Excessive DKBA extortion targets hard-hit elephant owners

December 1, 2009

HURFOM: Democratic Karen Buddhist Army DKBA has taxing owners of elephants and oxen in Mi Palaing village and nearby villages in Kawkreik Township, Karen State. Villagers have reported having trouble paying due to economic hard times which have diminished incomes.  

According to HURFOM’s field reporter, on November 23rd, DKBA battalion No. 908, lead by captain Phar Htaw, entered Mi Palaing village and collected 250,000 kyat per elephant from elephant owners. Not only did Mi Palaing villagers have to pay,  but also villagers who live in the surrounding villages have reported being face with the same demand.

“In the past we (villagers) had to pay this kind of tax to both Burman and Karen authorities but it was not this high amount. At this time 250,000 kyat it is a lot of money to pay DKBA soldiers all at once,” explain Saw Gay Tha 50 year-old Mi Palaing villager. “Many elephant owners cannot make much income because there are fewer jobs. As in the past, we could pull logs and other debris to make income, but for now there are no logs for us to pull.”

According to field reporter, there are fewer logs and debris for elephant owners to pull because area DKBA forces have banned logging, leaving many villagers without work. As for elephant owners, they now have no jobs, but continue to pay for daily expenses. Some villagers have had to borrow money at high interest rates in order to pay for this recent tax

DKBA taxation extends to other large animals that would traditionally provide some income. “The DKBA came and collected 45,000 kyat at my home because I am an oxen trader,” said Main Maung Myit, a 32 year-old Khu Don resident. “They claim that the DKBA needs money for the battalion and they were collecting 45,000 kyat per [oxen] trader in the village. There are many [oxen] traders in village.”

“At the time they [DKBA soldiers] explained to me about the battalion needing money for expansion [projects]. My wife claimed that she had no money to pay them, so one soldiers fire over her head two times – after that she gave them the money,” he added.

“As they have guns they can do anything what they want. Soldiers always use their guns to solve problems, and use their guns to abuse or lord power over villagers,” complained Maung Myit’s wife. “It is seems to be that villagers give money to soldiers to buy guns to abuse them with their own money.”

She explained to the HURFOM field reporter how this abuse of power had occurred before, in case of when Main Maung Myit was forced to as an unpaid laborer. “In the last 2 to 3 years my husband also had shots fired over his head like this, because he went back to our house without asking permission while he was working on building a barracks for DKBA soldiers.”

According to residents, Mi Palaing and villages nearby have around 40 elephants, meaning the cost extorted from the area villages is approximately 10 million kyat. In the past villagers had to pay taxes to both Burman authorities and Karen authorities, but only one time a year. Residents said that after DKBA got control of the area DKBA soldiers have conducted sweeping arbitrary taxation, at any time with out consistency in either the amount demanded or the frequency of their requests.

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