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1/17/2019 Arakan Army Chief Promises Myanmar Military, Govt Eye For an Eye

In Person

Arakan Army Chief Promises Myanmar Military,


Govt Eye For an Eye

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1/17/2019 Arakan Army Chief Promises Myanmar Military, Govt Eye For an Eye

 AA chief Tun Myat Naing in Laiza, Kachin State, in January 2017. / Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint / The Irrawaddy

By NAN LWIN HNIN PWINT 17 January 2019

The chief of the Arakan Army (AA), Tun Myat Naing, recently spoke with The
Irrawaddy’s Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint about his group’s policies and accusations by the
President’s Office that it has ties to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).

What is the situation like in Rakhine State’s Buthidaung [Township] after the
President’s Office instructed the Tatmadaw to use aircraft against the AA?

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We predicted this after [the Tatmadaw] declared [a unilateral ceasefire] on Dec. 21. But
we didn’t expect that the President’s Office would also get involved. So we can see that
the national reconciliation policy of the National League for Democracy (NLD)
government has made great progress. We have seen [Tatmadaw] troop deployments
both by air and by road. So it is very likely that future clashes will be fierce.

The government has said that the AA has turned its back on the peace process. Why
did the AA launch attacks on four border police outposts when a ceasefire was
about to be discussed?

You need to know what happened before our attacks and what role the border police
were playing. Before Jan. 4, there were clashes in Rathaedaung, Buthidaung, Kyaktaw
and Ponnagyn [townships]. At that time, large numbers of Tatmadaw troops came from
Buthidaung and launched large-scale attacks on us in Rathaedaung and Kyauktaw.
They cut off all the routes used for delivering food and put intense military pressures on
us. They arrested villagers and made them surround their posts, I mean using them as a
shield in case they come under attack.

In Paletwa Township, [the Tatmadaw] fired artillery even at night. And artillery fired by
Navy vessels fell on places near the forests as well as other places. They fired because
it is Rakhine State. But if it were Bamar State, they would be very worried about killing a
[Bamar] civilian in a Bamar village. This shows racial discrimination, the lack of Union
spirit and cruelty, we believe. Our wish is that we don’t want police in attacks against
us. So we warned them. But they were involved in implementing the “four cuts”
strategy [cutting off access to food, funds, information and recruitment] on a large scale
and in the persecution [of locals] in order to instill them with fear.

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According to the structure of the border police, they have about 3,000 troops and are
equipped with G3, G4 arms. Even their ammunition is strong. A police outpost has at
least tens of thousands of bullets and grenades. And as many as 70 percent of them in
each police battalion have combat experiences, and battalions are commanded by
those transferred from the military. Their function, organizational structure and chain of
command are like that of an army.

Before Jan. 4, Tatmadaw troops were putting pressures on our troops and using
helicopters. And border guard police were also involved. So we did what was
necessary according to the nature of war. And we believe that we are right in doing so.
They said we have turned our back on peace just to put us into a tight political corner.

Why did the AA attack four police outposts?

For one think, we don’t want them [police] to be involved [in military attacks against us].
And we won’t tolerate it if our Arakanese people are oppressed. We’ve recorded the
battalions that made artillery strikes on our villages. We’ve also recorded in detail the
police battalions and border guard police. We won’t forgive that. We’ll retaliate.

For another, it was a tactical decision. If they have gathered their forces in one place,
we have to fight where they are absent. We are right tactically.

There are claims that civilians are being used in attacks. Does the AA have records
of this?

We are making records in the places we can reach. At first there was no forced labor of
local villagers. But recently we have seen cases of local villagers being used as human
shields. [Tatmadaw troops] forced civilians to walk ahead of them and stand guard

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while they slept. [Tatmadaw troops] also opened artillery fire on villages, labeling them
rebel villages. Recently there has been increased artillery fire. In Paletwa Township they
opened artillery fire whenever they felt unsafe, even at night.

While the government has invited the AA to peace talks, the President’s Office has
allowed attacks on the AA in Rakhine State. What will the AA do in response?

Peace is a word and a military operation is action. They talk about peace while carrying
out military operations. So it can be said that they are saying one thing and doing
another. [The Tatmadaw] issued a declaration on Dec. 21 and pretends to have a
ceasefire in other places. But it hasn’t ceased fire in Rakhine State. The declaration in
fact was a declaration of war on Rakhine State. We don’t view it as a declaration of
peace. Because [the Tatmadaw] is not honest with its ceasefire declaration, it is unlikely
that [the ceasefire] will be successful.

About 5,000 civilians have been displaced in just over a month of clashes. Has the
AA made preparations to save civilians from being harmed in future clashes?

The financial status of our Arakanese people is not sufficient to feed the displaced
people. We rely on donors and international agencies. We, the United League of
Arakan/AA, will try. There are going to be more displaced people. Of course our
Arakanese people are suffering. But what else can we do? We, the Arakanese people,
have faced hardship for a long time. But this was discovered only after gunshots were
heard.

The AA is attempting to establish bases in Rakhine State. If it has to choose between


a ceasefire and [establishing] military bases, which will it choose?

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We will have to choose both. We have always heard about [the correlation between]
peace and development, and we have heard it more recently perhaps because of our
revolution. Rakhine has never had them. Rakhine has never been developed. We didn’t
fight while others [ethnic groups] fought. We will rely on ourselves rather than believe
the words of others. This is the lesson we have learned from our experiences. And
about the deployment of the AA, what we believe is that the existence of the AA
directly relates to the existence and survival of Arakanese people. No one loves
Rakhine State as much as the Arakanese do. The Myanmar Army says it loves Rakhine
State because of its interests.

Despite the fact that we live in a strategic region, we can’t enjoy strategic benefits. But
others enjoy them. Therefore, the Arakan Army must exist in Rakhine State. It would be
good if there were no fighting. But the potential for such a situation will be strong only
after a long series of political talks.

According to the Tatmadaw’s ceasefire declaration on Dec. 21, it doesn’t accept the
presence of AA troops in Rakhine State. But your group is fighting for a base there.
So will there be more clashes?

Yes, there will be. It doesn’t want to recognize the Arakan Army. It is natural for it [the
Tatmadaw]. It doesn’t want to recognize the Kachin Army, either. It has to talk with us
just because the situation forces it to. But its recognition or non-recognition is not
important. We just need the recognition by the Arakanese people. It [the Tatmadaw] is
stupid not to recognize us. The entire elephant is in the room and it is saying it doesn’t
see it. So there is something wrong with it. We will do what we need to do.

Has the AA already built a stronghold in Rakhine State? Has it formed battalions and
brigades? People also say that the AA’s headquarters have been moved to the

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Myanmar-India border. Is that true?

Taking lessons from the 70 years of civil war in Myanmar, we have changed our chain of
command and our structure to ensure flexibility. I don’t want to comment on the
location of our headquarters. But we have adopted a flexible command and control
system. Some groups announce their battalions and brigades. But we don’t want to
announce our formation; it could weaken our militarily. It is like giving your information
to the enemy. Some time in the future, we will become an organization that can protect
the security of Arakanese people. And only we will be able to control the racial conflicts
in Rakhine State.

Do you mean your group will occupy a township in Rakhine State?

What I mean is broader than that. Because the Myanmar Army wants to stay in Rakhine
State, it sows discord between Arakanese and Muslims. It created conflict. Because the
political leadership is not yet strong, people are misled and swayed. It doesn’t just want
to sow discord between Arakanese and Muslim in Rakhine State. It also wants to cause
ill feelings between Arakanese and Mro, Arakanese and Khami. It paved the way for
problems to create an excuse for its rule in certain places. This is what it does.

And I have heard various criticisms [from the Tatmadaw] about our presence [in Rakhine
State], citing security issues and so on. It gives various excuses. If we had a big problem
with Muslims, it would use it as an excuse with the international community in order to
end our existence. But since we didn’t have problems with Muslim, it is attempting to
label us terrorists who have links to ARSA. We will continue to do what we have to do.

Why has the AA sent warning letters and carried out assassinations in Rakhine
State?

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Letters packed with bullets are not just meant to be a threat. We mean it for real. We
will do it [kill them] if they do not do as they are told. There are traitors and slave-
minded people in a liberation movement. It would be good for them to listen to our
warnings. If not, we have to do what we have to do.

What do you say to the Myanmar government’s accusation that your group has two
outposts on the Bangladesh side of the border and that it has held meetings with
ARSA?

We don’t have outposts in Bangladesh. We sometimes have to seek food supplies at


the border. We don’t need to lie. No government would allow a rebel group from
another country on its territory. This is just one of its accusations.

There are also allegations that your group has funded its operations through the
illegal drug trade over the past nine years. Can you explain how you raise funds?

There are such accusations. Revolutionary groups raise funds by different means. We
have many members and some individuals might do it [traffic drugs]. You can see in
newspaper reports the arrest of many officers, majors and tactical commanders in
connection with drug dealing. Can we say the Myanmar Tatmadaw is involved? And
National League for Democracy members are also involved in drug cases in Rakhine
State. Can we say the NLD is involved? I have to keep secret how and from where we
get funds and arms. This is a matter of life and death. I can’t reveal this for the time
being. But I will make it public if our revolution is successful and write it down for
history.

We have marched on this journey with the support of the [Arakanese] people. Much
remains to be done to reach our goal. Because the Tatmadaw has deployed its troops

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to launch attacks, we have to go through difficult times. We have informed our people
that we have to go through the storm in 2019 and 2020. Only after going through the
storm will we be able to enjoy the bright sunlight and breeze. We have told the
Arakanese people to have mental strength and face the music while we go through the
storm.

Can you elaborate on what your group calls the 2020 Arakan Dream?

Each and every Arakanese individual is very proud of his history. We believe we will at
some point be free of the yoke of enslavement and of the life in which your destiny is
determined by others. That belief is the Arakan Dream, and we have to realize it. We
are performing the role that our Arakanese history has assigned to us. We are trying
collectively to stop other people from determining our fate. By 2020 our group will be
10 years old, and by that time the political beliefs of the United League of Arakan will
have been widely disseminated among the Arakanese people. We have made a clarion
call to Arakanese people from all walks of life and all places to rebuild our country with
unity and to shoulder the responsibility for the collapsing Arakanese society.

It is not true that we will secede from Myanmar in 2020. We have never said that we
would secede from Myanmar.

The Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee [FPNCC] consists of


different ethnic groups that have different objectives. Can the FPNCC be productive
collectively or will members work separately to achieve their objectives?

Yes, there are some differences within the FPNCC. But we have to work based on our
common interests. The FPNCC is interested in the bilateral [truces] proposed by the
government, because some of the FPNCC members have signed bilateral ceasefire

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agreements [with the government] at the Union level. But four groups clashing [with the
Tatmadaw] have not signed. This is the cause of the ongoing clashes. Only after signing
it, and when there is no more bloody fighting, will the peace [process] be more realistic.
We have such hopes.

The FPNCC is not very happy with the way the NCA mingles ceasefires and politics. If
there is a strong truce, it will be easier to find a political answer.

Has the AA negotiated with the Tatmadaw to sign a bilateral ceasefire agreement?

Not yet. We have to continue talking with it. But it appears we have to try with great
patience in the face of the current crisis and under threats.

Will the Arakanese people see more negative impacts from fighting in the months to
come? What are the prospects for peace?

For my part, it is difficult to say. If the government continues its offensive, the clashes
will go on. I heard [government and Tatmadaw officials] say that Rakhine will be
completely ruined in the next 10 years or so and that Rakhine will meet the same fate
as Syria. So I believe that if they want to destroy our land [Rakhine State], we should
destroy their [the Bamars’] land. If they offer peace, we will welcome it as warmly as we
can. And we will work actively. If they are to tear our land apart militarily, we will have to
do the same to them.

Does the AA have plans to establish its own controlled areas, like its allies?

We wish to. But we can do it only when the circumstances allow. Much remains to be
done. We have yet to try very much.

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Is the political goal of the AA to have a federal state or a confederate status like the
United Wa State Army?

We wish to keep the sovereignty of our state in our hands. We prefer [a confederation
of states] like Wa State, which has a larger share of power in line with the Constitution.
And we think it is more suited to the history of Rakhine State and the hopes of the
Arakanese people. If there is sharing of power and Union rights, every race will be
happy with the unity of the Union.

Do you mean the AA idolizes the UWSA regarding its political objective?

Yes, I do. It would be better if we had confederate status. It is what we want.

As your group tries to establish strongholds on the border, what have China and
India said to your group?

So, they have not told us to do this and not to do that. They want the problem to be
solved peacefully. We will be the ones who make the decisions.

What is India’s opinion of the AA’s operations on the Myanmar-India border? Has the
AA built good ties with the Indian government?

We can’t say we have good ties. But we try to make India understand why we are
fighting. We said we welcomed its projects. We justified our military objectives and said
we are fighting for our rights as an ethnic group and that our cause is just. And we
explained that our existence and our stance do not go against its interests.

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If the AA were to hold talks on politics and a ceasefire with the government in the
future, would it uphold the general policy of the UWSA [of an alternative to the
NCA]?

We have decided to stick to that policy in collaboration with our allies in discussing
those issues.

It was only recently that [the Tatmadaw] accepted federalism. Do you think the
demand for a confederation of states is realistic?

It will take time to build trust. If there are deep doubts between the two sides, it will be
difficult to move forward. There must be honesty to build trust. [State Counselor Daw
Aung San Suu Kyi] once said that ethnic groups should not only make demands but
think about what they can give in return. We are not asking for things owned by others.
We are just claiming back what is ours. There is a need to see the objective reality.
When somebody has borrowed money for so long, he thinks that money is his. This is
what we talk about with other ethnic groups.

So you mean the AA will fight until the AA obtains confederate status?

Fighting happens only because the situation forces us. The best approach is for us to
keep trying politically as well.

There are countries in which self-determination is obtained only through fighting, and in
some countries it is obtained without the need to fight. It would be best if we could
achieve self-determination peacefully. We will try.

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Does the Northern Alliance support the political goal of the AA to demand
confederate status? What is its stance?

We allies have a policy to mutually respect each other’s political objectives and
existence. We will acknowledge each other and provide mutual support.

Given the latest developments, can 2019 be a year of peace?

Peace is nowhere in sight considering the current situation.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.

Topics: AA, Arakan Army, Rakhine State

Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint


The Irrawaddy

Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint is Reporter at the Burmese edition of The Irrawaddy.

Interview

Latest Peace Talks with EAOs ‘Quite


Successful’: Gov’t Spokesman

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Government spokesman U Zaw Htay addresses the media after an informal meeting between government and KNU negotiators in Chiang Mai, Thailand in November 2018. / Nyein
Nyein / The Irrawaddy

By NYEIN NYEIN 16 January 2019

CHIANG MAI, Thailand—The government peace delegation led by Peace Commission


secretary U Khin Zaw Oo held separate, informal talks with four ethnic armed
organizations (EAOs) in Chiang Mai, Thailand early this week. Negotiators met with
representatives of the Karen National Union (KNU), the Restoration Council of Shan
State (RCSS), the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) and the Kachin
Independence Army (KIA).

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After the series of informal talks, The Irrawaddy reporter Nyein Nyein spoke to
government spokesman U Zaw Htay about future peace negotiations, internally
displaced persons (IDPs) who have fled the current conflict in Rakhine State between
the Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw) and the Arakan Army (AA), as well as the
government’s view of the AA.

What can you tell us about the results of this series of informal talks with the
different ethnic armed groups, held over two days? 

Our talks here in Chiang Mai in November were an attempt at damage control for the
peace process, following the release of statements [by the KNU and RCSS]. We are
worried about getting caught in a cycle of conflict. And our priority is to limit the
damage in these situations. We conduct informal negotiations with the groups in order
to bring them back to the normal path [of the peace process].

This time is a continuation of that effort. With the KNU, we had three informal talks, first
in November and then in Yangon with [the group’s military and security adviser] Colonel
Htoo Htoo Lay. This week’s talks were much more constructive. The KNU will hold
discussions with its members and then they will meet other EAOs, and then they will
meet with us. So we expect we will be back on the formal path soon and [the process]
will be normalized.

The RCSS will meet separately with National Reconciliation and Peace Center leaders
and with military leaders in Naypyitaw soon, to settle issues raised in their statement
[suspending their participation in both the Union and state levels of the Joint Ceasefire
Monitoring Committee]. From there, they will discuss the issues thoroughly; after that
we will be in the normalization stage.

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As with the KNPP, we have held informal talks five times. We, both sides, are trying to
move forward [toward signing the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA)] and to
reach that milestone. But we cannot specify a time frame, as we need to keep
negotiating.

We will also meet with another non-signatory of the NCA [the KIA], on how they will
participate in the NCA. Thus we are not able to say anything about that yet. [Note: This
interview was conducted before the Peace Commission delegation’s meeting with the
KIA, which was not open to the media.]

Our aim in coming to Chiang Mai for informal talks is purely to get back to normalization
[of the peace process]. Also [it is an effort to keep negotiating] with non-signatories to
the NCA, in order to get them to sign. It has been quite a successful trip.

What does the government expect from the KNPP, a non-signatory to the NCA, if it is
to participate in the upcoming session of the Union Peace Conference, assuming
one is held this year? 

Both sides are trying. Not only the government, but also the KNPP is trying to achieve
that [getting the KNPP  on the formal NCA path]. Currently, that is it; we can say no
more.

In November, you met informally with KIA representatives. After that, the
government’s peace delegation went to northern Myanmar to hold talks with three
EAOs—the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, the AA and the Myanmar National
Democratic Alliance Army—but we did not hear of any meeting with the KIA. What is
the government doing to meet KIA leaders at the decision-making level? 

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After this trip, the PC [Peace Commission] secretary, [retired] General Khin Zaw Oo, will
travel to the northern region to hold more talks. We will not stop negotiating with
signatories and non-signatories of the NCA, and we are continuously moving forward.

The AA is currently engaged in clashes with the Tatmadaw in western Myanmar.


What impact does that have on its participation in the peace process? Will you hold
bilateral talks with the AA? Last month’s announcement from these groups included
a willingness to hold such talks. 

No, it is for the Peace Commission to decide whether talks continue with these three
groups. Only when the commissioners go there again [this month] and listen to their
responses will we know for sure how this will proceed.

Currently, what we can say for sure is that we do not exclude the AA from the peace
process. We have opened the door to the AA to join us at the peace table, where we
can all negotiate.

For years, people have been affected by the civil war in the states where ethnic armed
groups are based. These groups are now trying to cease fighting and end the cycle of
conflict. On the other hand, in Rakhine State—which has also faced violence from ARSA
[the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army]—the conflict is escalating. So it is the reverse
situation. It is moving in the opposite direction from the current peace process, and
there will be negative impacts from this. We have urged the AA to get back on track, as
the group is also holding talks with the Peace Commission.

Specifically, negotiation is the best approach to any problem. We have to find the way
through peaceful negotiation. We won’t get the answer through armed conflict,
because we have had that for more than 70 years.

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This armed struggle [in Rakhine State] will yield no answers and benefit no one. First,
the people suffer, and secondly the state suffers. And thirdly, there are many
consequences for the Union [the country as a whole] and it doesn’t benefit anyone.
Thus, we urge [them] to choose the path of negotiation to end these conflicts.

Conflict causes suffering; no one wins. It is a [no-win situation]. Currently we are seeing
and hearing that many local people are being forced to flee their homes. Our
government is deeply sorry about this.

To help those displaced, our government is prioritizing their resettlement, the opening
of IDP camps. Social Welfare and Resettlement Minister Dr. Win Myat Aye is working on
it. We are trying to help the displaced people get access to humanitarian assistance,
including shelter and food. Then, when their basic needs have been met, we will try to
help children get access to formal education. [Primary and middle school students’
year-end exams are only a couple of months away.]

Meanwhile, we are in talks with the Ministry of Health and Sports to be able to provide
healthcare to them. Some of this assistance is under way. Medical staff are being sent
to provide care; these are more like mobile clinics providing mobile healthcare.

I would like to emphasize that we are arranging assistance for those civilians affected
by the armed conflict.

During your last press briefing, in the wake of the latest flare-up in the conflict in
Rakhine, you told Rakhine State people not to support the AA. This was interpreted
as a kind of threat against the public. Has this perception affected your ability to
resolve the conflict in the state? 

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We urged this because not all of the people [in Rakhine] believe that “We are all AA” or
are supporters of the organization. We have some information on the AA’s supporters,
but we cannot say exactly who they are.

What is important is that peace be achieved in Rakhine State as quickly as possible;


everyone in the state must contribute to its stability. Another important thing is to move
forward with development. We have a lot of projects in Rakhine and we need stability in
the area for the projects to be implemented. These projects will help to develop the
region and the public will benefit. Therefore, we are focusing on stability.

Only when the area is stable will we be able to implement our support for IDPs to get
access to humanitarian aid and healthcare, and for children to get access to formal
education. Meanwhile, the communities must collaborate with us to keep the conflict
from escalating.

We understand that everyone wants Rakhine State to be peaceful. For that to be


achieved, every stakeholder—the governments and the local residents—must work
together.

Therefore, we are asking [the EAOs] to join the negotiations to settle the problems. For
that to happen, we need to meet at the political [negotiation] table. And the
negotiations with the Peace Commission need to be effective and need to see
improvement so that we can sort things out through political means. We have had this
armed approach for many eras, and there has been no answer. Thus, it is a difficult
problem to solve and we need to move on and settle things through political means.

(This interview has been edited for clarity.)

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Topics: AA, Conflict, EAOs, IDPs, KIA, KNPP, KNU, nationwide ceasefire agreement, Peace Commission,
Peace Process, Rakhine, RCSS, Tatmadaw

Nyein Nyein
The Irrawaddy

Nyein Nyein is Senior Reporter at the English edition of The Irrawaddy.

News

Thai Top Court Orders Compensation for


Myanmar Workers in Landmark Case

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 A Myanmar migrant worker sells chickens at a market in Bangkok, Thailand on October 16, 2018. / REUTERS

By THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION 16 January 2019

BANGKOK—Thailand’s highest court on Tuesday ordered compensation be paid to 14


migrant workers from Myanmar whose accusations against a chicken farm of abuses
sparked a landmark legal case for migrant laborers.

The workers in 2016 officially complained to Thailand’s National Human Rights


Commission about forced overtime, being paid less than the minimum wage,
confiscation of passports, and limited freedom of movement.

But employer Thammakaset farm, which had supplied meat to Thai food conglomerate
Betagro, denied the charges and launched a defamation lawsuit, saying the workers
voluntarily worked nights and chose to sleep next to the chicken warehouse.

Betagro, which sells to companies around the globe, later said it had cut ties with the
farm.

After a three-year legal battle, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court verdict from
2016 which found in favor of the workers and ruled they must be paid 1.7 million baht
($53,000) in compensation.

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“There is no significant legal argument from the company’s side,” the court said in its
order, dismissing the appeal.

A lawyer for the workers said they welcomed the verdict in a country that has been at
the center of a slew of slavery and human trafficking cases, including in its seafood
sector.

“Hopefully, they will receive the compensation quickly and put this behind them,” said
Koreeyor Manuchae at NSP Legal Office.

Last July, a Bangkok court dismissed charges against the workers in the criminal
defamation case which accused them of damaging the reputation of Thammakaset
farm.

Labor rights activist Sutharee Wannasiri said Tuesday’s verdict vindicated the workers.

“It’s a very rare victory for labor rights and migrant workers in Thailand, and it will help
bolster the rights of migrant workers in the country,” she told the Thomson Reuters
Foundation.

“The compensation is not a large amount, but it is symbolic, and shows there is a
mechanism for securing remedies and accountability when businesses have violated
rights.”

Campaigners have urged better protection for migrant laborers and activists from civil
and criminal lawsuits for exposing abusive working conditions.

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In the face of mounting global scrutiny of supply chains, Thailand has strengthened
laws to crack down on labor exploitation, but activists said it was still widespread.

Topics: Labor Rights, Migrant Workers


Thomson Reuters Foundation
Agency

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