Extortion causes villagers hardships in northern Yebyu Township
June 28, 2012
HURFOM: Recent field assessments report that, in 2012, an unidentified Mon breakaway group has been increasingly demanding money from villagers living in northern Ye Phyu Township, despite Burmese security forces located around Kyauktalin village. Local residents face difficulties ensuring their safety and access to income because the group threatens them if they are unable to pay. Many villagers, especially the youth, relocated to other places in order to escape the ongoing risks.
In the period between March and May 2012, an unidentified Mon breakaway group demanded a total of 10 million kyat from Kyauktalin villagers. The extortionists base their fees on the appearance of each house and the economic status it represents, charging roughly 300,000 kyat to the wealthiest-looking homes, 250,000 kyat for well-off, 150,000 kyat for lesser, and 50,000 to the poorest homes in Kaleinaung Sub-township, northern Yebyu Township, Tenasserim Region. The group demanded 500,000 kyat from the family living in the most lavish house in Alesakan village, close to Kyauktalin village in Ye Phyu Township.
These exorbitant demands are unrealistic considering that most villagers are manual laborers with modest incomes. There are around 150 houses, some of which are simple huts or bamboo shelters, but all are being asked to pay.
One Kyauktalin villager said, “There were only around 150 households in the village, so how could we afford to pay this amount of money from our one village?”
Villagers unable to deliver the large sums of money were concerned for their safety because the group threatened to kidnap anyone who did not pay. They extortionists attempted to kidnap the village’s senior monk, and threatened to kidnap his parents, who live in the Kyauktalin village, if they were unable to capture him. In March, the group came to the village chairman’s house to intimidate him, as well. Both the chairman and senior monk fled the village for a while to escape the increasing threats.
Villagers were afraid to be kidnapped and had to interrupt their regular work activities as they did not want to risk going to their farms and plantations. On top of this, after the Mon breakaway group announced that they were collecting money from the villagers, Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) No. 410 temporarily prohibited villagers from going to their farms and plantations because the troops were concerned the villagers would supply rations to the outlaws.
One villager described a common complaint that, “Due to the weeks-long prohibition on visiting farms and plantations, we could not tap our rubber trees or work our farms. Consequently, we could not earn enough to cover our daily expenses.”
Now, supporters of the local monastery have started to collect money from the villagers to give to the Mon group. However, villagers still cannot afford to pay. Burmese troops were unwilling to assist the Kyauktalin villagers to provide funds to the robber group.
The persistent pressure of arbitrary extortion puts a strain not only on the villagers’ daily income, but also on their overall livelihoods. In contrast with previous years, 2012 saw more villagers relocating and working in other places. Also, young people struggled more to ensure personal safety and to avoid conflict.
According to field assessments, “At least one or two members of each household went to Thailand to work because they wanted to escape from village conflict and live more safely.”
For ten years, Mon splinter groups have demanded money from Alesakan, Kyauktalin and Kyaukadin villages located near the primary motorway. In 2003, extortionists brought in between 3 and 5 million kyat by demanding 10,000 kyat of the finest, 2,000 of mid-level, and 1,500 of the poorest families. While cases of extortion have occurred for a decade, this year, the amounts demanded doubled, making the situation unsustainable.