Ten Years On: Locals Still Paying for Pipeline’s Security
September 20, 2011
Thanbyuzayat and Mudon townships: Local residents complain they should no longer pay for security and other fees related to maintainence of the gas pipeline running from Kanbauk to Myaing Kalay. They charge that local authorities and military battalions have unfairly taxed them since the gas pipeline was installed. In the era of a new ostensibly civilian-led government, they believe these unjust security fees should stop.
The Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), a state-owned company, began construction on the natural gas pipeline between Kanbauk and Myaing Kalay in 2001, and finished in 2002. The 180 mile-long pipeline begins in Kanbauk, Yebyu Township, Tenissarim Division, and ends in Myaing Kalay at the west bank of the Salween river, opposite Pa’an, Karen State.
According to WikiLeaks, the General Manager of Total Myanmar, Nicolas Terraz, reported that the pipeline between Kanbauk to Myaing Kalay does not meet international standards and has already corroded. Also, Minn Minn Oung, the Chairman of Silverwave Energy and personal friend of the Minister of Energy, said the gas pipeline was poorly constructed. As a result, it often leaks gas into the local environs.
The information from WikiLeaks shows clearly that the government knew in advance that gas would leak out and cause harm to the environment. However, responsibility has not been taken by the government or the companies involved. Instead, local residents living along the pipeline are demanded to pay for repairs or face the prospect of more gas leaking into their towns and villages.
HURFOM has documented human rights abuses against residents living in the areas around the pipeline that have occurred since construction began. The areas of concern are Yebyu Township in Tavoy District of Tenissarim Division, Ye, Thanbyuzayat, Mudon, and Kyaikmayaw townships of Moulmein District in Mon State, and Pa’an Township in Karen State. The locals had been forced to provide unpaid labor for the pipeline’s construction and clearing the route, as well as building fences around sections of pipeline that are above ground. Additionally, they have been demanded to pay large fees for the pipeline’s security and repairs, to carry out sentry duty along the pipeline day and night.
Explosions sometimes occur, owing to the pipeline’s poor construction or sabotage by unknown armed groups. In these cases locals were accused of sabotaging the pipeline and later tortured by government forces based nearby. . At other times, members of the Villages Peace and Development Council (VPDC) and various village headmen were blamed for the explosion. In the end, villagers had to repair the damage and bear the costs.
In HURFOM’s 2009 annual report called Laid Waste, it unveiled extensive human rights abuses that occurred during the construction and operation of the gas pipeline. It also revealed that the villagers in Thanbyuzayat and Mudon townships had been forced by local military battalions and authorities to pay for security since the first installation of pipeline. Yet despite the formation of a new civilian government, the extortion of villagers continues. Locals want an end to the extortion, and they would like Mon State’s members of Parliament to do something to stop it.
During September 7th to 10th, HURFOM field reporters gathered findings on extortion related to the pipeline and conducted interviews with locals in Thanbyuzayat and Mudon townships.
HURFOM found that residents living in Phaung-sein, Kwan Hlar, Yaung Daung, Hnee Pa-daw, Abit, and Kamarwat villages located along the gas pipeline between Kanbauk and Mayaing Kalay have to make monthly payments for the security of the pipeline to the Mudon Township Administration and Artillery Regiment (AR) No. 318. Similarly, the residents in Wae-rat, Wae Win Ka-yar, Wae Ka-lee and Wae Ton Gyaung, under administration of Thanbyuzayat Township, are demanded to pay for pipeline security to Infantry Battalion (IB) No. 62 and Military Advanced Training School No. 4.
According to Mi Hla Sam, 53, a rubber farmer in Wae Ka-rat village, interviewed on 7th September 2011, almost every household is charged 3,000 kyat per month for security of the pipeline. The security fee is either collected by the IB No. 62 or by village headmen. Speaking to HURFOM, she described her situation:
I don’t get any kind of receipt as proof that I had already paid. Usually a corporal carrying a bag comes to collect the fee door-to-door. If I cannot pay the fee, I have to carry out sentry duty – so that’s why I have to pay the 3,000 kyat fee every month. What bothers me now is not just that that I have to pay the fee; it is that I have been paying since the installation of gas pipeline – 10 years ago. Back then, the fee was 1,000 kyat. But now it’s 3,000 kyat per month. I thought that since the new government has already been established, there would be no more fees. But, obviously, that hasn’t happened yet.
Nai Myint Maung, 60, who served as a member of the Village Administration for about 5 years, estimated that Wae-rat village has over 200 households; and in total, it has to pay nearly 600,000 kyat to the local battalions in security fees. And, speaking from experience in the Village Administration, he said that the money collected for security often becomes extra revenue for the local battalions’ commanders:
For a battalion to keep operating, the State already provides it with supplies and financial support. And security is already being handled by them since they have a base here. I knew that they did not need to charge the local residents with the security fee. But, if I criticized them, I would not be able to live here. And because the villagers are afraid, they don’t say anything either; they just pay. Demanding security fees is just for extra pocket money of the battalion commander and the second battalion commander from the regional based battalions. That’s what I found out during my term of serving. It’s not acceptable to keep charging for the security fee because the country now is governed under a presidential system. To stop this, we should urge our respective MPs to help call for ending the security fees. To date, it has been going for almost 10 years, and now it’s time for it to stop.
According to a Karen villager from Wae Ka-mee village, Thanbyuzayat Township, there are records of a meeting held ten years ago between battalion commanders and residents to discuss forming a special sentry guard unit to provide security for the pipeline. In it, the locals were ordered to provide funding. However, since this time guard units did not carry out sentry duty along the pipeline. They would patrol intermittently, while resting on other days. Instead, they ordered villagers to perform sentry duty:
In our village, we also have to go for sentry duty. If we do not want to serve, we have to pay money. We have to pay directly to Burmese army. In other villages, they demanded 3,000 kyat per household. But, because the Karen National Union (KNU) and other armed groups travel across our village, each household has to pay more, and sometimes they charged up to 5,000 kyat. That’s when they have information that KNU is stationed near the village. We always pray that the gas pipeline does not to go off. If it goes off, we, every villager, would be in trouble.
According to Nai Hla Win, from Hnee Pa-daw village, Mudon Township, because there is no transparency regarding the collection of security fees by the administration of this civilian government, it should not be accepted anymore. And in his opinion, villagers should urge one of the Mon State MPs to present this case to Parliament:
We, the civilians, are not starving but we are going hungry. Now, because of the flooding, paddies are damaged. And, as it is rainy season, it’s not time to tap rubber trees either. Besides that, we are forced to pay money for the pipeline security. It has been collected for about one decade by now. And it doesn’t stop even under this new civilian government administration. We should approach State MPs about this and they should present the case at the parliament for the purpose of ending it. For us, we can not accept paying the costs of pipeline security anymore.
HURFOM’s documents, which go back to when construction on the pipeline commenced, show that many kinds of human rights violations have been committed in the areas lying adjacent to the gas pipeline. The perpetrators of such acts were not only the government SPDC forces and local VPDC authorities, but also by the new government’s forces and local VA authorities. Now, after 10 years, the findings and interviews in this report confirm that local residents are still being charged for pipeline security without transparency. Locals are fed up and do not want to pay security fees anymore. And, because the new government, which claims to be civilian-led, has already been established, this kind of extortion should be brought up at the next Parliament meeting. It is time to end this decade-long injustice against the people living along the pipeline.