Military, not security: Forced sentry duty in southern Ye Township
July 25, 2012
HURFOM: In two small villages of lower Ye Township, Mon state, resident military battalions are forcing local people to serve as sentries to protect the community perimeters from attack. Despite village security falling under the troops’ authority, the area’s ongoing violence and extortion committed by Mon armed splinter groups has resulted in the soldiers renewing an 8-year-old custom of substituting local civilians for military guards. The villages, unable to afford the exorbitant demands of the Mon splinter groups, remain vulnerable to attack in retaliation for nonpayment, and the military is unwilling to fulfill its role as village protector for fear of assault. Villagers are saddled with the triple threat of roving armed groups, violations committed by the military and depleted income from work hours lost while serving sentry duty.
However, the chief menace to the communities remains that of violence. In the past year, several villagers were killed by attacks from the Mon groups, and one woman died while performing sentry duty. Many young people are leaving in search of more secure locations and jobs, and the villagers wonder when the cycle of violence will end.
The following accounts were collected during interviews in Pauk Pin Kwain and Yin Ye villages and detail the experiences of residents facing forced sentry duty over the last month.
Nai Thit, Nai Myit Aung and Nai Ba are farmers and plantation owners in Pauk Pin Kwain village, Yebyu sub-township, Tenasserim Region. The men described that, because the villagers cannot afford to supply the 20 million kyat and numerous materials demanded by a local Mon armed splinter group (led by Nai Loon and Nai Saung), the village regularly receives threats that necessitate constant surveillance to defend from attack.
In response, the military ordered local men and members of the village administration to provide security around the perimeter of town. Since June, no less than ten villagers per night have been mobilized to perform sentry duty in three designated places. However, the ongoing insecurity has driven many people to seek better opportunities elsewhere, and there are only a few young and adult men left in the community’s 300 households. This shortage entails each household to perform security duty twice a week. The villagers do not want to refuse the military’s order for fear of punishment, but also know the dangers involved with security duty. Military columns operated by Light Infantry Battalions (LIB) No. 273 and No. 282 (led by Captains Thein Soe and Thit Naing Soe) have not provided the villagers with weapons while on duty, putting the novice guards even more at risk. General Thit Naing Soe and his 12 troops occasionally lodge in village houses at night, leaving the villagers to defend the soldiers.
Nai Myit Aung, who has performed sentry duty five times, said, “We, the villagers, presume that the military is ineffective in our village because security is their responsibility since they have power, but now, the villagers have to protect them without any weapons. There has yet to be a break in this situation, and some village youths left home to travel to Thailand or simply to find safer places to live.”
Similar reports were documented in nearby Yin Ye village in southern Ye township, Mon state. Plantation owner Nai Kon Ong, 46, reported that, in the wake of Mon armed group threats and demands, local LIB No. 31 commanded the villagers to cooperate with them to secure the village. Yin Ye also has around 300 households, and villagers have to serve sentry duty two or three times a month. Residents who do not comply with the order have to pay the military 5,000 kyat. Additionally, since 2005, the villagers have had to pay 2,000 kyat per month to the military’s local militia force as compensation for security, but at the end of June this year, the military increased the fee to 3,000 kyat per household.
Nai Kon Ong stated, “We have to pay monthly support to both the village security and for the militia’s weapons. We have to provide security without weapons, or we have to pay money if we do not agree to security [duty]. We have to work to earn money since we only have plantations and farms, so, how much money can we earn if we can’t spend time on our jobs?”
Despite recent government reforms and the promise of a democratic transition, military troops continue to act with impunity in certain villages of Ye Township, Mon State. The military is not taking responsibility for its security role, either demanding compensation or forcing villagers to do the jobs they are paid to do. These activities permeate the villages with a sense that the rule of law remains absent in the periphery regions of Burma.
Village resident Nai Thit concluded, “Even though the military is located in the village, the residents have to provide security. In reality, it seems that we have to guard them. If a shot is fired, we, the villagers, have to be the first victims to die.”