Phobahta, Burma. The Burmese army has been emptying out its prisons to use social prisoners to clear landmines and act as porters in its current military offensive. Burma has been ruled by military governments since 1960. After the civilian National League for Democracy won elections in 1990 Burma has been ruled by a military junta. This has been met by widespread resistance among students and workers who have joined the resistance efforts of ethnic minorities who have long fought for independence. The military has sought to crush all rebellion by several large military offensives.
According to escaped prisoners, at least 6,000 social prisoners have been used by the army to clear minefields by walking in front of advancing infantrymen. According to one prisoner, more than 300 unarmed prisoners were killed in one battle alone leaving the jungle littered with blood and dead bodies. When not acting as minesweepers, the prisoners must carry heavy packs of supplies including artillery shells, through the steaming jungles.
Many of the prisoners have escaped and joined the rebel forces saying they would rather die than return to the government control. One prisoner said, "I only had two months to go on my jail term when the soldiers dragged me out of my cell and sent me to the jungle." Political prisoners still remain in prison.
Seattle Times, 3-31-92
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