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Burmese Soldiers Blamed for Deadly Road Tragedy

12 March 2011: A deadly road accident in northern Chin State yesterday left five dead and 35 others seriously injured. The second fatal road accident this week in the area, the tragedy is the deadliest since the November 2010 vehicle accident which claimed 17 lives.

The accident occurred around 10:15 a.m local time on Friday, just outside of Tedim Town when a transport truck carrying a full load of goods and about 50 passengers, had brake trouble while descending a steep hill.

The commercial transport truck was en route the Indian border from Tedim Town.

“Four people died instantly at the scene while the fifth one succumbed to his injuries on the way to the hospital,” said a voluntary rescue worker who rushed to the scene upon hearing news of the accident.

The owner of the truck was among the five dead. 35 passengers were initially treated at Tedim Civil Hospital for ‘serious’ bodily injuries. Of these two are in critical conditions. But those with the more serious injuries have been transferred to Kalay Hospital in Sagaing Division.

But magically, all of the eight children on board the ill-fated truck escaped unharmed, according to a member of the Tedim Youth Fellowship (TYF) who took part in the rescue efforts.

Burmese Soldiers Blamed

The locals in Tedim Town are pointing the finger at Burmese soldiers for the ‘unnecessary’ deaths and injuries of the travelers. On Thursday, the passengers were traveling from Kalay of Sagaing Division towards the Indian border in five different passenger vehicles operated by Kalay Industrial Zone. But when they arrived at Tedim Town, Burmese soldiers from Light Infantry Battalion (269) commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Saw Htun ordered all passengers off the vehicles and commandeered all of the vehicles for use by his soldiers during troop rotation. The passengers were forced to spend one night in Tedim.

An eye witness to the incident said, “The passengers, about 50 in all, were not compensated for the cost of their ‘unnecessary’ overnight stay in Tedim as a result of having their vehicles commandeered by the Burmese troops. They would never have died if the Burmese soldiers had not commandeered their vehicles in the first place.”

“Burmese troops based in Chin State regularly force people to porter military supplies or commandeer private vehicles. The practice is part of a larger institutionalized use of forced labor by the military regime against Chin civilians,” said Salai Bawi Lian Mang, Executive Director of Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO), a local rights group that has been monitoring situation in western Burma for the last 15 years.

According to a recent report by the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), over 90 percent of Chins are being subjected to forced labor by the Burmese military regime.

Anxious to continue on with the remainder of their journey, the passengers decided to ride in an already overloaded transport truck – the only vehicle going towards Rihkhawdar Town near the Indian border on Friday – against the advice of the truck owner. The truck was carrying over three tons of betel nuts, as well as some fresh vegetables. Departing from Tedim Town at about 9:30 a.m. on Friday, about 45 minutes into the journey, the driver lost control of the truck when the brake suddenly failed while descending on a steep hill near Lamzan Village.

Two Dozens Died

24 people have died in vehicle accidents in the last four months in Tedim Township alone. On November 2010, 17 people who were on their way to attend a Christian religious gathering in Tedim Town were killed when their bus overturned in the single deadliest road accident in Chin State. Planned for the first week of November, the Christian gathering was postponed towards the end of the month due to orders by Burmese military authorities, as the timing had coincided with Burma’s 2010 elections.

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