Locals villagers in Kachin state abducted by the Burmese army to porter supplies in its ongoing battle against rebels will only be released if their families can pay a hefty ransom fee.
Residents in state capital Myitkyina claim a number of locals from Talawgyi village tract, around 20 miles north, had been taken by troops and forced to carry supplies for patrolling Burmese army columns.
The price of their return is around 500,000 kyat ($US590), a huge demand for families in Burma’s poor rural north.
A man from Myitkyina who asked not to be named said that those who could afford to pay the fee and were released had relayed information about their ordeal, and said that two villages in the tract had lost the majority of inhabitants to the army.
Troops are being sent up from lower Burma to assist in the offesnive against the opposition Kachin Independence Army (KIA). Fighting has died down in recent days, following a four-day period of sustained artillery fire against Kachin targets.
But the additional Burmese troops are reportedly mobilising on the east bank of the Irrawaddy River in preparation for an assault on the Kachin rebels.
The Myitkyina resident said that two men from his town, identified as Ko Nyi and U Gam Aung, were also forced to porter for the army.
“They were corn merchants. Their motorbikes were also seized by the troops. Their families had to pay the army 500,000 kyat for each of them to be released,” said the man.
Forced portering by the Burmese army is a regular occurrence during offensives against ethnic armed groups in the country’s border regions. Human Rights Watch said in a report in July that the tactic, which includes using civilians as human shields and minesweepers, could amount to war crimes.
The report also detailed how prisoners had been taken from their cells and transported hundreds of miles to conflict zones to carry equipment.