Junta relying on forced labour in Bago ‘guard duty’ scheme, residents say

The junta has forced residents of at least three wards in Bago to do labour as “guards” of locations specified by the military or face fines, locals told Myanmar Now. 

Locals in the town’s Alin Yaung, Pon Nar Su and Nan Daw Yar wards said each household had been ordered by the military authorities to send a person to perform “guard duty” monthly for up to 12 hours with no pay. 

A 24-year-old man in Alin Yaung said that ward residents are assigned to guard posts in a garage at a school occupied by soldiers, or at a Buddhist monastery. 

The shifts are from 7am until 7pm or from 8pm until 5am in Alin Yaung ward. 

“No one knows why we have been sent on guard duty,” he said. 

The practice has been in place since mid-May, supervised by the 100-household administrator under the military coup council, the resident said. He noted that the previous administrator resigned shortly after the compulsory guard duties were put into effect. 

“If a household did not want to carry out the enforced duties, they had to pay 5,000 kyat (US$3). Then the 100-household administrator had to find a substitute guard,” the Alin Yaung resident explained. 

Locals have said that both income and even basic cash have been severely limited in the months since the coup, making the payment a hardship for many households.

A 30-year-old woman in Alin Yaung said that men are expected to carry out the guard duties, but in her household, where there are no men, she had to hire another local to pick up her compulsory shift.

“There was nothing to do. We have to go and sit there. It is pointless. Soldiers have been stationed in the school. It feels as if they are holding us hostage,” she said. 

Residents of Pon Nar Su ward have also been forced to work as guards since mid-May, with six-hour overnight shifts from 10pm until 4am in groups of two to three people. Their designated post was originally outside the local free funeral services office, but more recently, another post was set up in front of the house of the ward administrator, a local man said. 

“We have to keep watch and restrict access to the administrator’s house. We have to carry out the guard duties from a hut outside his property,” he explained. 

If a resident fails to perform their duties, the fine in Pon Nar Su is 3,000 kyat or they must hire a substitute.  

In Nan Daw Yar ward, residents were ordered to serve as overnight security guards from April until early July, but a resident of the area said that they were no longer being forced to carry out the duties. 

Myanmar Now tried to contact the junta officials in Bago for comment on the allegations of forced labour, but the calls went unanswered.  

Bago was the site of a deadly crackdown on anti-coup protesters by the junta on April 9, that left dozens of civilians dead. 

An armed resistance formed nationwide, and young dissidents began forming People’s Defence Forces, which announced in May that they would carry out targeted attacks on junta officials and collaborators. 

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