Traveling Restrictions, Extortion, and Goods Seizure Intensified in Ye and Yebyu Townships; Local Villagers Abused By Government Tollgate Authorities

July 6, 2011

Ye and Yebyu Townships

Travel restrictions and arbitrary seizure of citizens’ goods and personal effects have been reported at checkpoints and tollgates along the highway between Mon State and Tenasserim Division. Local merchants and passengers traveling through Burma on the Mon State-Tenasserim Division highway commented on the heightened procedures in comparison with former government demands to halt and inspect the personal belongings of citizens.  Government troops have appropriated effects and demanded bribes in order for citizens to be allowed to pass. Those civilians passing through have professed that the impact of the heightened security and inspections have directly impacted their ability to travel and seek job opportunities to sustain their own livelihoods.

At the Burmese government’s tollgate in Paukpinkwin village, located between Ye Township, Mon State and Yebyu Township, members of the Myanmar Police Force and Government Immigration Office, known as La Wa Ka in Burmese, and local militia from the Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) No. 273 have restricted passengers from traveling as well posed threats of extortion and violent abuses against passersby.

Min Januu Aung[1] explained his encounter with the LIB No. 273:

My ID card identifies me as a resident from Pa-an Township, Karen State. In June, I set off on a trip traveling to Dawei Town to meet my friend to ask about job opportunities. When we arrived at the gate of Paukpinkwin, we, every passenger, had to get off our truck. On our truck, there were 15 passengers and some loaded goods. Getting off the truck, the passengers who did not have their ID cards with them were told to stand in one place. The persons who inspected us, the passengers, were members of La Wa Ka and two policemen. Behaving bossily, they were [acting] just like robbers. For me, without worrying, I showed my ID card. A policeman [who was around 35-years-old, short in height and called Ko Win by the other policemen] said to me that holding ID card identified as Pa-an resident, I [also] had to have a recommendation letter from the local police station or ward administration office or I had to a responsibility letter from the family that I was going to visit. And, I replied to him that I thought I could travel wherever I wanted as I am a Myanmar national holding my Myanmar national identification, Myanmar Citizen status. My face would have been punched immediately because I responded to him in that way; yet, I my right shoulder was punched instead because I avoided his punch.

Then, I was threatened by another guy, a La Wa Ka member, aged 40, who said that because I did not accept being inspected honestly and respectfully, that I would be put on trial. After inspecting all the passengers, another Mon woman, originally from Ye Township, and I, were left there. And, finally, they came to negotiate with me, saying that if I wanted to keep going on my trip, they would let me take another truck, and they would write a traveling permission letter if I gave them 10,000 Kyat as a security fee. This was spoken to me by policeman, Ko Win.  Since I had to keep traveling, I gave them 10,000 Kyat right away without saying anything.

Another account by a passerby named, Min Htein Lin, who is 30-years-old and a Mon resident from Bae Yan village, Mudon Township, recounts how his belongings were seized by authorities serving at the Ma-Hlwe-taung collective checkpoint stationed on the Mon State and Tenesserism frontier. He was traveling home from his sister’s house in Tavoy Town, Tenasserim Division when he was stopped:

Last May, 28th, when I came back from Tavoy Town (of Tensserim Division), I got my MP 4 player (with a mini digital camera in the back) seized by the authorities at Ma-Hlwe-taung collective checkpoint. Taken over by giving reason that this kind of player was not allowed to carry as it had recorder and digital camera functions. Having my MP 4 seized, I got a bit angry as there were only songs put in my MP 4 device. They, the authorities, threatened me by saying that “Your MP 4 can record voices and take photos, so we can arrest you and put you on trial on the charge of whatever we like. You understand that.” Besides feeling regret, I could do nothing. I could not speak Burmese properly as well, right? [Being more fluent in Mon than Burmese], I kept quiet as thinking that I would get hurt if I kept arguing with them.

Min Htein Lin also reports witnessed the seizure of a Tavoyan woman’s goods, 10 Malaysian batik saronsgs at the  Ma Hlwe Taung checkpoint by the policemen who accused her of possessing black-market goods:

“Sobbingly, that lady took the trip back to Moulmein city…. It’s impossible to work for a living by carrying goods from one place to another. That government checkpoint was the same as a robber gangs gate: we can not believe it. This is true that here we can not possess even our own stuff.  My MP 4 player cost 40,000 Kyat only. You can just imagine how other passengers who are taking trips like me got their belongings taken over and have to [give] bribes [at the checkpoint], for the reason of “security”.

During the month of June, HURFOM has already confirmed 83 cases of human rights abuses, including travel restrictions, extortion, and goods confiscation along the Ye-Tavoy highway.  HURFOM can confirm that most of these cases were committed by security forces from the frontier based battalions: LIB No. 282, LIB No. 273, Infantry Battalion (IB) No. 31, and IB No. 61. In response to conflict with breakaway Mon armed groups, the joint tollgates and security checkpoints have been provided by the Burmese government to provide highway security and the security of the regional natural gas pipeline routes.

In an area nearby, at one dock of Kyol-don Nyi-ma Island, in Tenasserim Division, there is a checkpoint patrolled by the Burmese government’s naval command No. 43.  The patrol team is manned by one captain and six men who inspect passengers traveling to the island. This patrol team is part of the Ka0tain naval department in Yebyu, under the command of  Heinze Naval Region Command HQ in Tenasseim Division. Local island residents, who have already experienced the seizure of multiple acres of rubber plantations, farmland, and mineral digs or mines have described that unlike before, now passengers traveling from the mainland to the island are inspected very carefully.

On June 19th, Min Mon-htaw, who traveled to Nyol-ton Nyi-ma village for a visit , explained to HURFOM reporters the newer restrictions on travel, even for those who have a Burmese citizen identification card:

Even though we have my ID card, we have to have my host come and pick us up at the seaport/harbor. No one is allowed to carry any digital devices like camera, speakers, recorders, and Thailand made cameras and mobile phones. If we did, we would be arrested. They, the authorities, check everything in our bag: examining every single thing one by one. They will take the valuable stuff. We have to show them the letter given by the host house. We are only allowed to stay as permitted by the naval force gate. We could not overstay. And, we have to pay 500 Kyat for the permission letter. We only stayed there for three days. After that, I just left. I visited that island 2 years ago. There was checkpoint but not like this: inspection  tightened.”

On June 26th, a Kyol-don Nyi-ma local, who formerly served as a member of the New Mon State Party (NMSP)-Township Administration Department from 1990 – 2010, but currently works in orchards, described his thoughts on the joint tollgate and checkpoints as well as the government’s current projects and other abuses:

Personally, I think, the reasons why the traveling restriction are being tightened and stopping passengers for inspection are 1, due to the Tavoy deep seaport project, and 2, current land confiscation in Yebyu Township. Since the previous SPDC government, they, the government, have been very worried that the abuses they committed would be unveiled to exiled news media groups. Now, [they will cause problems for the local residents] as they set up the Tavoy Economic Zone, compared with before when they took over farmlands belonging to local residents, compensating with very low price. Still, some [whose farmland was confiscated] have not been compensated yet.

And then, as I’ve said before, the Kyol-don Nyi-ma naval force has seized large acres of rubber plantations in Min-thar village and Kyol-ton Nyi-ma island, Yepyu township. To cut off contact for field media workers, they will scrutinize, and if needed, they will shut down local phone services. And, they inspected the passengers over and over again along the main road. That’s obviously the same as what happened when the  previous government ruled. Yet, if we observe, it seems like it has been increasingly tightened. For us, as a former armed group, it is very difficult. It is very difficult for us to travel, and we need a recommendation letter to travel. We can assume that what’s happening at the moment is just to prevent the media field workers from having access to the news.

Finally, on June 28th, one Ye native, a retired government staff worker, commented on the impact on local people due to the regional blockages, and how local youths have had to leave their homes for better job opportunities:

Blocking regions and restricting traveling affects local residents very much. In fact, it affect goods traders much more. For example, when the regional fruits, like the durian, bear and ripen, if they block the village, close the roads, and make delays, the durians definitely become ruined. Also, meat and fish also decay as they are not allowed to be transported. It’s happened many times by now. Looking at what the new government does, continued to do what the former government did, we can see that the rights for local people and opportunities to seek jobs for one’s own living are getting worse. Therefore, the youths go abroad for better jobs and more freedom.


[1] His name and all following interviewees names have been changed to protect their identity and security.

 

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