Mon Women Speak Out for Peace
These essays by Mon women express their hopes for peace and recount the effects of Burma's frontier war on their lives. Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam are home to the Mon ethnic group. There are approximately 1.3 million Mons living in Burma. The Mons are the descendants of a civilization that spread Buddhism throughout Southeast Asia. They speak a Khmer-related language. Mon rebels operate in southern Burma (Tenasserim, Three Pagodas Pass. and Andaman Sea coastal areas). In addition to fighting Burmese military domination like other rebel groups, the Mons fight Burmese assimilation and hold a renaissance of Mon civilization as their goal. Human rights abuse by Burmese counterinsurgency forces is severe in the Mon areas and includes torture of civilians for information and forced labor. There has been considerable displacement of the Mon population in Burma due to the war. According to the US Committee for Refugees, there are 7.712 Mon refugees who are "internally displaced" within Burma. Further stress has been placed on Mon coastal people in 1989 by the Burmese government's granting of fishing concessions to Thai trawler fleets, which have severely overfished the area. Mon fishing people who have lived along the Andaman Sea coast for hundreds of years are now prevented from taking their small boats out to sea because the government grants that right only to companies with foreign exchange.
Mi Chan, Farmer
My name is Mi Chan. I have learnt only in primary school. I was brought up in a village in Ye Township. We earn our lives by growing paddy. Government army arrives at our village sometimes. They treat us very badly because they accuse us of being connected with revolutionary forces. They arrested all the young men and forced them to be porters. They used the young men as mine cleaners [to walk] in front of their troops. They made a lot of trouble for young women and committed rape.
I would like to tell about my bitter experiences from the civil war. One of my husband's legs was amputated after he had stepped on a land mine when he was forced to carry ammunition for government troops three years ago. My younger brother was drowned and dead when his boat, which carried some soldiers of the government, was ambushed last year. The last two years, all houses and paddy barns were burnt down when the fighting between government and revolutionary forces took place.
Sometimes revolutionary forces arrive in our village. They do not do any harm to us. They treat us very well. Anything they want, they give its value. They only give us political speeches about their struggling for equal rights and self-determination. It is right: there are no equal rights and the ethnic groups lost their right to self-determination. The government does not recognize their equal rights and self-determination. The government follows the policy of elimination of all minority groups by force. I do not believe that fighting could bring peace to Burma. Even the government has already launched a 40-year-old civil war; it could not meet its goal, yet. I deeply believe that only negotiation could bring true peace to Burma.
So we would like to request all the good-willed people of the world to bring peace to Burma by persuading the Saw Maung government to throw away its stupid policy and to sit down face to face with the revolutionary forces for true peace.
Mi Chan Mon, Teacher
I was born in 1966, and brought up in a small village in Ye Township, about 270 miles south of Rangoon, capital city of Burma. My parents earn their living as farmers.
The civil war has been going on since I was young. Following are some of my experiences.
The Ne Win government's troops often enter our village. Sometimes they come across Mon revolutionary forces and skirmishes occur. Mon soldiers always make their way out from the village for fear that the clash would cause danger to the villagers. From time to time the Ne Win troops accuse our villagers [of being] insurgent sympathizers, and those healthy and strong are arrested and have to serve as porters. These porters are always loaded with heavy artillery shells, going in front of the troops to be used as bullet cover and mine sweepers.
In the village, vegetables, pigs, chickens [etc.] are taken by these troops, very often without [the troops] paying any charges. Many village girls are sexually assaulted, some raped, and some killed. Some valuables and belongings of the villagers are often robbed. We, all the villagers, are always under hardship during the stay of the troops in our villages. This is the general situation of our village. From my childhood and up to this date, this situation has not yet changed.
In summer 1987, my father was arrested by a troop from 61st Battalion, stationed in Ye. They took him to the jungle. About two months later he was sent back home. But he was severely wounded in his right hand. He told us that he had to carry heavy, 81mm mortar shells and go in front of the troops in the jungle. Unluckily, in an ambush by the Mon soldiers, he was shot in the right hand. Ne Win's troops took him to a nearby village and told him to stay with villagers. They gave him completely nothing: not any food [or] money. We immediately took him to the hospital where his right hand was unavoidably chopped off. My father became a disabled man. He can no longer work as usual. More hardships beset our family.
Again, in April 1989, Ne Win's troops-about 40 strong (from 61st Battalion)-came to our village to seize the surplus paddy from farmers. Before entering the village they came across with some Mon soldiers and they exchanged gunfire for a few moments. No casualties on both sides. But Ne Win's troops took it as a secret plot by the villagers and they were extremely angry. So the result was the burning down of the village! Fifteen houses, including my house, were burnt to ashes. All the house owners were forced to look on helplessly. No aid from the local government authorities was rushed to the fire victims. Instead, kind villagers built up small huts for the homeless people and some necessities such as food, clothing, and medicine were provided. Until now, we are leading a poor life in a small hut, but thanks to our kind villagers!
Our rural area of Ye Township is listed as "Black area" by the local government authorities. They regard it as insurgent's area. So Ne Win's troops treat us as insurgent's family or relatives.
In our area skirmishes, ambushes, clashes [etc.] between Ne Win's troops and the Mon Liberation Army are very common. The plight of the villagers becomes greater and greater.
I-maybe my fellow villagers, too-pray for peace before the sacred Buddha image every day. I hope that one day our God will bless us! But this is only my wishful thinking. In reality, peace can be at hand only when the civil war is over.
I am of the opinion that the war can only be over by means of peace negotiation. Insurgents, as the government terms them, are in reality national freedom fighters. They are fighting for their rights. So through peace negotiations the best settlement could be achieved. So, the present Saw Maung government should initiate the call for peace parley. We, all the people in Burma, should stage peaceful demonstrations and [speak] out for realization of peace negotiation! We cordially call to all of the democracy-loving peoples all over the world for "HELP."
Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.