Household budgets strain as pipeline security fees doubled in Thanbyuzayat Township

December 8, 2008

HURFOM : Pipeline security taxes were doubled for residents of at least for villages along the Kanbauk to Myaing Kalay gas pipeline in Thanbyuzayat Township, Mon State, say local sources.

In November, Infantry Battalion (IB) No. 62 raised security fees to 4,000 kyat per household. Paying a pipeline security fee has been common for years, say local residents, but the monthly fee typically ranged from 1,500 to 2,000 kyat. The affected area includes Wae-Khami, Chopaline, Wae-Win-Kra and Wae Thun-Kyaung villages, as well as isolated residents around the Kyaik Japan Japanese Pagoda.

It is unclear why the security fee was raised. The increased fee is to be collected by village headmen and delivered to IB No. 62 every month, although at least one headman expressed his reluctance to villagers. “We are not happy to collect your money, but we have to do this because of the order from the brigade,” a villager quoted him as saying.

According to the recent order, villagers who cannot pay the increased security fee must stand sentry at the pipeline. Villagers are understandably hesitant to take this on, as it is both a dangerous job and a job that keeps them away from farms, fields and other income generating activities. Rape and sexual violence has also been reported as occurring against women guarding the pipeline; in 2004, for instance, a soldier raped a female resident as she guarded the pipeline near Chopaline village. Villagers also worry that they will be held responsible should an explosion occur during their watch.

Ostensibly, the funds are used to pay sentries to guard the pipeline. Villagers are not so sure, however, and some said they suspect their headmen or IB No. 62 of being corrupt.

The increased fees are complicating life for villagers, who pointed out that while the fee has risen, their income has been dropping. “Now the value of many products from our farms is very low and we can earn only a low income. But the cost of the security fees is very high. Where can we get the money to pay the brigade?” asked Nai Kon Blai, an area resident. Nai Chan Blai concurred, and told a HURFOM reporter, “If the costs continue like this, we will have to sell our farms and leave the village.”

The Kanbauk to Myaing Kalay gas pipeline traverses nearly the entire length of Mon State as it connects the Yadana gas fields in the Andaman Sea to Myaing Kalay, in Karen State. Isolated attacks from rebels are thought to be responsible for a few explosions in the last decade, but faulty construction and poor maintenance are responsible for the vast majority of pipeline accidents. Just two weeks ago, to the south in Ye Township, welding holding two sections of pipeline gave way and resulted in a gas leak. Fortunately for area residents, the escaping gas did not ignite.

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