Plantation owners encouraged to report armed group extortion to government

August 21, 2015

An unknown Karen armed group has for years extorted money from rubber plantation owners in the area surrounding Anin and Htin-Yuu villages, in the Ye Ta Gon region of Thanbyuzayat Township, Mon State. In a new development, the New Mon State Party (NMSP), the predominant Mon armed group, has encouraged villagers to send letters to the Burmese central government reporting the Karen group’s infractions.

According to NMSP Township administrator Nai Htaw Oo, the Karen armed group has for years chased villagers for money, claiming that their plantation land once belonged to Karen ancestors.

However, while this may have once been the case, it is reported that the land was legitimately transferred to Mon farmers many years ago. Nai Htaw Oo explained, “Karen people sold the land to Mon people. Then, Mon farmers turned the land into rubber plantations”.

The group reportedly refers to itself as a “land committee”. Fees demanded have varied with the size of owners’ plantations. Reportedly, owners of small plantations have been asked to pay sums of 100,000 Kyat, while larger plantation owners have been charged 150,000 Kyat.

The NMSP has advised landowners against paying these fees. However, fearing retribution, some farmers have submitted to the Karen group’s demands.

While Ye Ta Gon plantation owners have reported their problems to the NMSP many times, the NMSP has to date refused to take decisive action against the Karen armed group. According to Nai Htaw Oo, the NMSP fears that this could lead to an outbreak of conflict that would worsen matters for farmers.

Recently, with the Karen group failing to respond to years of subtle negotiation, the NMSP has encouraged plantation owners to escalate matters by sending complaints to the Burmese central government.

Nai Htaw Oo detailed, “Some people have paid [money to the Karen armed group]. Some people haven’t paid yet. But it is difficult to know how many people have paid or not, as some don’t want to tell us. We will collect a list of the plantation owners who have been asked to pay money to the group. Then, we will try to encourage them to write a letter to the government”.

Reportedly, two letters will be sent to the government, one to the central government and the second to the Township government.

Yet, while the matter awaits resolution, plantation owners continue to suffer fear and intimidation. Nai Nyein, a resident of Pa-Nga village, described how the Karen group tried to take away his plantation, claiming that it used to belong to them.

Nai Nyein told HURFOM, “The same problem happens again and again. When we are about to work peacefully again, the problem comes back. The government knows about this but has not solved the problem”.

Nai Nyein explained how government inaction has led Mon and Karen armed groups to the brink of conflict. He related, “It is like the government is letting the Karen and Mon fight each other. The Karen armed group extorts money from the Mon people. The NMSP tries to protect the Mon people. There could be shooting between the Karen and Mon armed groups. The NMSP tries to keep calm. If they didn’t, fighting would break out very often. These areas are not Karen controlled territories. They are Mon territories. Now, the Karen armed group troubles Mon farmers. The NMSP has to protect Mon people from this trouble. The government stays blind to these problems”.

 

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