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The good, the bad and the ugly in Mon State


(Reported by Cham Toik: December 21, 2004)

Central Mon State enjoys a better standard of living due to a thriving economy and an increase in population in sharp contrast to other areas of Burma.

Many villages are promoted to towns and have become more populated.  The streets are bustling with activity, new motorcycles and vehicles roar up and down the streets, new houses are being built and old ones renovated according to former residents of the area who recently visited there.  Several karaoke bars are packed with young people, including Mon, Burmese and Thai patrons.  All who travel frequently and conveniently to Rangoon, Moulmein and other cities for shopping and dealing business enjoy freedom of movement, a rare commodity in Burma. 

A former resident, a Mon Canadian, said local civilians appear to be content with their daily lives and show little interest in discussing politics despite the Burmese government’s strict rules and suppression.  Relatives working abroad support family businesses and activities.  Most villages in Mon State have cell phones and use them to communicate with their families and relatives working in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, North America, Australia, and Europe.

Since thousands have left for economic reasons and human rights violations committed by the military regime, communities face a shortage of farm laborers.  Thousands of internal migrant workers from the delta region (Myitwa Kyunbaw) and upper Burma (Ahnyar) flock to Mon State and work in the rice fields and rubber plantations to fill in quotas.

Migrant workers told Kaowao, who just arrived in Thailand, that the daily wages for a farm laborer is about 3,000 Kyat a day in villages in Thanbyu Zayat Township while wages in Rangoon are half that and 500 Kyat in upper Burma.  With such economic disparity as well as milder weather in Mon State, many adults and young people from other areas flock down to work in the fishing and agriculture industries. 

“They work hard, save their money and then go back home like us (local Mon people) who go to Thailand and bring back some money,” said Awin from Durae in Ye.

“When I came here, I expected to see only older people and women in the village.  But I was really surprised to see many different kinds of people in the markets.  Ten years ago there were no Burmese speaking people in my village.  But now, I hear many people speaking Burmese, some have married the local Mon people to settle here and buy some land,” said Kloy Toi who works in Thailand’s Maharchai fishing factories on his recent visit back home in Ye Township. 

Many travelers and local people from Thanbyu Zayat and Ye Townships confirm their lives are improving; they can easily travel to the city by cars.  In the past, traveling was very difficult except for the Ye-Moulmein railroad, which stretches for about 100 miles from Moulmein to Ye.  Many people now own motorcycles and most monasteries have their own cars for getting around.

“Before the cease-fire agreement, we had to flee from the Burma Army when they came to our area.  Now there is no fighting and it is peaceful.  I have not seen (Burmese) soldiers in years,” said Nai Kyaw Zin, a local farmer from Andin.

In Moulmein and Rangoon, people wear red sarongs (Mon traditional dress) and bargain for goods in the market.  Various Mon publications have increased compared to a decade ago.  Several publications in Mon language, including journals, magazines, textbooks and a range of music in CDs and tapes are easily found in the cities and villages.  Nai Een said he had to steer clear of many hawkers approaching him to sell their products.  “Of course, there is a scrutiny board and censorship but there are many more publications compared to 8 years ago,” he commented.

Nonetheless, there are good and bad aspects, two sides to the story.  While some have grown complacent from their living standard and cultural rights, other villagers in Mon State, especially in southern Ye, are subjected to corruption and human rights violations committed by the local authorities.

Several political communities and the Mon Buddhist Sangha concluded that the SPDC government is unsympathetic to their needs and exercises complete control over Monland by expanding its army.  The ceasefire agreement between the NMSP and the junta has led to no political solution and the people have gained little.

The Burma Army and militia groups (PyiThuSit) march in to confiscate thousands of acres in Mon State.  The land is stolen from the people outright, with no compensation.  Civilians are told to leave or they face arrest and torture. Once productive Monland is turned into military battalions or the BA keeps the farm business for themselves.

“During these past years the Burma Army has confiscated over 8,000 acres of land and built military bases, many outsiders flock to Mon state and work here replacing the local work force that fled, the population transfer is a new challenge here,” said a senior member of the New Mon State Party.  Soldiers, militias and counter insurgency forces have increased in Mon State.  Over ten military regiments are expanded into Ye and Thanbyu Zayat areas after 1995, the year the ceasefire agreement came into being.


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