Civilian porters are being made to sweep for mines and several have been executed by the Burmese army as they attempted to flee during fighting in the Karen border region.
Army officials are alleged to have recruited porters from prisons in southern Burma and taken them to the frontline in Karen state, where fighting against the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) continues.
“They ordered us porters to take the middle of the road while soldiers walk along the side of the road,” said Pho Aye, who managed to escape after being sent to Karen state from Pathein prison in Irrawaddy division. “A porter named Pho Thar Aung died when he stepped on a landmine and two soldiers were slightly injured from shrapnel.”
He added that porters were being forced to carry equipment and food weighing up to 65 kilograms and risked being shot if they were unable to take the load.
“We get exhausted after carrying [equipment] for days and night and get beaten by soldiers with their rifles when we’re tired. They said we will die if we can’t follow them anymore. I saw them shoot someone in front of us for trying to escape,” said Pho Aye.
A group of porters who managed to escape to Thailand told DVB two weeks ago that around 800 inmates from across southern and eastern Burma had been sent to Karen state.
Reports that firefighters in Karenni state had been given weapons and told to look after security in villages while troops went to the frontline have also emerged.
The already volatile situation in eastern Karen state has worsened in recent weeks 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.