Expansion of militia and civilian strike groups at cost to villagers prior to election
October 26, 2010
HURFOM: During the month prior to the election, villagers in northern Ye Township are faceing increased taxation as local militias will be expanded. Resident observers believe the increase is intentionally timed to double the local government militias prior to the November 7th election date. Notably the new additions appear to be ex-soldiers loyal to the current regime. The additions, wich will double monthly taxation, have caused fears amongst local residents that such costs will cause sever economic hardship.
On October 10th a special meeting regarding, “security and regional influence”, was called in Hnee Hnuu village by the local strategy officer of Burmese army Infantry Battalion (IB) No. 61. The meeting was attended by heads of the Ye Township Peace and Development Council (TPDC), leaders of local village militia units and Village Peace and Development Council (VPDC). VPDC headmen were instructed to reinforce the militia membership and to collect the money from local residents to fund the expansion.
Villages that will be included in the expansion already provide for local militias, each already containing approximately 10 members. These militias are funded by local taxes each month of between 1500 and 3000 kyat per household.
Nai Maung Sein, 48, worked as a teacher at a New Mon State Party (NMSP) Mon national school, before becoming a plantation worker and living in Andinn village-track, Southern Ye Township, Mon State. Nai Maung Sein believes that the increased taxation for the expanded militia will be devastating, and that the presence of militias is only a means by which the regime can exert is influence over the community and create divisions:
To increase the militia forces, they [IB No. 61 officials] have ordered [us] to send more from our little hard-earned income…Before the occurrence of this order, there are always 10 militia members [in our village]. For them, I have to pay at least 1500 kyat, sometimes over 3000 kyat, monthly… In some villages, even the houses of widows – which are very poor and need pity – were also collected from. [The collected fee] can very more or less. The fee has been collected since 10 years ago after the formation of the militia in the village. Now IB No. 61 ordered [that the collected fee] be increased, so you [speaking to interviewer] can guess, using your brain, whether [this order] is fair or not for us – the needy. If we don’t pay the fee, they [the battalion leader and the village headmen] will really get us into trouble…In reality, the increase of them [militia] is not good for our village. The militia, the village authorities and the [governmental] staff are assumed to be higher class in the village. They can live easily. They needn’t pay [the fees] like us…The state needn’t pay the cost and yet gets a staff [for the militia]. So only we will die of starvation, being the downtrodden. Now we have to vote. In the VPDC office, it is posted [on a sign] in big size that the USDP must win. I think [this poster] was put up to show to whom they want us to vote for. It is sure that the ghost who is worse than the tiger will appear. I think nothing will be different.
The current expansion of local militias extends to the villages of Andinn, Hnee Hnuu, Gu Hataw, Hnin Tayoke and Thar Garan villages, all of which are in Andinn village-track. Each village contains approximately 300 to 500 households. These homes will fund the expected cost of 700,000 for each village, resulting in an increase of 10 to 15 more militia members per village. These cost include money for weapons, uniforms, food, a daily stipend and possibly housing. Doubling the size of the militia will double the overall monthly tax for local residents. Such heavy taxation will significantly impact local residents, whose average daily income is only 3,000 kyat per person, and already pay an average food cost of 5,000 kyat a day for a family 5.
According to residents in these 5 villages, these new members have not been recruited locally. The newer recruits, often older, or suffering from debilitating wounds, appear to be retired veterans from the Burmese army. It is likely that the addition of retired soldier is intended to place already loyal Burmese in predominantly ethnic communities, and provide soldiers with additional power despite retirement.
The According to Mehm Tun, 25, who knows about the recent order given to expand the militia at the Hnee Hnuu village meeting, the introduction of outsiders into a local militia is preparation to manipulate the election, and create, as he describes, a long term problem:
Now, unlike the old village militia, the militia they expand does not include Mon. In the past, there were 8 Mon militia members in our Hnee Hnuu village. For them, each house had to pay from 1500 to 2000 kyat as a monthly fee. If they demanded more, sometimes [we had to] pay about 3000 kyat. Now the [new members] of the militia expanded by IB No. 61 are not from these Mon villages. [We] don’t know where they are from. Their appearances are like those of thieves or vagabonds. Some of them are persons retired from the army because of injuries during battle…Normally, if different communities live together, there must be equality. I want to say that there is no problem if Mon, Burmese, or Karen get equal rights together. Now they [Burmese army] are the governors and we can’t work at the same level, so I think this will become a long-term problem. I don’t think the cost of the militia is a good thing. It is possible there will be more oppression and abuse….the cost of the militia might be directly related to the security for the coming election. The army or the powerful party of the ruling government may not manage to force the voters to cast their votes in the poll-boxes as they want. I think [therefore] the newly formed pocket militia will be instructed to force the civilians to vote for the party they [the government] wants. Therefore, I perceive [this election] is not honest. We have to monitor whether it will be or not.
According to Mi Ei Be, 40, an ex-NMSP teacher, from Andinn village-track, the costs for local militia will be larger then average local salaries, and be entirely covered by local residents:
These new members of the militia are persons who retired from the army. According to my brother who has a close relationship with our headman, [we] have to pay fifty thousand kyat [foundation cost] per member [of the expanded militia]. And then, as they serve for the village security, the village has to take responsibility in every case for them. Even for our abbot, we needn’t donate as much as this amount.
Since November 2009, when HURFOM first documented the practice, local commanders and members of the Mon State PDC have continued the recruitment of non-official pro-regime squads (known as Swan Arshin in Burmese). These non-militia civilian groups are composed of volunteers and members of local civic development organizations in exchange for gifts, privileges, or other benefits. In exchange, these civilian groups are given weapons and are trained to assist the local militia in its possible duties. HURFOM has documented such trainings including crowed breaking tactics, and through education in the current regime’s policy.
The area in which the orders have been given, in northern Ye Township, is relatively more stable then areas to the south in Yebyu Township, Tennaserim Division, and Khaw Zar sub-township, Mon State, which are considered open conflict zones, or “black” areas. Northern Ye Township, however, retains a strong presence of the NMSP. At least 2 villages that are subject to the militia expansion order were included in the NMSP controlled area during the 1995 cease-fire with the SPDC. The NMSP, which ahs refused to participate in the November 7th election, and has openly urged members to boycott, has also continued to resist pressure by the regime to reform its armed win to the standards of the regime proposed border guard force (BGF). Some local residents, who are currently members of the NMSP, have voiced concerns that post election, these militias and civilian groups, will be used to apply pressure against the NMSP, with out making an incident official.
Moreover, an former member of the NMSP who is part of the Ye township administration group, and who has been studying the Burma election and the political situation, believe these smaller unofficial units will be positioned in advance to pressure the NMSP over its refusal to participate in the BGF program:
I assumed the expense of the militia-forces will be for the election. It means that they will disguise the cocks of the same house to fight each other…I want to say that they [the government body or the USDP] themselves will not pressure [civilians]. If they did like this, this will make the news. Therefore, they indirectly ordered the privileged groups – the Swan Arshin – the Fire Brigade, the governmental staff who agree with them, [pro government civilians] and the armed militia [to pressure civilians]. In this way, they will get the votes and can be victorious without losing their reputation. I have already guessed the election will run in this way…The international [communities], the ambassadors who are base in Rangoon and Nay Pyi Daw, and the persons who monitor the election, can’t reach out up to these regions…Another point I guessed is that they are afraid of the NMSP. Because [the NMSP] has decisively refused every demand, they [SPDC] need to manage step by step for the possibility of armed [conflict]. Therefore, to guard the local situation, increased numbers of militia and village-security forces are needed. According to the situation, they [SPDC] needn’t pay the cost [for the militia], so the more persons who will work for or protect them, the better for them. But what benefits do the civilians get back? It is sure that paying various taxes, oppression, and ethnic conflicts will occur again in the village.
The expansion of militias at the village level will place a significant economic burden on local communities that already struggle for survival daily. Such a financial burden could lead to an increase in displaced families looking for better financial opportunities along the Thai-Burma border. While the area is somewhat more stable then more heavily contested black areas, the addition of new outside pro-regime militia members has the potential to cause tension among local groups or lead to further human rights violations. Similarly, the continued intentional use of civilian and civic development departments as pro-regime strike groups will significantly divide local communities prior to and during the election, as well as likely cause increased tension long term. Though these changes may help secure the election of a pro-regime party, they are not sustainable for ether the communities’ economic survival or long-term security.
 For additional reading on training of pro-regime civilian bands, please see HURFOM’s reports, Burmese government pressure on communities for support in 2010 election, HURFOM, December 2009; Election preparations round off a year of abuses against farmers in Mon territory, HURFOM, January 2010; “We have to try”: Mounting pressure in election preparations and responses from the Mon State community, HURFOM, February 2010.