Arakanese abducted for border fence work

Dec 9, 2009 (DVB), Burmese troops are abducting villagers near to the Burma-Bangladesh border and forcing them to work on the construction of a border fence, an Arakan local has reported.

Hundreds of local villagers in Arakan state's Maungdaw district are being forced to work on the fence for as little as 400 kyat ($US0.40) per day, a Maungdaw resident told DVB.

A number of construction sites have sprung up along the border to facilitate what has become a controversial project. Government officials from both countries were forced into a meeting on the Burmese side of the border in October after escalating tension.

A military build-up on the Burmese side of the border, allegedly to support construction of the fence, triggered a reaction from Dhaka, which sent three fresh Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) battalions to the area.

A source based on the border said that Bangladesh had followed the reinforcement with the development of a bunker network near to Teknaf,the southernmost point of mainland Bangladesh. Teknaf lies opposite Maungdaw district.

Another resident in Maungdaw's Katpalaung village said that following the refusal of residents to work on the fence, Burmese troops had began abducting villagers at night and forcing them to the construction sites.

"Because they are only paying around 400 kyat per day, more and more people are refusing to come and work at the site," said the villager. "Then [troops] abducted people at night and forced them to work. It's been going on about a week and a lot of people have gone into hiding."

Local authorities in Maungdaw were not available to comment.

The fence is aimed at stemming cross-border smuggling and the movement of refugees. Burma has however been accused by Bangladesh of breaching the agreed demarcation by 150 feet.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) said in November that complaints of forced labour in Burma had risen by 50 percent since May this year, with more than half of these stemming from the recruitment of youths into the army.

Forced labour in Burma, as determined by the ILO, comes in varying forms, from hard labour used in the renovation of roads and infrastructure to use of civilians as porters or 'minesweepers' by the Burmese army.

Reporting by Thiri Htet San

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