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burmese fishermen

                    The Main Causes behind the killing of the Burmese Fisherman

                                                 Htun Aung Gyaw

        On August 6,1995 more than four Burmese fishermen were murdered on
a Thai fishing vessel owned by Myanma-Narong Canning Company.  The MNC is a
joint venture between the Burmese government and the Narong Canning company
of Thailand.  Because of this incident the Burmese authorities closed the
border trade between Burma and Thailand.  The Thai fishermen killed the
Burmese because some Burmese on the vessel informed the Burmese authorities
that the Thais illegally transferred the fish to another vessel before
their vessel arrive at Ranong.
        But there are two main cause that led to the death of the Burmese
fishemen. It is more deeper than that single incident.  In the past before
1988, the Burmese regime did not allow foreign fishing vessels to capture
fish in Burmese water.  The Burmese fishermen use to catch fish by using
small fishing boats and throwing fish nets by hand.  Even though they did
not have  advance fishing equipment, they captured enough fish for their
survival.  Because of the abundant fish in Burmese waters, Thai fishing
boats occasionally would sneak into Burmese water and capture fish.
Sometimes they were captured by the Burmese navy and their fishing vessels
were confiscated.  The Thai crews were sentenced to 2 to 3 years at hard
labour in the notorious Insein prison  in Burma.
        Most of the Thai fishing vessels bribed the Burmese Navy to get
illegal entry.  As a result, the navy commander in this region become very
rich within one year.  Many senior and junior officers wanted to serve in
this Ranong and Kawthaung region because of the illegal income.   Even
though, the Thai fishing vessels would sneak into Burmese waters and
capture fish, the Burmese fishermen survived because there was enough fish
left for them.  But, when General Chaovalit Yongchaiyuth signed  logging
and fishing deals with Burmese Generals on December 14, 1988, the life of
the Burmese fishermen changed.
        Because of the fishing contract made by Chaovalit and the Burmese
military regime, more than 600 Thai fishing vessels entered  Burmese waters
every day and captured fish by using sophisticated fishing methods.  Some
vessels are equipped with sonar and radar.  The Thai vessels also used
drift nets and small nets, which are not allowed in Burmese waters but they
had the courage to do this because they paid bribes to the Burmese Navy.
Moreover, the Thai vessels also captured fish in shallow water because the
most profitable sea product, shrimps, are living in the shallow water.  But
it is illegal for them to be captured in shallow water.

        Besides that it is illegal, they captured the shrimps when they
have an opportunity or they have an agreement with the Burmese navy
commander.  As a result, Burmese fishermen could not capture enough fish in
the area in which they used to capture fish before.  They could not compete
with the Thais who have sophisticated fishing vessels.  For their survival,
many Burmese fishermen came to Ranong and worked as illegal workers at the
Ranong fishing port or worked as fishermen on the Thai fishing vessels.
Because of their illegal status, they were bullied by the Thais and were
paid only minimum wages.  In Ranong area 80% of the prostitute are Burmese
women who came illegally and many were forced to serve as prostitutes.
Most of the Burmese women who came to Ranong are from Tenneserim Division.
Because of their illegal status and helpless condition the Ranong Thais do
not care about the life of a person who is Burmese .

        Another factor which changed the life of the Burmese fishermen in
Tenneserim region is what is known as a "forced labour" as well as porter :
illegal order imposed by the State Law and Order Restoration Council
(SLORC).  SLORC's army forces the people who lived in the Tenesserim
Division to build  railroads and work on the road for the gas pipeline.
They work as  forced labour without pay.
 Most of the people who live in this region are fishermen, mine workers,
and farmers.  Many people fled because they were badly treated and
sometimes killed by the army.  The Burmese army has been using human labour
as a free gift for them for decades.  For the minorities who serve as
porters under the army, it is a routine job.  The farmers and mine workers
fled from their villages and entered Thailand, Kanchanaburi province and
worked on the Thai farms as illegal workers.  On the other hand, the
fishermen and their families fled to Ranong and found a job in the fishing
industries as illegal immigrants.

        These two factors are what caused the Burmese fishermen to work as
illegal workers in the Thai fishing companies.  General Chavaolit became a
very rich man because of his fishing and logging contract with Burma and
became a successful politician.  He visited Burma on September 2nd to ease
the tension between Burma and Thailand.  On the other hand, Burmese
fishermen living in Ranong have an uncertain future.  Constructive
engagement benefitted those who have power, but not the Burmese people in

Htun Aung Gyaw  426 Winthrop Dr,Apt 6
Graduate Student,       Ithaca, NY 14850
Asian Studies, Cornell University       USA