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May- 2011

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COMMENTARY : Confiscation and Extortion

For decades, extortion and confiscation have been frequent occurrences among the many types of human rights violation committed by members of the Burmese military against the civilian populations in Shan State.
Confiscation of lands which has become increasingly worse over the last 2 decades, during which the numbers of military battalions greatly and quickly increased all over Shan State, has badly affected the lives of the people, especially the rural communities who were mostly farmers. It has displaced and turned many once self-sufficient farmers into landless and destitute day labourers.
It has also caused many farmers to completely lose their original farming livelihood and try to find other means of survival in other far away places, including neighbouring countries, especially Thailand.
In addition, frequently repeated confiscation of vehicles and other property has made many people lose their means of livelihood, forcing many of them to flee to other places and countries to find some means of survival.
Various types of extortion of money and property, present virtually everywhere and almost all the time, have also constantly given troubles to almost every one who has no military connection.
All this has greatly hampered the economic well being of the people.
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SITUATION OF LAND CONFISCATION

Lands, owned or cultivated by the people, have been confiscated by the military authorities of the SPDC junta, especially the troops stationed at many battalion bases in the whole Shan State, with no compensation given to the owners.
Lands have been confiscated for several reasons, e.g., to make way for infrastructure, to turn them into residential places and for the troops to use for their own benefit, etc..
The following are some such instances:


CONFISCATION OF CULTIVATED LAND FOR STATE INFRASTRUCTURE IN MURNG-NAI AND KAENG-TUNG

During the period from around mid 2010 up to the end of the year when this report was received, thousands of acres of cultivated land have been confiscated by the Burmese military authorities to make way for railway tracks, in Murng-Nai and Kaeng-Tung townships.
In mid 2010, the military authorities of IB247 in Murng-Nai township started to transport earth, rocks and stones to build an embankment along the land areas where a rail road was to be built, across local people’s rice fields and other cultivated lands.
The plan to build a railway to link Murng-Nai in central Shan State, which already had a rail link with other towns, with Kaeng-Tung in eastern Shan State, which had no rail link, was laid down some time previously.
During 2009 and early 2010, land areas in Murng-Nai township were marked out for building the said railway. Unfortunately for the local people, the intended railway ran through many miles of their cultivated land areas, covering hundreds of acres rice fields, farms and wood lands, etc...
Red flags were put up along the marked land areas for the construction of the railway to inform the people that the land areas thus marked had been confiscated by the state. Many people who lost their lands received no compensation whatsoever.
According to the local farmers, where the rail road embankment had been built, not only the land areas on which it ran were lost to them, but also many acres of rice fields on both sides have become unworkable because the irrigation system has been destroyed by it.
At about the same time, similar incidents also took place in Kaeng-Tung township, which was to be the end destination of the intended railway. Over one thousand acres of people’s rice fields and other cultivated land have been confiscated in Kaeng Phawng village tract alone, without any compensation.

LAND CONFISCATED FOR RESELLING IN MURNG-PAN

In early 2010, hundreds of acres of villagers’ rice fields have been confiscated by the Burmese military authorities without any compensation in Murng-Pan township, saying that the lands would be made into small plots and resold to the people as living quarters.
In February 2010, parts of people’s rice fields on both sides along the road between the point where there was a branch road to Loi Noi village and Loi Noi hill in Murng-Pan township were confiscated by the authorities.
The road was more than one mile long with rice fields on both sides covering the entire distance. All the land areas along the road sides, 80 yards wide from each side, were forcibly taken by the authorities to be made into living quarters because they were near the road.
There had already been one similar incident in the same area about a decade ago, in which hundreds of villagers’s rice fields were confiscated, divided into small plots and sold to people who wanted to build houses and live there.
In 1998, rice fields along the main road west of Murng-Pan town, starting from the town entrance down to the crossroad leading to Long Kaeng village, covering hundreds of acres of land area, had been confiscated for the same reason.
In both cases, the former owners not only lost their rice fields without any compensation, but were required to buy back small plots of land at a price set by the authorities if they wanted to live there.

RICE FIELDS CONFISCATED AND CULTIVATED BY MILITARY USING FORCED LABOUR,  IN MURNG-PAN

In early 2010, large areas of people’s rice fields in Murng-Pan township, enough for planting about 200 bushels of rice seeds, were confiscated and cultivated by the SPDC troops of LIB332, LIB520 and IB99 using forced labour of the people.
All the rice fields in the areas of Tawng Kwaai Tai and Tawng Kwaai Nur villages in Murng-Pan township have been confiscated since early 2010 and have been used to grow crops by the SPDC troops using forced labour of the local people.
Villagers in the area were not only required to provide forced labour for growing crops from start to finish but also for building dams and maintaining the irrigation system of the rice fields for the duration of crop growing season.
It was said that in 2009, it was only the Murng-Pan-based LIB332 that confiscated some parts of the rice fields in the area and cultivated rice for its own consumption, using forced labour of the people, and harvested a very good yield.
Because of that, in 2010, SPDC troops from LIB520 and IB99 that were based in Larng-Khur township came to join LIB332 and confiscated all the rest of the rice fields in the areas of the said 2 villages, and forced the local people to also cultivate rice for them.

SITUATION OF ABUSES RELATED TO CIVILIAN VEHICLES

For decades, it has not been easy for ordinary people, who do not have some kind of connections with powerful military authorities, to own and use vehicles in Shan State without being one way or another harassed by members of the military.
Vehicles, including cars, trucks, tractors, motorcycles, ox-carts and even bicycles, have often been required to provide forced labour and pay various types of taxes, and even confiscated by the military authorities with no compensation.

CONFISCATION OF CIVILIAN VEHICLES IN NAM-ZARNG, TA-KHI-LAEK AND KAENG-TUNG

In September 2010, many civilian vehicles were confiscated by the SPDC authorities for failing to obtain licences within the given period of time in several townships in southern and eastern Shan State, including Nam-Zarng, Ta-Khi-Laek and Kaeng-Tung.
On 12 September 2010, about 30 civilian vehicles that were going towards Taunggyi, the capital of Shan State, to obtain licenses were stopped and confiscated by the authorities manning a checkpoint in Nam-Zarng town.
The vehicles, mostly small-size cars and trucks, were from several townships in eastern Shan State, e.g., Murng-Khark, Murng-Yarng, Kaeng-Tung, Murng-Phyak, Murng-Yawng and Ta-Khi-Laek, that had missed the opportunity to obtain licences in their respective townships during early September 2010 when they were issued by the authorities.
These vehicles had been brought in from China and Thailand during early September 2010 after  the SPDC authorities announced that vehicles without licences would again be allowed for a few days to apply for them in all townships in Shan State.
All the said vehicles had applied for licences in their respective places. But because there were so many cars, and the authorities gave priority to those who could pay more money, when the time for issuing licences was up, they had not yet received theirs.
While the owners of those vehicles did not know what to do, it was suggested by their local authorities that they should go and try to get their licences at Taunggyi. They believed they could do that and drove their vehicles towards the capital.
However, they were stopped at a checkpoint in Nam-Zarng town, manned by the authorities from several departments, and their vehicles confiscated for not having licences. Although they explained about their situation to the authorities, it was in vain.
On the same day, 12 September 2010, the authorities in Ta-Khi-Laek township set up surprise-checkpoints and search the town for licenseless vehicles. They confiscated on that day at least 15 vehicles which had been imported from Thailand and had missed the deadline to obtain their licences.
On 27 September 2010, a similar incident took place in Kaeng-Tumg township. The authorities searched the town and confiscated at least 40 licenseless vehicles in just one day. The vehicles were from China and Thailand.
The above 3 incidents were only those about which some details were available. There were said to be many more incidents in which many more vehicles were confiscated during the same period of time, but the details were not available.

CONFISCATION OF CIVILIAN MOTORCYCLES IN LOI-LEM

In July 2010, more than 340 civilian motorcycles from several towns in Loi-Lem district which had come to obtain licences were confiscated by the SPDC authorities in Loi-Lem town, Loi-Lem township.
On 5 July 2010, SPDC district level authorities in Loi-Lem town in Loi-Lem township issued licences to several cars and motorcycles belonging to a business company known as SSS, owned by a crony of the SPDC authorities.
On 6 July 2010, the same SPDC authorities announced that they would continue to issue licences to civilian motorcycles for 2 more days and spread the news to all the townships under the administration of Loi-Lem district, persuading people to quickly come and get them.
Accordingly, many motorcycle owners from several townships in Loi-Lem district such as Pang Long, Nam-Zarng, Kun-Hing and Lai-Kha, etc., rode their licenseless motorcycles to Loi-Lem town and applied for the said licences.
However, on 7 July 2010, instead of being issued licences, at about 12 o’clock around noon, all the motorcycles were rounded up and confiscated by the SPDC troops for not having licences. More than340 motorcycles were confiscated on that day.
The motorcycle owners were told by the authorities to leave their motorcycles for the time being and to come and get them back sometime later, but with no fixed time and date. They then knew that their motorcycles had certainly been confiscated and that they had been tricked into bringing them there themselves.

EXTORTION OF MONEY FROM CIVILIAN VEHICLES AT CHECKPOINTS IN SOUTHERN AND EASTERN SHAN STATE

Apart from having to pay regular taxes at their respective townships where they were registered, civilian vehicles were required to pay extortion money at checkpoints along the way when they traveled.
There were numerous checkpoints along all the main roads and were manned by members of one or several government departments, including army, different branches of the police, immigration, custom, municipality and other civil servant departments.
Different amounts of money were extorted from different types of vehicles, and different amounts for different groups or departments from a single vehicle. Usually, great amounts of money were needed to get through all the checkpoints in just one township.
The following is just one instance of how much a 10-wheel truck travelling from Taunggyi in southern Shan State to Kaeng-Tung in eastern Shan State was required to pay at different townships along the way.
The journey was made sometime in mid 2010 by a driver who provided this information. To save space, only the numbers of groups or departments and the different amounts of money he had to pay to them in each township are provided here.
1. Ho-Pong township: 8 groups; 238,000 kyat
2. Murng Pawn - sub-township in Loi-Lem: 9 groups; 308,600 kyat
3. Loi-Lem township: 11 groups; 910,000 kyat
4. Nam-Zarng township: 13 groups; 432,500 kyat
5. Kho Lam - sub-township in Nam-Zarng: 7 groups; 170,000 kyat
6. Kun-Hing township: 6 groups; 300,000 kyat
7. Ka Li - sub-township in Kun-Hing: 3 groups; 90,000 kyat
8. Ta Kaw - a village in Kun-Hing where Salween bridge was situated: 13 groups; 1,010,000 kyat
9. Murng-Paeng township: 7 groups; 626,000 kyat
10. Tong Ta - a village in Murng-Paeng township: 5 groups; 243,000 kyat
11. Kaeng-Tung - at the entrance of the town: for several groups; 380,000 kyat

SITUATION OF EXTORTION AND STEALING OF VILLAGERS LIVESTOCK

Extortion and stealing of villagers’ livestock by the Burmese junta’s troops have been rampant in the rural areas of Shan State for decades.
They have also been one of the factors that have been hampering the economic well being of the people.
The following are some such instances:


VILLAGERS’ PIGS EXTORTED, CHICKENS STOLEN, IN KAE-SEE

In late September 2010, villagers of Wan Eet and Luk Phakha villages in Murng Naang village tract in Kae-See township were forced to provide pigs by the SPDC troops of IB286 who also stole many villagers’ chickens.
On 28 September 2010, a patrol of about 40 SPDC troop from IB286, led by Capt. Aung Htoo, came to Wan Eet village in Murng Naang village tract in Kae-See township. They asked the villagers if they had seen Shan soldiers in their village area.
When the villagers said they had not seen any Shan soldier, the SPDC troops accused them ofbeing sympathizers of the Shan resistance and feeding the Shan soldiers. “When we ask, you always say you have not seen them, while in fact you are supporting and giving them rice”, said the troops.
After a short while, the SPDC troops ordered the village headman to give them one pig as a punishment. A large pig, weighing 31 viss (1 viss = 1.6 kg), which could be easily sold at 120,000 kyat in the market had to be given to the troops.
The said SPDC troops continued their patrol to another village, Luk Phakha, in the same village tract on the same day and, after asking questions, forced the villagers to give them one more pig. Here the troops got a pig weighing about 25 viss, worth about 100,000 kyat.
In both cases, the SPDC troops also went around in the villages, seized and killed and took away as many chickens as they could get, creating a lot of noises and confusion as they ran after or threw stones and sticks to kill the chickens.

EXTORTION OF CHICKENS, FORCED LABOUR, IN KUN-HING
During August and September 2010, SPDC troops of LIB524 extorted and stole many chickens from the villagers of several villages in Laai Kaam and Wan Lao village tracts in Kun-Hing township.
In August 2010, a patrol of about 20 SPDC troops from LIB524 came to Long Maw village and spent one night in the village. During the night, an ancient sword, worth not less than 15,000 kyat and 3 viss (1 viss = 1.6 kg) of pickled fish, worth at least 3,500 kyat per viss, of a villager was stolen by the troops.
On the following day, the commander of the SPDC troops ordered the headman of Long Maw village to provide chickens for the troops, to be collected from all the villagers at the rate of one chicken per house.
There were about 70 houses in Long Maw village and the headman pleaded with the SPDC troops to reduce their demand to half of the village populations because they often had to provide the SPDC troops with chickens on a more or less routine basis.
The SPDC troops agreed and 34 chickens were given to them by the villagers. The chickens weighed about 25-26 viss and the contemporary market price was 3,500 kyat per viss. The troops also instructed the headman to collect money from the villagers and pay the chicken owners if necessary.
Sometime in September 2010, a patrol of about 50 SPDC troops from the same unit, LIB524, came to Huay Seng Laao village in Laai Kaam village tract in Kun-Hing township, and forced the villagers to provide them with a sack-full of chickens.
On the same day, the SPDC troops continued to Paang Hok village in Wan Lao village tract in Kun-Hing township and forcibly taken 2 more sack-full of chickens. The troops also arrested a man named Ti-Ya and forced him to carry the chickens back to their base.

SITUATION OF OTHER TYPES OF EXTORTION
During the period around mid and late 2010, the situations in some parts of central, southern and eastern Shan State were quite confusing because there was news that the SPDC troops in the areas were using a new stratagem.
Some small groups of soldiers that roamed in the areas at the time, wearing the uniforms of the SSA-S (Shan State Army-South) and UWSA (United Wa State Army), were thought by the local people to be SPDC soldiers in disguise.
Those small groups of soldiers went around and extorted money and rice from the villages, creating a situation in which larger groups of SPDC troops could find easy excuses to extort much larger amounts of money and property.
The following is one such incident:

EXTORTION IN KAENG-TUNG
On 4 September 2010, a group of soldiers claiming to be members of the Shan resistance came to a Palaung village in the mountainous area of Kaad Thaai village tract in Kaeng-Tung township and sent a letter to the village tract community leader who lived at Kaad Thaai village in the plane down below.
The supposed Shan soldiers told the community leader to come to them and to bring 106 tins of husked rice with him, but he refused to go. At night, the Shan soldiers secretly came and took away the younger brother of the community leader and 3 other villagers.
The Shan soldiers held the leader’s brother hostage and sent the other villagers back to the leader to tell him to bring 1,200,000 kyat if he wanted his brother to be released. The leader then reported the incident to the SPDC authorities in Kaeng-Tung town.
The SPDC authorities instructed the leader to comply with the Shan soldiers’ demand for the safety of his brother, saying that troops would be sent out to fight and destroy them after that. The leader did as instructed and managed to get his brother safely back home.
On 7 September 2010, more than 200 SPDC troops, 4 truckloads, were dispatched from Kaeng-Tung town to Kaad Thaai village tract to drive away the Shan solders. The troops, however, came to the villages such as Wan Nam, Ho Te and Kung Mong, etc., that were at the foot of the mountain range and did not go up the mountains.
For 3-4 days, the SPDC troops roamed around those villages and forced the local villagers to provide them with food, including pigs, chickens, eggs, vegetables, rice and cooking oil, etc.. Many troops also took what they wanted from shops selling consumer goods and told the owners to get the price money from their village leaders.
Many troops also forcibly used villagers’ motorcycles to go around, some even went to the town, without refilling fuel for them. The troops just abandoned the motorcycles where the fuel ran out and told the owners to go and get them back themselves.
Having to provide food for more than 200 troops for 4 days meant a tremendous hardship to the villagers. In addition, motorcycle and shop owners also had to bear the brunt. Some shop owners said they lost up to 300,000 kyat worth of consumer goods.