English News Letter

January-2013

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http://shanhumanrights.org/components/com_jce/editor/tiny_mce/plugins/anchor/img/anchor.gif) 50% 50% no-repeat;">COMMENTARY:Checkpoint Banditry: Rampant Extortion at Checkpoints

Extortion of money from ordinary people by authorities is a practice directly resulting from corruption. As corruption has been virtually everywhere in Shan State for decades, so has the extortion of money from the people by the Burmese military, police and their cronies and cohorts.

Many people have hoped that under the current nominally civilian government, the gravity and frequency of human rights violations, including extortion, might gradually be reduced. In Shan State, however, this has not yet been the case for many types of human rights violations.

Extortion has ironically increased during 2012, especially at various checkpoints manned by Burmese military, police and their cohorts all over Shan State. It happened virtually right after the civilian government came to power and the situation appears to be even worse than before.

Taking advantage of the somewhat freer situation, e.g., less restriction on travelling, under the current government, many more people have come out to travel around. Taking advantage of the fact that more people were travelling, and their status under the culture of impunity, the authorities at checkpoints on the roads also extorted more money from them.

Some people suspected that this was just one of the indirect ways of imposing restrictions by the authorities. “The authorities let people travel freely, but extort a lot of money from them. In this way many people would be discouraged to travel because they could hardly afford the costs of the journey, and will think twice if the journey is worth travelling”.

But some people said that it is just one of the means of their livelihood because, for most of them, they have been extorting money from the people to support their families for decades. It is not uncommon to hear them complain, especially when they get drunk, that their official salaries are not enough even to feed their families. (see the last story)

Whatever the reasons, extortion at checkpoints has become so rampant during 2012 that it has also become known as “checkpoint banditry” among the drivers and travellers, because it has been so badly affecting their livelihood.

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http://shanhumanrights.org/components/com_jce/editor/tiny_mce/plugins/anchor/img/anchor.gif) 50% 50% no-repeat;">CONTENTS:Themes & Places of Violations reported in this issue

Themes: All the reports in this month’s issue are about the worsening situation of extortion of money from vehicles and travellers at many checkpoints in many townships in Shan State, and a few incidents of other violations, committed by members of the Burmese military, police and people’s militia force under the Burmese military, during 2012

Places: Murng-Ton, Murng-Paeng, Kae-See, Kaeng-Tung, Murng-Nai, Murng-Pan and Loi-Lem

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http://shanhumanrights.org/components/com_jce/editor/tiny_mce/plugins/anchor/img/anchor.gif) 50% 50% no-repeat;">ACRONYMS:

LIB = Light Infantry Battalion (e.g. LIB246 = Light Infantry Battalion No. 246)

IB = Infantry Battalion

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http://shanhumanrights.org/components/com_jce/editor/tiny_mce/plugins/anchor/img/anchor.gif) 50% 50% no-repeat;">MAP

http://shanhumanrights.org/components/com_jce/editor/tiny_mce/plugins/anchor/img/anchor.gif) 50% 50% no-repeat;">WORSENING SITUATION OF EXTORTION AT CHECKPOINTS IN MURNG-TON

During 2012, especially around mid up to at least the end of 2012 when this report was received, Burmese military authorities manning checkpoints on the routes to Thailand in Murng-Ton township have been extorting more money than before from travellers passing through them, causing great trouble for people who needed to travel.

For instance, a checkpoint on the route between Pung Pa Khem town and BP-1 (Border Point No. 1), in Murng-Ton township, which used to extort 300 Thai baht from each traveller earlier, has started to demand 500 baht from each since October 2012.

Another checkpoint on the route known as ‘Lawle-Paa Khee route’ near the border with Thailand, which was manned by Burmese troops from IB65, based at Naa Kawng Mu village in Murng-Ton township, headed by the deputy battalion commander himself, was extorting 600 baht from each traveller.

Another checkpoint on the route known as ‘Nawle-Loi Aang Khang’ right on the border with Thailand, which was only sometimes manned by troops from IB65, had extorted up to 800 baht from each traveller during the period from late 2011 up to early 2012 when this report was received.

In addition, police in Pung Pa Khem sub-township often patrolled the roads in the areas of Ta Kwaang and Pung An villages near the border with Thailand with police cars, and extorted 600 baht from each traveller they found on the way heading for Thailand.

Since most people in Murng-Ton township still need to go to Thailand for several reasons, including for health care, for buying various consumer goods and new motor vehicle’s parts, etc., which are not available in the area, they have no choice but to use those routes and pay the extorted money.

Money has been extorted from people travelling in both directions; a person visiting Thailand has to pay those checkpoints both on leaving and on returning. Furthermore, all the travellers on those routes, especially those heading eastward, have been regarded as going to Thailand and money was unfailingly extorted.

In reality, however, there are still many people who need to travel locally for various other reasons and many could not reach their destinations without passing through those checkpoints. Those who have tried to refuse to pay the demanded amounts by reasoning with the authorities have often found themselves in an even more difficult situation. Therefore, those who have really urgent matters simply have no choice but to pay the extorted money to be able to get to their destinations.

Furthermore, since mid 2012 up to the end of the year, Burmese military and police authorities manning the main checkpoint in Pung Pa Khem town have also demanded more money from the travellers passing through the checkpoint in both directions.

During May 2012, extortion at this checkpoint had somewhat reduced because there were many religious ceremonies for the ordination of Buddhist novice monks. Local people had requested the police and military authorities not to take money from people who came to join the ceremonies.

However, after all the ceremonies were finished, starting from around June onwards, the authorities at the said checkpoint again extorted money from all the travellers coming their way. The amounts they demanded from the travellers have even become much bigger than those before May 2012.

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http://shanhumanrights.org/components/com_jce/editor/tiny_mce/plugins/anchor/img/anchor.gif) 50% 50% no-repeat;">WORSENING EXTORTION AT CHECKPOINTS IN MURNG-PAENG

From around mid up to the end of 2012, the situation of extortion of money from vehicles and travellers by the Burmese army troops at checkpoints in Murng-Paeng township has worsened , according to reports received at the end of 2012.

One of the checkpoints said to be most notorious was the main one at Tong Ta village in Murng-Paeng township. It was located on the Murng-Paeng - Kaeng-Tung main road and was usually manned by the Burmese troops from IB43, LIB528 and LIB360.

The military authorities at this checkpoint usually asked a lot of questions and searched the travellers, saying that they were responsible for stopping illicit drugs and human trafficking, and extorted money from them, especially young women who were often threatened with detention.

Vehicles were also thoroughly searched for illicit drugs. While guilty ones would surely be arrested, the innocent ones still were not allowed to go without money being extorted from them. Each vehicle was required to pay from 5,000 kyat and upwards according to their types. Each passenger-carrying motorcycle had to pay 5,000 kyat and each China-made 3-wheeler motorcycle had to pay 8,000 kyat.

Larger vehicles carrying many more passengers were required to pay in accordance with the numbers of their passengers, usually 3,000 kyat for each passenger who had an official identity card. Those who for some reasons could not show their ID cards were required to pay 3 times as much.

Young women were often accused of being involved in some way in human trafficking and threatened by the authorities, often with detention or forcible home-return, and were required to pay much more than the other passengers, even though they had done nothing wrong..

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http://shanhumanrights.org/components/com_jce/editor/tiny_mce/plugins/anchor/img/anchor.gif) 50% 50% no-repeat;">EXCESSIVE EXTORTION AT CHECKPOINT CAUSES MANY CATTLE TRADERS TO QUIT THEIR TRADE AND FLEE, IN KAE-SEE

During mid and late 2012, members of the Burmese army and a people’s militia force, manning checkpoints in Wan Zing and Wan Tong village tracts in Kae-See township, have extorted so much money from cattle traders that it has caused them to quit their trade and flee to Thailand.

The checkpoint in Wan Zing village tract was manned by the Burmese army troops of IB286 and the one in Wan Tong tract by members of a Shan people’s militia force. The militia force, locally known as Aai Thoi group, was formerly a ceasefire group which later accepted the status of people’s militia force under the Burmese army.

Cattle traders who drove their herd from Nam-Zarng township in the south to Tang-Yarn township in the north had to pass through those checkpoints in order to get to their destinations. These checkpoints were said to have long been extorting money from travellers and traders, and had lately increased the amounts of money extorted.

According to some former cattle traders who had quit their trade and came to the Thai border in late 2012, when they took some head of cattle from Nam-Zarng township to sell in Tang-Yarn township in May 2012, they had to pay 2,000 kyat for each cow and 2,500 kyat for each bull.

They said they had to pay the same amounts at both checkpoints before they could take their cattle to Tang-Yarn and sell them. But they could make no profits because of the high taxes on the way, and if their expenses along the way were counted, they had lost a fair amount of money.

Under such circumstances, they could not continue to make a living by trading in cattle, which was their only means of livelihood, and they could not find any other proper means in their area. So they decided to come to Thailand where they hoped to find at least a better means of survival.

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http://shanhumanrights.org/components/com_jce/editor/tiny_mce/plugins/anchor/img/anchor.gif) 50% 50% no-repeat;">HEAVY EXTORTION AT CHECKPOINTS CAUSES GREAT TROUBLE FOR CATTLE TRADERS IN KAENG-TUNG

During 2012, up to the end of the year, police and military authorities in Kaeng-Tung township have extorted large amounts of money from cattle traders, at checkpoints as well as in the villages, causing great trouble for them to make a living out of the trade.

In Kaad Tao village tract in Kaeng-Tung township, the authorities often set up temporary checkpoints at different places and forced vehicles carrying cattle to pay taxes. Each vehicle, usually a China-made tractor used for transportation and carrying about 13 head of cattle and going to Murng Laa area in the east, was required to pay at least 20,000 kyat.

In Kaad Pha village tract in the same township, vehicles of cattle traders were required to pay regular taxes on a monthly basis. A checkpoint was set up at the entrance of the village tract and extorted 300,000 kyat from each of the cattle carrying vehicles once a month.

Because of extortion of this sort, it has been very difficult for the cattle traders to make enough profits and continue to deal in the cattle business. Some of them have filed several complaints about it at the township administration office over the years, but nothing has ever been done about it.

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http://shanhumanrights.org/components/com_jce/editor/tiny_mce/plugins/anchor/img/anchor.gif) 50% 50% no-repeat;">INCREASING EXTORTION AT CHECKPOINTS IN MURNG-NAI

During 2012, amounts of money extorted by police and military authorities at many checkpoints in many townships have greatly increased, including Murng-Nai township as recounted in this report, making it more and more difficult for travellers and vehicles passing through them.

According to a small passenger van driver who went through Murng-Nai township, carrying 4 passengers from Nam-Zarng to Larng-Khur townships, in mid 2012, the checkpoint at Nawng Leng village in Murng-Nai township was the worst.

There were both military and police authorities at the checkpoint and the driver was required to give money to both groups separately. Previously, before 2012, the driver had to pay only 3,000 kyat to the military authorities every time he passed through it, and there were often no police officers at the checkpoint.

This time around, however, the military authorities had increased the amount 3 times and the driver was required to pay 9,000 kyat. The police were even worse; they forcibly extorted 150,000 kyat from him and his 4 passengers before they let them go.

The driver said after he had got back home and had done some calculation, he found that all the money he had earned from carrying 4 passengers had all gone to the checkpoints on the way. All the expenses he used along the way were a loss for him.

According to the local people, before 2012, there were only military personnel at the said checkpoint and they extorted only a few thousand kyat, not more than 10,000 kyat at most, from each passing vehicle, and not from individual passengers.

Since the beginning of 2012, a group of police officers were also present at the checkpoint and extorted money from individual passengers separately from the military authorities, who only extorted from the vehicles although they had also increased the amounts.

The police extorted 4,000 kyat from each individual passenger over 12 years of age and it did not matter whether they had identity cards or not, every one had to pay. Women aged between 15 and 26, however, were often required to pay 3 times as much to be able to continue their journey.

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http://shanhumanrights.org/components/com_jce/editor/tiny_mce/plugins/anchor/img/anchor.gif) 50% 50% no-repeat;">SITUATION OF EXTORTION AT ‘TA SAANG’ BRIDGE IN MUNRG-PAN

During 2012, at least up to around the latter part of the year when this report was received, Burmese military authorities manning the checkpoint at Ta Saang bridge in Murng-Pan township have extorted money from passengers and vehicles passing through it.

Each passenger was required to pay 2,000 kyat and each vehicle had to pay 3,000 to the military authorities in order to be allowed to pass through the checkpoint and cross over the bridge, which spans the Salween river and joins the main road between Murng-Pan and Murng-Ton townships.

The authorities said the money would be kept for repairing and maintaining the bridge and the road near it. However, no one had ever seen them doing any such thing, except drinking and feasting in their camp well stocked with food and liquor.

According to the local people, the checkpoint got several million kyat a month by extorting from travellers and vehicles, and only a fraction of it was used for buying food and liquor for the troops stationed at the camp near the bridge.

The rest of the money had gone into the pockets of the authorities in charge of the checkpoint. There had been many replacements of authorities in charge of the checkpoint over the years, and they were considerably richer when they left the post at the bridge, they said.

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http://shanhumanrights.org/components/com_jce/editor/tiny_mce/plugins/anchor/img/anchor.gif) 50% 50% no-repeat;">SITUATION OF EXTORTION AT “TA KAW” BRIDGE IN MURNG-PAENG

During 2012, at least up to mid year when this report was received, the Burmese army troops manning the checkpoint at “Ta Kaw” bridge in Murng-Paeng township had still been extorting money from travellers and vehicles, as they had been doing for many years.

Ta Kaw bridge was located on the Kun-Hing - Murng-Paeng main road, spanning the Salween river near Ta Kaw village in Murng-Paeng township. The bridge was constructed long ago and after the Burmese military seized power, they deployed a contingent of troops to take security of it.

Some time later, the troops responsible for the security of the bridge set up a checkpoint and started to collect money from travellers and vehicles who used the bridge to cross the river, stating that it was for the maintenance of the bridge.

At first the amounts collected by the Burmese troops were small and people were happy to help pay for the cost of maintaining the bridge that was used by all the people. However, over the years, the amounts kept increasing until they become pure extortion for the last 2-3 decades.

During the period mentioned in this report, each traveller over 12 years of age was generally required to pay 3,000 kyat. Each vehicle had to pay from 10,000 up to 20,000 kyat, depending on the negotiation skills of the drivers and the whim of the authorities manning the checkpoint at the given time.

People had hoped that in 2012, after the nominally civilian government had been in power for some time, the situation might become at least a little better. However, that had not yet been the case, complained a driver who met SHRF field workers at the Shan-Thai border in mid 2012.

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http://shanhumanrights.org/components/com_jce/editor/tiny_mce/plugins/anchor/img/anchor.gif) 50% 50% no-repeat;">WORSENING EXTORTION AT CHECKPOINTS IN LOI-LEM

During the period from early up to around mid 2012 when this report was received, police and military personnel manning a checkpoint at Pang Long town in Loi-Lem township extorted money from travellers and vehicles more often than before.

The said checkpoint was located at the entrance of Pang Long town in Pang Long sub-township in Loi-Lem township. Before 2012, this checkpoint had occasionally stopped passing vehicles and their passengers, and extorted money from them.

Since the beginning of 2012, however, it had become so often that extortion took place virtually every day, causing more difficulties for travellers who needed to pass through the checkpoint. The amounts of money extorted had also increased.

A 4-wheel vehicle was required to pay 10,000 kyat and a 6-wheeler had to pay 15,000 kyat to be allowed to pass through the checkpoint. Passengers of the vehicles were also required to pay the checkpoint separately, usually 3,000 kyat person over 12 years of age.

According to the local people, it was not uncommon to hear the police and the solders complain about the situation when they got drunk. They said they had to do it as a means of livelihood because their official salaries were not enough even to feed their families, let alone to send their children to school and to buy other necessities.

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