Series of extortion and labor demands by SPDC, DKBA and KPF hits Kawkareik Township economy

July 7, 2010

HURFOM, Kawkareik: At least 9 villages in Kawkareik Township, Karen State, have been subject to a barrage of taxation and supply demands from forces belonging to a variety of Burmese government and allied forces in early June. These combined demands have in most instances required villages to pay over 100,000 kyat in the space of days. Additionally in some cases villagers were forced to perform labor without compensation and had to pay individual political support fees to a government party.

Beginning on June 1st soldiers form DKBA battalion No. 3, lead by Lieutenant Thein Sein and Lieutenant Saw Ah Kyi traveled to 5 villages in Kawkareik Township, to collect ration fees to support their troops.

A 30 year-old female resident of Nha Aine Su village described how each household had to pay despite the financial problem it cause:

They (DKBA) reached our village with two lieutenants and about fifteen privates.  They came to demand their food [tax] through the village headman.  They collected over fifty thousand (kyat) per village.  To meet this fee, our village had to pay 1,500 to 2,000 (kyat) per house.  We paid the fee because we are afraid of them, not because we can afford the fee.  It was compulsory for the village headman to collect the fee.  The villagers are poor and have to pay many fees ordered, so he [village headman] sympathized with his villagers for having to pay the additional fee…But we have to live under both Burmese (army) and DKBA and they abused us in different ways.  If we can’t stand, we can only run away: we daren’t complain.

Troops belonging to Lieutenant Saw Ah Kyi and Lieutenant Thein Sein who are from DKBA brigade No. 999 have been temporarily based their battalion in Ta Mine Gone village, Kawkareik Township since April. As of June 4th, the villages that have had to support DKBA soldiers with ration fees are:

  • Ta Mine Gone village  – 50,000 kyat ($50 USD)
  • Yaw Thit village  –  53,000 kyat ($53 USD)
  • Nha Aine Su village  – 53,000 kyat
  • Naung Nine village  – 50,000 kyat
  • Aung Pha Lay village  – 50,000 kyat

Among these villages, Aung Pha Lay village not only had to pay the rations fee but also had to cook rice and curries for DKBA troops.

Saw Nay Ba Lu, 25, a villager of Aung Pha Lay village, told a HURFOM field reporter about how villagers in the community have no power to resist these demands:

I don’t know about other villages.  As our village, we have to send two people per day to Lieutenant Saw Ah Kyi’s group of about 15 people who temporarily based near the village for cooking their foods.  If we did not send people, what will the result be?  We will be punished.  They have power.  No one can argue with them.  It is not tireing to cook food but we have to do our (own) jobs.  We have to abandon our job and go there to cook.

On June 5th, 2010, Mya Khine, the commander of DKBA battalion No. 3, brigade No. 999, collected money from Ta Mine Gone village and its neighboring villages for petrol fees for the battalions 4 wheel drive trucks and three 10 wheel trucks during the repair of the main road of Ta Mine Gone village.

Saw Htoo Thar (secret name), 28, a Ta Mine Gone resident, explained to HURFOM’s field reporter how the DKBA collected the money from the villagers for petrol fees according to the order of the commander:

This occurred on the 5th.  The collected money is for the petrol costs of the cars of the  DKBA commander and other officers.  The lower ranks came and collected the money.  As they said, the money is for trucks which are used in [observing] road repairs and trucks which transport soil.  As usual, they collected the money via the village headman.  Each village has to add 50,000 kyat additionally [to the other costs]. Our payments this much have been pretty much all to the DKBA.

According to the data from Saw Htoo Thar the villages that had to pay money for the 4×4 petrol costs are:

  • Ta Mine Gone  – 50,000 kyat ($50 USD)
  • Yaw Thit Gone  – 50,000 kyat
  • Aung Pha Yaw Gyi  – 50,000 kyat
  • Aung Pha Lay – 50,000 kyat
  • Tone Sae Tone Zu  – 50,000 kyat
  • Yaw Than Shae  – 50,000 kyat
  • Naung Hnine  – 50,000 kyat
  • Nan Shwe Hmone  – 50,000 kyat
  • Aung Hlaing  – 50,000 kyat
  • Sack Ka Wat  – 50,000 kyat
  • Ka Doe Hta  – 50,000 kyat
  • Myo Haung  – 50,000 kyat

The above information above was gathered by HURFOM field reporters, and confirmed by the Karen National Union (KNU) Ministry of Communication and Information based in Kawkareik Township. Given that all fuel is strictly regulated by military forces, it is unlikely that for only a few vehicles operated by unit commanders and a construction team, gas would cost 600,000 kyat. It would be apparent then that the majority of the extorted cost went directly to the DKBA.

The locals from most of the villages mentioned above in Kawkareik Township are Karen ethnic villagers who are frequently suffered from human rights violations practiced by both the SPDC and DKBA armies. Most villages are village-tracks which are located in the delta area of the Houng Ta Yaw River which flows from the north to the south of Kyainsachie Township. Most residents make their livelihood by farming rainy season paddy during rainy season and summer paddy during summer season, while the residents who have their own ponds or lakes makes their livelihood on fishing and duck and fish husbandry.  HURFOM researchers have found that the majority of the community members most likely do not get more then around two thousand kyat per day to cover their daily expenditure. Saw Warr (secret name), 32, said that residents can earn this amount if they are not ordered to pay anything to any group during an entire month. However a respite from such demands is nearly impossible. Saw Warr pointed out that most villagers including him had to pay at least 4,000 to 6,000 kyat from their monthly income paying the assorted groups every month.

In addition to the above costs, these villagers are now being ordered to perform unpaid labor. On the 9th of this month, another Karen ceasefire group, the Karen Peace Force (KPF), ordered Htee Phoe Than village, where Saw Warr lives, to send bamboo poles for construction to improve their battalion’s security. Regarding this case, Saw Warr told HURFOM that Htee Phoe Than has 150 houses and that based on his experience, this sort of force labor is a very frequent occurrence in his village:

On June 9th, Captain Saw AL Htoo from KPF which is based in suburban Kyainnseikyi, led his troops to our village, Htee Phoe Than.  He ordered that [since] they had a battalion base near Tone Tie village, for the security of the compound of that KPF battalion, each house had to support them with 20 sharply cut bamboo poles.  They forced us to do this quickly.  So that, by tomorrow noon (June 10th), we have to send these cut bamboo poles to the battalion in Tone Tie by our own method.  I have no cart, so half of my [pile] was sent by another person’s cart and the other half I had to carry by myself.  I had to send the bamboo poles in this way.

HURFOM researchers have also documented cases in which, besides the abuses perpetrated by DKBA and KPF forces, SPDC departments which deal with military government administration came in the first week of June and demanded money from the above Kaukraite villages. SPDC administrative members coming outside the normal urban setting of their offices to collect money is extremely unusual.  Researchers noted that, what appears to be a funding effort in this pre-election period, these governmental departments collected funding for the Union Solidarity Development Party (USDP).  The USDP, though labeled as an independent political party, is widely viewed by observers and human rights groups, to be the civilian face of the already ruling military government.

On June 5th, the immigration department of Kawkareik Township led by Township officer U Mya Htoo came to the villages and collected funding for the USDP.  As HURFOM learned from the villagers, each house had to pay 500 kyat and was concluded on June 7th.  An Aung Pha villager said that immigration officer and their (village) headman came to them and said that they had come to collect general funding for the USDA party.  The villages that had to pay money are:

  • Ta Mine Gone,
  • Kyaung Layar Gone,
  • Yaw Thit,
  • Mar Lar Gone,
  • Aung Pha,
  • Naung Nine,
  • Aung Hlaing,
  • Ka Doe Hta
  • Sack Ka Wat.

While HURFOM has not been able to confirm the exact number of houses in each village, it estimates that on average these villages contain 150 households.  As a result these funding costs would likely bring in an average of an additional 75,000 kyat from each village.

U Khin Myint (secret name), 64, a retired government staff member, who monitors the 2010 election and lives in Kawkareik town said:

If you study this process [governmental departments collecting funding for the USDP], it appears that the governmental departments and the authorities are definitely ordered to support the USDP.  The USDP party is the only political party which can get support from the government.  They will win the election.  They spend excessive amounts of money and will eventually win the election even though the civilians does not like them and do not vote for them.

As noted above, residents from this region often only earn only 2,000 kyat per day to pay for their daily expenses.  However some residents cannot even earn cash directly, (i.e. through payment of labor or trade). Instead of cash they farm vegetables to later sell for their income. These Karen rely on a system of storage of adequate amounts of paddy they get from their yearly farming, as this paddy is their main food supply during the year. Researchers found that residents who had regular forms of cash income could more immediately pay these amounts to the authorities in various ways, but households which did not have cash in hand, due to their dependence on farming, had to sell their stored harvest such as rice, bean, vegetables, and other crops as well as hens and ducks, for cash to pay these costs.

The recent wave of extortion efforts and demands for forced labor by government soldiers, civilian representatives, and pro-government ceasefire groups continue to demonstrate the extreme threat villagers face in trying to provide for their daily survival. While SPDC force have not made the most significant demands in these cases, the presence of DKBA and KPF forces in the area is condoned by SPDC leadership.  As a result the tacit agreement that all pro-government forces can use local communities for funding, labor, or supplies, embodies the policy of ‘self reliance’.

As noted by HURFOM field reporters, the average income for the daily cost of living of a resident in any of these towns is 2,000 kyat ($2 USD). Though villagers can break-even if there are no requests for funding from local pro-government forces, these demands severely undermine daily survival. The varying extortion means that villagers either must take loans or borrow, from loan agents or friends, or even sell the supplies they would have used for food.  In addition force labor further destroys livelihoods as it requires villagers time, the most crucial tool they have to try to make up their losses from extortion. Lastly, the demands for funding from government administration is also damaging to villagers livelihood, but also a clear indicator of direct government involvement in preparations for the coming 2010 election.


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