Ashes and Tears: The Interviews
Interview 14: Job
Male, age 24.
From: Falam, Chin State.
Occupation: student, worked in a shop.
Education: 1st year, Mandalay University.
Left Burma: July 2000.
Q: Why did you leave Burma?
A: I was chased by the military, so I dared not stay in the country anymore. During 1999 I was arrested and put into jail, because I helped one of the political organizations that the government doesn't like. I was released after I signed a bond that I would not help that organization anymore in the future. And then I helped that organization again in January 2000. I gave the money to that organization, to someone who was arrested by the military and confessed about me giving them money. The organization is the CNF.
Q: In 1999, how did you get arrested?
A: I don't know in detail, but I think someone informed on me that I helped the CNF by distributing the leaflets or pamphlets to the public.
Q: Do a lot of people have access to those printed materials?
A: I'm not sure, but it reaches many people in the towns.
Q: In Falam did you ever see political stickers, posters, graffiti, in public?
A: Yes, I did. There is a letter they stick on the walls, that demands to open the schools, and hand over power to the elected NLD and leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and [says that] the people don't like the military government.
Q: How long did they keep you under arrest in 1999?
A: For seven days. They interrogated me. The question was, "did you support the CNF members?" and "did you distribute the leaflets to the public?" Most of the people who persecuted me were the MI people. Some of them were newly arrived MI or military personnel. They came from Kalemyo or Mandalay or Maymyo. My hands were tied at my back, and they forced me to sit on the chair and three people beat me. Sometimes they beat me with their gun butts, and they punched my face, and they kicked me with their jungle boots. My nose and mouth were bleeding and my left eye was swollen so I couldn't see anymore. It was at the beginning. I was arrested at about 4:00 PM and in the early morning I was persecuted. I was put into a cell with five other people, and I was called into a room to be persecuted. After that I was brought back to the cell again. It was the police station. The other people in the cell were ordinary criminals.
Q: When you were let go, did your family have to pay any money?
A: Yes, my father gave a bribe to the military. 25,000 kyat.
Q: After that did you have to report to the MI?
A: I had to report once a week at their office. They don't allow me to travel anywhere.
Q: Did your family members have problems with the authorities?
A: After I was released from the jail, the military took advantage of that event, and they used to come to my two sisters and take some goods [from their shop or homes] without paying any money. And the military used our car without paying any money. Not even gas. After I fled to Rangoon and escaped from the country, because I was not in Falam at the time, the military took my father to the police station, and my father had to work for the police from morning to evening. My father had to carry water for the police. The water is rare in that area and he had to carry it manually with some container, and he had to clean the compound of the police station under the sun and the rain. He's 45 years old.
They asked him where I was, and said to inform the MI when I came home.
Q: For the family shop, did you have to pay taxes?
A: When we had to pay, for example, 5,000 kyat to the government office, we paid 10,000 to the employees of the tax office. We had to pay some money to the municipal, and the customs, and the Union Solidarity Defense Association, a donation. For their fund, we had to pay once a month, about 1% of the income of the store.
Q: Did your family have to go to any USDA events or rallies?
A: No. If they called us to go there, we didn't want to go there, so we paid money for [not going], 50 kyat. I know they made meetings sometimes. Some people who cannot pay the money, and other people go to those meetings.
Q: Could you speak with other people in Falam about politics?
A: No. If we do they are going to arrest us.
Q: How would you find out news and information when you were in Falam?
A: Radio news. BBC.
Q: Did your family have a television or video?
Q: Did you have any access to a computer?
A: I never saw a computer before.
Q: What was the narcotics use among the young people in Falam?
A: For narcotics, the most problem is alcohol. It is locally made alcohol.
Q: What ages use it?
A: Around age 17, they use alcohol a lot. Mostly the boys. The economy of the town is depressed, and the morale of the young people is also depressed, and so they use the alcohol, and they can get it very easily, they can get it anywhere in the town. Because they have nothing to do.
Q: How many months of actual university education did you have before the schools were closed?
A: Only three months.
Q: Were the students at Mandalay University politically active or not?
A: Yes, they were. About half of them. Some students are afraid of arrest by the military. They knew the experience of 1988 and their parents [don't want them to participate.]
Q: In Falam, just before you left, did the army ask people in the town to work for them?
A: Yes, they did. They forced them to work on the road construction. They forced them to dig out the old pipeline of the Falam water supply, that came from six miles away. The government didn't have any machine to dig out that pipe, so the only instruments were shovels and hoes. In September 1999.
Q: Was there other work like that in 2000?
A: They forced them to work to level the football ground. In early 2000.
Q: Did you ever see the government soldiers themselves doing that kind of work?
A: Sometimes when their superiors, their commanders, came to visit them, sometimes they worked like that, just for a few days or a few hours. After that they force the people to work the rest of the time.
Q: Did you hear anything about mining or oil industry development in Falam or Chin State?
A: I don't know about that. Besides the store, my parents have a business of transport with some cars, and the government military use their cars and their trucks without paying any money, they didn't even pay for the gas.
Q: Where do they get the cars and trucks?
A: They're old ones, Nissan.
Q: How much did the petrol cost?
A: It was 500 to 600 kyat per gallon. Always increasing.
Q: How was the electricity supply in Falam?
A: Only when there is a lot of water, like in winter season, we have electric power every night. But in the summertime, only one out of two days, or less than that. It is hydroelectric power.