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April - 2010

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Extortion of Money and Property

    Lately, because of the increasing difficulties for migrant workers from Burma to be able to continue to work in Thailand, due to various economic and political reasons, including the necessity for every migrant worker to register with the Nationality Verification scheme, which has put many migrants, especially those belonging to non-Burman nationalities, into a difficult and precarious situation, one may expect to see some decrease in the flows of refugees coming to Thailand from Shan State.
    However, that has not been the case so far. For more than a decade or so, more or less regular flows of refugees have been coming to the Thai border and, for some reasons, there have even been some increase in their numbers over the last few months.
    It was true that when the Nationality Verification scheme was introduced and implemented by the Thai authorities, many migrants who did not want themselves identified for fear of persecution by the Burmese authorities had, or at least tried to, returned to their native places in Shan State.
    After staying for a short while, however, many of them found it virtually impossible to survive under the circumstances created by the Burmese military authorities and returned to Thailand, adding their numbers to the already existing flows of refugees. It was difficult enough to earn a decent living even for those who still had some of their ancestral lands to work, not to mention those who had lost everything and tried to survive as daily wage earners.
    The refugees cited various types of human rights violation by the Burmese military that have still been causing people to seek refuge in Thailand, among which the most rampant was extortion of money and property.
    During the end of 2009, villagers of Ho Ha village in Kun Mong village tract in Kaeng Tawng sub-township, Murng-Nai township, were forced to pay large sums of money as a fine for allegedly not providing correct information about opium growers, by the SPDC troops from LIB569.
    On 24 November 2009, a patrol of about 35 SPDC troops from LIB569 came to Ho Ha village in Kun Mong village tract in Murng-Nai township and told the villagers who grew opium to give their names and the amount of opium grown to them.
    After collecting a list of opium growers from Ho Ha village, the SPDC troops continued to patrol the area for several days. On 27 November 2009, the SPDC troops came back to the village in the evening and called all the villagers to a meeting.
    At the meeting, the SPDC troops accused the villagers of having given them a false list of opium growers, saying that they had found many more opium fields than that had been listed. They said the villagers needed to pay a fine of money for lying or face more severe punishment.
    The SPDC troops demanded 20,000 kyat from each and every house in Ho Ha village, whether they grew opium or not, as a punishment. Although Ho Ha was a small village, comprising less than 30 houses, the SPDC troops got away with more than 500,000 kyat of money.
    According to local villagers, they had already given some of the names to an SPDC troops’ patrol a few months earlier during the rains so that this time they only gave the names of the new growers. However, they could not explain about it because the SPDC troops did not listen to them, and they were also afraid of further abuses.
    During late November 2009, SPDC troops from IB66 forcibly conscripted villagers’ vehicles and went around in the areas of 2-3 village tracts in Nam-Zarng township, accusing villagers of one thing or another and extorting money from them.
    On 21 November 2009, a patrol of about 40 SPDC troops came by a truck to Haai Naeng village in Haai Naeng village tract, Nam-Zarng township, and continued on foot to Kawng Hawm village in the same village tract.
    At Kawng Hawm village, the SPDC troops forcibly conscripted 3 mini-tractors and their drivers. Riding the 3 tractors, they patrolled the areas of Haai Naeng, Ton Hung and Nawng Hee village tracts for several days, finding fault with the villagers and extortion money from them.
    Although there were many villages in Haai Naeng and Ton Hung village tracts that had been forced to give money to the SPDC troops, not less than 10,000 kyat each, only the names of 2 villages, Kaab Saang and Haai Laai, were available when this report was received.
    In Nawng Hee village tract, the SPDC troops accused the villagers of neglecting their forced labour duty by not regularly reporting to the authorities on the situation in the area and ordered them to pay a fine in the form of money.
    The following 3 villages in Nawng Hee village tract were recorded. Nam Wo village was required to pay a fine of 30,000 kyat while Kun Saai village had to pay 21,000 kyat and Saam Khaa village 15,000 kyat. The 3 tractors were released only after they had provided free labour for 4 whole days.

    During November 2009, SPDC troops of IB64 and IB287, and members of a Shan ceasefire group, forcibly recruited villagers in several village tracts in Lai-Kha township to serve as people’s militia and large amounts of money were extorted from villages that could not provide the demanded recruits.
    The village tracts from which the SPDC troops demanded recruits this time included Naa Poi, Haai Seng, Wan Thi, Wan Paang, Wan Saang and Taad Mawk in Lai-Kha township. One person from each small village and two persons from each large village in those village tracts were required to be recruited as members of the people’s militia.
    The new recruits had to be male and between 18 and 25 years of age, and those who had once served in one of the resistance forces in Shan State were preferable. However, villages that could not provide new recruits in person could provide money instead.
    The villagers of the villages that could not find anyone to register as a new recruit had to collect money among themselves and give it to the authorities instead. The rate was 300,000 kyat for each missing recruit.
    Similar incidents were said to have been taking place at about the same time in the adjacent township of Kae-See, but details of such incidents were not available at the time of this report.
    During November and December 2009, SPDC troops of IB65 and members of the police and immigration in Murng-Ton township set up several checkpoints along the main road between Naa Kawng Mu and Pung Pa Khem villages and the Thai border, and extorted money from the travellers.
    One such checkpoint was at the end of Naa Kawng Mu village. This checkpoint required each traveller to pay 6,000 kyat to be allowed to get through it. Virtually all civilian passengers riding cars, trucks and motorcycles had to pay the money or were told to turn back.
    Another one was at Ta Kwaang village, between Naa Kawng Mu and Pung Pa Khem village. At this checkpoint, travellers were required to pay in Thai money, 300 baht each, to be able to pass it. At the entrance of Pung Pa Khem village was another checkpoint to which each traveller also had to pay 300 baht to be able to enter the village.
    All people were required to pay at this Pung Pa Khem checkpoint on the assumption that they were going to the Thai border, including those who were only coming to Pung Pa Khem village and had no intention to travel farther.
    For those who actually travelled to the Thai border, there were 2 more checkpoints on the way. One was at Nam Yum village and the other at BP-1 (Border Post No. 1), right on the border. Each of these checkpoints also extorted 200 Thai baht from each traveller before letting them continue their journey.

    At the end of 2009, large amounts of Thai money were extorted from the villagers of Me Ken village tract in Murng-Ton township by a patrol of SPDC troops from IB225, at Me Ken village in Me Ken village tract, Murng-Ton township.
    On 28 or 29 December 2009, a contingent of more than 20 SPDC troops from IB225 that were stationed at the public pavilion near the village Buddhist monastery in Me Ken village called the community leaders of Me Ken, Mawk Zali and Son Khaan village to a meeting.
    At the meeting, the SPDC troops told the community leaders of the said 3 villages to collect money from their villagers to support the Burmese military. The community leaders were required to collect 500 baht of Thai money from each of the houses at their respective villages.
    The SPDC troops said that they had been working hard for the protection and well being of the people so that they could lead a safe and normal life. For that, they said, the Burmese military deserved the gratitude and support from the people.
    The SPDC troops ordered the community leaders to hand over all the demanded money within 2 days. Since there were over 300 houses in the 3 villages, the villagers had to work fast to be able to gather all the money and hand it to the SPDC troops before the deadline.
    For several weeks during November 2009, a combined force SPDC troops and members of Lahu people’s militia, based in Wan Zing village tract in Kae-See township, went around and randomly extorted money from the people in several village tracts in the township.
    In early November 2009, a patrol of about 40 troops, comprising SPDC soldiers from IB287 and members of Lahu people’s militia, extorted money from several shop owners in several villages in Wan Zing village tract.
    Among the known victims were Zaai Mae-Tha and Naang Lu (not their real names), a couple selling consumer goods at their house-shop at Kung Khaet village in Wan Zing village tract. Not less than 70,000 kyat of money was extorted from the couple by the soldiers, using various excuses and threats to make them comply with their demand.
    Zaai Pun-Nya and Naang Lam (not their real names), a couple with a house-shop at Wan Zing village in Wan Zing village tract, also selling consumer goods, were also forced to pay 65,000 kyat to the soldiers, using similar methods of threat and intimidation.
    At Maw Tawng and Wan Loi villages in Long Yaan village tract, the SPDC troops extorted 500 kyat from each house. There were more than 40 houses in the 2 villages and the troops made off with more than 20,000 kyat of money.
    After that, the said patrol went on to Nawng Tao and Murng Lerm villages and continued to extort money from the villagers. Although the details about the amounts of money were not available, it was learned that the SPDC troops continued their patrol down to Murng Nawng village tract and extorted money from several villages along the way.

    In November 2009, large amounts of money had to be given to several departments of the SPDC authorities in Kaeng-Tung township in order to hold a celebration marking the traditional Shan new year.
    The new year celebration was held for 3 days, from 15 to 17 November 2009, and the opening ceremony was presided over by the commander of the Triangle Regional Command during which the Chairman of Kaeng-Tung township USDA (Union Solidarity and Development Association) also gave a speech.
    However, before the permission to celebrate the new year was given, a lot of money had been extorted from the people, mainly Shan communities, by the concerned authorities. Not less than 15,000 kyat had to be given to each of the following 3 departments: SPDC District Office, SPDC Township Office and Township Police Department.
    To be able to use the public sport ground for the celebration, the organizing Shan communities had to give 50,000 kyat to the concerned authorities and 100,000 kyat for the rent of the sport ground for the duration of the new year celebration.
    In November 2009, considerable amounts of money were extorted from the people of Kaeng-Tung town by the SPDC authorities to organize a football tournament in the township.
    All the townspeople in all the 5 quarters of Kaeng-Tung town were affected by the extortion. Written orders were issued to the community leaders of the 5 quarters on 12 November 2009, demanding 6,000 kyat from every household in the town.
    Since the football tournament was set to be held from 17 to 20 November 2009, the money was to be handed to the authorities no later than 16 November 2009, according to the written orders.
    According to the Kaeng-Tung townspeople, the authorities always extorted money from the people to organize virtually all the social and public events in the town, including even the kind of concerts in which young women competitively displayed their legs.

    In November 2009, SPDC authorities in Kun-Hing township announced that they would issue identity cards to those living in the township, who could prove their citizenship but had not yet got any identity cards, and persuaded people to come and get them at the township office.
    However, the announcement did not mention anything about the costs people would have to pay to get the identity cards, leaving them to think that it would not be much different from what had cost those who got their ID cards some time ago, which was between 500 and 1,000 kyat each.
    On 12-13 November 2009, 3 villagers form Loi Yaang village in Kun Pu village tract, Kun-Hing township, went to get their ID cards at the township office, bringing with them 15,000 kyat of money which they thought was more than enough.
    After all was finished, however, they were told by the concerned authorities that the whole process cost each of them 10,000 kyat. The authorities added that every one without discrimination, rich or poor, would have to pay the same amount to get their ID cards.
    The villagers were issued their ID cards only after they could give the authorities the demanded amount of money, by borrowing from their friends from other villages who happened to be in the town on their own businesses.
    In October 2009, a tractor driver who was transporting rice and consumer goods was robbed of his money by a patrol of SPDC troops in the area of Pang Long sub-township, in Loi-Lem township.
    One day in October 2009, Zaai Mawng (m) from Pang Long town in Loi-Lem township was driving a tractor, transporting rice and other consumer goods from Nam-Zarng township back to Loi-Lem, when he ran into a patrol of SPDC troops from one of the units based in Loi-Lem township.
    It was at a place about 5 miles before he reached Pang Long town. The SPDC troops stopped Zaai Mawng and searched his tractor, and found 30,000 kyat of money in it. The troops immediately took away the money and warned Zaai Mawng not to tell anyone about it.
    Zaai Mawng was only a hired hand who earned a wage for driving a tractor whose owner lived in Pang Long town. The money was the only property he owned, but it had been taken away by the SPDC troops and he could do nothing about it.

    In December 2009, villagers of several villages in Yaang Loi village tract in Murng-Kerng township were robbed of their chickens by a patrol of SPDC troops from LIB514.
    On 11 December 2009, a patrol of about 35 SPDC troops from LIB514 came to Nam Khi Zaang village in Yaang Loi village tract Murng-Kerng township and stopped at a public pavilion at the village Buddhist monastery.
    After preparing to camp at the pavilion for the night, the SPDC troops ordered the villagers to provide them with 5 viss (1 viss = 1.6 kg) of chickens on the same evening. The chickens had to be killed and their feathers plucked, and brought to them at the pavilion, said the troops.
    The SPDC troops cooked and ate the chickens with their dinner, drinking a lot of liquor and making a lot of noise until late into the night. At about 8 o’clock the next morning, the SPDC troops left Nam Khi Zaang village and set of towards Haai Ngern village in the same village tract.
    At Haai Ngern village, the SPDC troops stopped for a while and shot 4 chickens with catapults and took them away as they continued their patrol in the area. The troops arrived at Yaang Loi village, which was the main village in Yaang Loi village tract, in the evening and stopped for a few hours in the village.
    As soon as they arrived in Yaang Loi village, the SPDC troops ordered the villagers to provide them with 8 viss of chickens within 2 hours. After getting the demanded chickens, the troops left Yaang Loi village and likely headed in the direction of Nam Neb village.
    Villagers of Nam Khi Zaang, Haai Ngern and Yaang Loi villages lost about 15 viss of chickens, worth about 60,000 kyat, to the said SPDC troops’ patrol. It was a common practice for the SPDC troops to forcibly take villagers’ chickens whenever they came to the villages, complained the villagers.
    In December 2009, oranges of a villager were stolen by the SPDC troops from LIB576 at an orange orchard at Pa Saa village in Nawng Hee village tract, Murng-Nai township.
    On 13 December 2009, about 5-6 SPDC soldiers from LIB576 came to the area of Pa Saa village and stole as many oranges as they could carry in their backpacks from an orchard belonging to a villager of Pa Saa village in Nawng Hee village tract in Murng-Ni township.
    The SPDC troops ate some of the oranges on their way back and threw away pieces of orange peel along the way right up near to their base. Some villagers from a nearby village who went to buy things at another village saw small piles of orange peel scattered along the way and told Pa Saa villagers about it.
    When the orange orchard owners of Pa Saa village went and checked their orchards, one of them saw that his orchard had been looted. A lot of branches of many orange trees had been broken and many small oranges had fallen and scattered on the ground, while the good and ripe ones were gone.
    Although there was clear evidence that the SPDC troops had stolen the oranges, with piles of orange peel scattered all the way up to their base, and had done a lot of damage to the orchard, the owner dared not do anything about it for fear of further abuses.

    In November 2009, vegetables of a villager were stolen by the SPDC troops from LIB576 from a vegetable garden at Nam Tum Nur village in Ton Hung village tract, Murng-Nai township.
    On the afternoon of 15 November 2009, Naang Mu (f) of Nam Tawng village in Ton Hung village tract went to her vegetable garden at Nam Tum Nur village in the same village tract with the intention to collect vegetables to sell at the market at Ton Hung village the next day.
    When she got near her vegetable garden, Naang Mu saw 3 SPDC soldiers hurriedly left her garden, each carrying heavy loads on their shoulders, and headed towards Ton Hung village where the base of LIB576 was situated.
    When Naang Mu got into her garden, she saw that almost all of her vegetables were gone, only their stumps were left sticking out of the beds. She immediately realized that the 3 SPDC soldiers she just saw had stolen her vegetables.
    But when she came out of the garden and looked towards where the soldiers had gone, they had already disappeared into the distance. Naang Mu did not know what to do except to return to her village and grieve over her loss.
    The next day when she went to Ton Hung village market, Naang Mu saw 3 women, who she was sure were wives of SPDC soldiers, selling vegetables. She was sure that those women were not selling vegetables they had grown themselves or bought from someone else, but she could do nothing about it.