Nai Ong Jana (not his real name) is 28 years old. When he was 23, soldiers came to his village in Mon State and told the village headman they wanted 30 men to join the army.
“The village head told us he needed our names, because he will put it in a lottery to determine who will have to go.”
One by one or in small groups, men between the ages of 20-40 fled his village in the middle of the night. They didn’t want to be forcibly conscripted into the army.
“I don’t want to join the army. I don’t want to end up fighting my own people.”
So one night Nai Ong fled by car to the border, where he borrowed money from his broker friend to pay for the passage into Thailand. In Thailand, he worked as a construction labourer. Twice he was arrested and deported. Twice he paid brokers to bring him back into Thailand.
“I don’t want to go back to my village. There is no freedom, and I am afraid I will have to join the army.”
“We cannot do anything. Even if we catch fish in the river, the soldiers will tax us. If we make some money, they (the soldiers) will ask for some. Then they will ask where we got money from.”
Looking for better security, Nai Ong made his way to Malaysia two months ago. Now he is trying his hand at factory work.