Extortion and restrictions still burden travellers on Ye – Tavoy highway
June 22, 2012
HURFOM: Travellers and merchants passing through Mon State and Tenasserim Region on the Ye to Tavoy highway dispute the regional government’s continued operation of security tollgates and checkpoints that regularly extort passengers and impose travel restrictions. According to tradespersons and travellers, government troop activities such as forcible inspection and demands for arbitrary fines severely impact people’s ability to travel and freely pursue their livelihoods.
In the name of providing security along the highway, an estimated eight government tollgates and checkpoints, including “multi-checkpoints” and small tollgates, have become increasingly intrusive along the 109 miles of the Ye-Tavoy motorway over the past ten years. Citizens who have traveled this motorway criticize the government for not eliminating the corrupted security troops as part of its commitment to effective governance. Between the second week of May and the first week of June 2012, HURFOM field researchers collected information from six individuals who made trips to Yebyu and Tavoy and documented how each was bribed or restricted in some way in order to be granted passage by checkpoint authorities.
The estimated eight checkpoints and tollgates along the Ye-Tavoy highway are all under the administration of police officials along with varying combinations of military intelligence officers, government immigration officials, and representatives from nearby Army camps, local militias, and Township administration offices. This type of security checkpoint is locally known as a “multi-checkpoint” or “Joint-checkpoint” due to the presence of many groups and interests. “Tollgates” are usually small and operated by local police personnel or soldiers from the nearest Army camp.
Instead of safeguarding domestic travellers and local inhabitants, the authorities often impose harsh restrictions, especially regarding national identity cards and in response to the locations listed on IDs. A 28-year-old mechanical engineer and his friend, originally from Taung Oo of Pegu Region, travelled the motorway in April 2012 and reported how the multi-checkpoint authorities deceived them.
“It was on the third week of April, my friend and I started our tour to Tavoy Town where some of my close friends live. We were concerned about our IDs since they display that we are from Pegu Region because, before our trip, we heard rumors and stories of the police defrauding residents who are not from Mon or Tenasserim. We didn’t face any troubles traveling between Rangoon and Ye Township, Mon state. But, when we arrived at Ye tollgate, some police officials came and demanded money for permission to pass. One of our drivers managed to give a bribe to the authorities. The real problem started when we reached the entrance checkpoint of Tavoy, where [a multi-checkpoint] was operating. This one was very disturbing and took about half an hour. All passengers were inspected and asked to show IDs. A police officer and an immigration officer ordered us to show our IDs and then started to inquire about the purpose of our trip, including information about the family we were going to visit and our return dates. They asked for the address of our host but we did not know it, and finally we decided to pay a fine of 3,000 kyat for permission. We were not inspected honestly or respectfully. We also witnessed that two women, who the authorities thought were travelling to Thailand to look for work, were ordered them to get out of their vehicle for further investigation.”
The most infamous security troops are located at the “Thadar-Phyu,” “Mahlwe- Taung,” “Kalein Aung,” and Tavoy entrance checkpoints. These checkpoints and tollgates usually stop all passengers, although those with IDs from outside Mon and Tenasserim commonly face more inspections and may end up paying 2,000 to 3,000 kyat to obtain travel permission.
“It was February 2012 when I traveled to Tavoy for my job. As I am a resident of Karen State, I was checked and demanded to show my ID to an immigration officer at Thadar Phyu joint checkpoint in Ye township. He checked my ID card with great suspicion and made me feel insecure. When I got to Kalein Aung tollgate, operated by Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) No.406, two low-ranking soldiers forced five passengers to pay 2,000 Kyat each to continue their trip even though they could prove citizenship status.”
A 40-year-old passerby, who gave his name as Nai Mon, explained how he noticed that security troops receive bribes at the Kalein Aung security tollgate. Nai Mon explained that some passengers believed to be job seekers heading to neighboring countries could be asked to provide ID cards and letters of recommendation from their local administration chief to obtain the travel permissions.
It was also reported that the government security checkpoints and tollgates located on the Ye – Tavoy motorway impact some small business owners and merchants. These tradespeople face impediments to their businesses because they have to pay bribes out of their profits for permission to cross various checkpoints. A 45-year-old local man from Loh Taing village who sells betel nut from his home village in Ye Town estimated that between 30 and 40 percent of profits made by merchants is doled out between the eight joint checkpoints and security tollgates.
“Traders who import goods from Kaw Taung or Thailand have to pay at least 10,000 Kyat to each checkpoints to pass. Checkpoint personnel consider many of those goods to be black-market [illegally imported]. Goods like Malaysian batik sarongs, MSG (Monosodium Glutamate), Liquate fertilizers, motorcycle accessories, and products from foreign companies that are not legally registered in Burma [can be considered black market and thus taxed at checkpoints].”
Nai Wei, 56, a retired civil servant and betel nut plantation owner in northern Yebyu Township, expressed his opinion on the security checkpoints and their corruption against travellers and merchants.
“It seems like the state government is still permitting its security troops to demand financial backing and means of support from travellers and local merchants. I would like to point out that it is like delivering a license for corruption to each government staff. Each department of local governments that desires peaceful change should consider stopping this corruption to improve the trustworthiness of its people.”
Since early February 2011, HURFOM has confirmed 87 cases of human rights abuses committed at government-run checkpoints along the Ye to Tavoy highway. These cases include arbitrary fines, extortion, restrictions on goods and travel, and some property confiscation. These finding confirm that most of these cases were committed by security forces from the frontier based battalions: LIB No. 273 LIB No. 282, and LIB No.406, LIB No. 407 and IB No. 31. A 26-year-old Mon resident of Alaesakhan village explained that the involvement of military troops in travel restrictions and extortion could be linked with the armed activities of a Mon splinter group. In reaction to conflicts with the Mon breakaways, local battalions staffed “joint-checkpoints” to provide security along the highway and for regional government projects like the natural gas pipeline. However, the majority of travellers claimed that they did not receive any security benefits. Instead, the impact of inspections and extortions has restricted people’s right to travel and to successfully sustain their livelihoods.