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Some 800 prisoners have been taken from their cells in central and eastern Burma and used as porters to carry equipment for frontline troops in Karen state, DVB has learnt.
Three porters recruited by the Burmese army in its ongoing fight against the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) have escaped to the border town of Mae Sot in Thailand. They managed to flee after being tasked with collecting supplies left behind in a camp close to the border.
The men told DVB that among the 800 prisoners were 30, including themselves, from Pakokku prison in Magwe division. They were taken on 31 December and stopped overnight in the towns of Meiktila, Pa-an, and Kawkareik. During the journey, the porters were chained and made to carry supplies.
“The army unit that brought us made us work like animals: our legs were shackled and we were not allowed to relieve ourselves or rear our heads without permission,” said one man. “We had to sleep in crammed sleeping quarters. We cannot take care of our personal hygiene. We cannot walk properly because of the shackles.”
He added that the men were forced to dig trenches for troops to sleep in but were themselves barred from using them, instead having to resort to sleeping in open fields.
The use of civilians as porters for the Burmese army is common, while the use of human minesweepers continues to occur, a tactic that would be tantamount to a war crime.
Reports have also emerged that a number of child soldiers have deserted the Burmese army in recent days. One 17-year-old told DVB that the army had stopped providing food rations for troops fighting in Karen state, thus forcing them to escape to the Thai border.
The already volatile situation in eastern Karen state has worsened in recent days as fighting between the DKBA and the Burmese army intensifies. Numbers of stray artillery shells have landed across the border close to the Thai town of Mae Sot, while one Thai civilian has been taken hostage by the DKBA.
Fighting first began on 8 November last year after DKBA troops, led by renegade commander Na Kham Mwe, took key government positions in Myawaddy, across the border from Mae Sot. Clashes have since continued to occur on a regular basis.