Mon-Karen Relationship Strains as Ten Plantation Workers Arrested and Detained in Thanbyuzayat Township

June 25, 2014

On June 17th, an unidentified Karen armed group apprehended ten plantation workers, detaining them with wooden shackles in a forest in eastern Wae Ka Lane Village, Thanbyuzayat Township, located on the border of Mon and Karen territories.

30 year-old Nai Win and Nai Ni, from Wae Rat Village, along with Nai Dut, 40, from Kyaik Poon (Four Pagodas) Village, and seven other local plantation workers were arrested while farming rubber plants. The armed group had banned any plantation work in the area, and as such arrested the workers and brought them to the top of a hill located on the Mon-Karen border.

According the victims, the armed group consisted of six Karen men and two Mon men. Three of the Karen men wore full military uniform and equipment, while the three remaining Karen men and two Mon men wore civilian clothing. The Karen men in military uniform were outfitted with a hand-held mortar, an AK-C, and a Carbine. The uniformed men wore an armband with a picture of a lion on one side, and a bird carrying a paddy panicle on the other.

The victims were arrested at seven o’clock in the morning, held all day, and released at 8 pm. They were detained with wooden leg-cuffs made from wood in the forest.

During the arrest, the Karen armed group seized all of the plantation workers cooking materials and equipment, clothes, and two hand-made weapons carried by two of the plantation workers. Moreover, the group uprooted one hundred rubber plants owned by Nai Pe Chay, who serves as a sergeant in the Mon National Liberation Army (MNLA) in Thanbyuzayat Township.

“This area doesn’t belong to the Karens. They (the Karens) already know this area doesn’t belong to them. They intentionally create problems. These plantations and forest are where we, Mon people, pick fruits and vegetables under the rule of any government”, said Nia Poke, chairman of the Wae Ka Lane Plantation Worker Group.

Last year, the Karen National Union (KNU) demanded residents apply to officially document their land, and proceeded to collect taxes on the registered land. The KNU extorted 4000 kyat per acre owned by Karen land owners; 10,000 kyat per acre in the flat lands owned by Mon land owners; and 20,000 kyat per acre of hillside land owned by Mon land owners. The KNU also frequently restricted access to plantations of Mon farmers.

Due to such abuse and restriction, the New Mon State Party (NMSP) in Moulmein District sent a letter addressing these issues to the KNU, and the MNLA tightened security and provided protection to local Mon plantation workers; relations between the KNU and Mon farmers improved.

The Karen armed group’s apprehension of Mon farmers creates the potential for armed conflict to flare up between the Mon and Karen groups. Political monitors worry that this event was politically charged, and that someone is controlling the situation behind the scenes.

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