and children to rebuild roads, homes, and bridges, without paying anyone. Those who do not give in to coercion are forced to pay a tax, and are accused of "opportunism".

Yangon (AsiaNews) - The Burmese military junta is exploiting the work of thousands of refugees in the camps, in order to rebuild the areas of the Irrawaddy delta struck by the passage of cyclone Nargis. The charge is made by the opposition newspaper The Irrawaddy News, citing anonymous sources in the area: according to the newspaper, the inhabitants of Laputta, Pyapon, Bogalay, and Dedaye - including children - are forced to work for free, carrying out the lowliest and most burdensome tasks. The Burmese council for peace and development, accompanied by military troops, is making the refugees work as porters, cut bamboo and trees, and clean up roads and villages, all without the slightest economic compensation. Others are used on construction sites, preventing them from working first of all to rebuild their own homes destroyed by the passage of the cyclone, or to bring normality back to their villages of origin.

Those who do not want to submit to the exploitation are forced to pay a tax equal to 1,500 kyat (about a dollar and a half), an enormous sum for a population still struggling for everyday survival, and whose average income is below the poverty level. Those able to pay are charged with the infamous accusation of acting as "lazy opportunists", watching others work while they wait to receive a free new home.

Witnesses also affirm that the refugees are beaten and forced to abandon the barracks where they have found refuge, while the authorities make up flimsy excuses to drive them out. The supervision of the work of rebuilding the areas struck by the cyclone, moreover, has been entrusted to the 66th light infantry division headed by brigadier general Maung Maung Aye, famous for forcing the population to construct roads when he was the head of the 70th infantry battalion in 2000.

The Burmese regime has been repeatedly condemned by the international community for the exploitation of labour during the construction of military bases, roads, and bridges, and for imprisoning, torturing, and executing those who refuse to cooperate.

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