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July- 2011

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Confiscation and Extortion

One of the routine types of extortion that have been systematically imposed by the Burmese military authorities on farmers, and that have been directly and badly affecting the farmers livelihood for decades, is the policy of rice procurement. Farmers have been required to sell some portions of their rice produce, known as rice quotas, to the authorities at prices much lower than the contemporary market prices once a year, sometimes even 2 or 3 times in a single year.
Even though the military junta has some years ago announced that they would stop this policy of rice procurement, it has still been routinely practised by the local military authorities in Shan State up to the present, as reported in this months issue.
Confiscation of land and property from farmers, which has often put them into difficult situations and sometimes even dislocated them, has still been a frequent occurrence up until this year. In addition to the military authorities, their families and malitia forces that enjoyed their support have occasionally also forcibly taken land and property from the villagers.
Extortion of money at checkpoints and villages has become more intense and frequent in many places since the end of last year, especially in the areas where new military bases are being built.
At the end of 2010, SPDC authorities in Kaeng-Tung township issued an order requiring all the farmers in the township to continue to sell the rice quotas to the military in 2011 as they had done every year previously.
On 23 December 2010, all the 10 village tract leaders in Kaeng-Tung township were summoned by the Burmese military authorities to the base of the Triangle Regional Command and told that in 2011 the military would continue to buy rice quotas from the farmers as usual.
As in the previous year, the farmers were required to sell 4 baskets (bushels) of un-husked rice for each acre of the land areas they grew rice, but at a price higher than that of the previous year, said the authorities.
Last year, farmers had to sell their rice to the military at the rate of 2,500 kyat per basket. This year, the military promised to give them 4,600 kyat for each basket of their rice and all the farmers in the township were expected to fulfill their duty without fail.
The 10 village tract leaders were told to tell all the village leaders in their respective village tracts to relay the order to all the farmers in their areas and warn them that rice fields and farms of those who failed to comply with it would be confiscated.
Before the national election, held by the SPDC authorities in November 2010, many farmers were told by members of USDP (Union Solidarity and Development Party), a military-backed political party, that if they voted for their members, they would be exempted from the rice quota duty.
However, shortly after the election, the military made it clear that no farmer was to be exempted from that compulsory duty, and those who failed to perform it would have to face heavy punishment. Some farmers were so disappointed with the incident that they verbally abused members of USDP who were their relatives.
In early 2011, hundreds of acres of peoples rice fields in Kaad Pha village tract in Kaeng-Tung township were confiscated by the Burmese military authorities to construct government buildings, including a regional level police headquarters.
On 2 January 2011, the village tract headman of Kaad Pha village tract in Kaeng-Tung township was called by the military authorities and shown the land area that was being confiscated. The land was located about 2 kilometers northeast of Kaeng-Tung town, covering about 200 acres of rice fields.
These rice fields belonged to the villagers of new Kaeng-Laek, Yaang Kong and Nawng Kham villages, and had already been prepared for growing dry season rice by the owner farmers. Some of the rice fields had been tilled and were ready for sowing.
In some rice fields, the rice seeds had already been sowed, and some farmers had already paid in advance to hire workers to transplant their rice seedlings. For such reasons, many farmers pleaded with the authorities to let them cultivate their rice crop for the last time.
However, the authorities ignored the pleading of the farmers, saying that the order had come from higher up and it could not be delayed, and immediately confiscated the rice fields, causing some farmers to break down in tears.
For the villagers of new Kaeng-Laek and Yaang Kong villages, it was the second time that their lands had been confiscated within a few years. The old Kaeng-Laek village, which was once located near the air field, had been forcibly relocated a few years ago and became the new Kaeng-Laek village.
The whole village of old Kaeng-Laek was forced to move to a place north of Yaang Kong village and all their lands, including rice fields and residential places, were confiscated. The land areas where Kaeng Laek was relocated to were rice fields that had been previously confiscated from the villagers of Yaang Kong.
This time, rice fields in the area of new Kaeng Laek village and more rice fields in the area of Yaang Kong village have been confiscated. Many rice fields of the villagers of Nawng Kham have also been confiscated.
According to the villagers of Nawng Kham village, many land areas near Waw Khok and Naa Kham villages to the west of the town had been confiscated for some years but were still left deserted. It seemed like, they said, the lands would later be sold to Chinese businessmen coming from the border areas with China.
In early 2011, a large area of land, covering many plots of villagers farmland and orchards, in Ka Li village tract in Kun-Hing township was confiscated by the Burmese military authorities for building a new battalion base.
On 20 January 2011, a large area of land was measured and marked out by the military authorities in Kun-Hing township for constructing a new battalion. The land was located some miles north of Ka Li village in Ka Li village tract and covered tens of acres of villagers farmland.
Most of the farms had been used by the local villagers for generations for growing seasonal crops such as beans, peas, peanut, sesame and maize, etc.. Between plots of such farms, there were many narrow lines of fruit trees such as mango, jackfruit and banana, etc..
Farmers who lost their farms received no compensation. To clear the land of brush and trees, some Burmese labourers were brought in from somewhere else. Later, villagers of Ka Li village were also required by the military authorities to clear more of the land.
This time, all the workers were paid by the military on a daily basis at the rate 2,500 kyat per person per day for men and 2,000 kyat for women. However, it was later learned that the money had been extorted from many people in Ka Li and Kun-Hing town.
People whose money had been extorted included owners of gold shops, rice mills, cars, trucks, tractors and different kinds of sizable shops. Money was extorted in different amounts in accordance with the economic status of the chosen persons.
In early 2011, many acres of rice fields belonging to villagers of Kun Mong village in Kun Mong village tract in Kaeng Tawng sub-township, Murng-Nai township, for generations were forcibly confiscated by LIB569 military base.
The rice fields were situated near the base of LIB569. When the base was set up some years ago the rice fields were already there but, for some reasons, they were not taken by the military up until the end of last year.
However, on 3 January 2011, without even informing the owners, the Burmese soldiers put up flags to mark out the land area in the rice fields and also put up a sign post declaring that the land area within the flags was the military base area.
There were about 18 acres of villagers rice fields in the land area taken by the military base. The rice fields belonged to 3 different farming families, who had worked them for generations, as follows:
1. Lung Ta and his wife, Pa Yaen, lost 6 acres of rice field
2. Lung Ta and Pa Ing lost 6 acres of rice field
3. Lung Zaai and Pa Hawm lost 6 acres of rice field
The farmers knew that their rice fields had been confiscated only when they saw the flags and the signpost that said they were military land. They received nothing from the military authorities for their losses at the time of this report, and they dared not do anything about it for fear of further abuses.
In early 2011, members of a Burmese military-backed Lahu peoples militia in Me Ken village tract, in Murng-Ton township, who leased a rice field from a local villager, refused to pay the rent in full and threatened to confiscate the rice field.
About 10 years ago, under the instruction of the Burmese military authorities, a group of Lahu peoples militia set up a new village, Huay Nawng Sak, some distance south of Me Ken village in Me Ken village tract in Murng-Ton township.
Some years ago, a sympathetic villager of Me Ken leased a rice field to the said militia because they were new settlers and had no land to grow crops to support themselves and their families. The militia agreed to pay the owner 32 baskets of rice each year as a rent.
All went well during the previous years up until the end of 2010 when rice was harvested and the militia were unwilling to pay the rent as before. The rice was harvested on 23 December 2010 and after some days the rice field owner came to ask for the usual rent.
The owner was told by some members of the peoples militia that there was a law which said that a rice field should belong to the one who work it. Now we have been working the rice field for some years and we can just take it into our possession if we want. There wont be any problem with the authorities, they said.
According to the local people, many members of the said militia have lately become more and more arrogant because of the backing and favour given them by the Burmese military authorities and, like the Burmese soldiers, they often tried to get what they wanted for free from the local villagers.
However, the rice field owner was able to reason with the militia leaders and they agreed to pay half of the usual rent, 16 baskets of rice, for this year. The owner was very worried that his rice field could eventually be confiscated by this group who enjoyed the favour of the Burmese military.
In early 2011, several houses in Murng-Ton town were forcibly taken by families of Burmese soldiers who had rented and lived in them for some years, after refusing to pay the rents to the owners and refusing to move away.
Over the last several years, many Burmese soldiers, especially officers, of the several battalions in Murng-Ton township brought their families from lower Burma to live with them in the township. Because the military bases could not accommodate all of them, many had to find their own residential places outside the bases.
Some of them were able to rent unoccupied houses and lived in Murng-Ton town. There were 7 houses in 2 of the town quarters, 2 in Nawng Paa Yaen quarter and 5 in Huay Saai quarter, that were the subjects of this report.
These houses were rented at the beginning of 2008 by families of the Burmese soldiers at the rate of 5,000 kyat per house per month, which had been regularly paid with no problem up until the end of 2010.
However, when the house owners went to collect the rent for the month of December 2010 in early 2011, the soldiers wives not only refused to pay the rents but also verbally abused them. They said, as a rule, houses should belong to those who actually lived in them.
The soldiers families said they had been living in those houses for more than 3 years and from then on they would stop paying the rent because they had then become the owners of the houses. They even told the owners to lodge complaints with the authorities if they wanted.
The names of the house owners have been withheld by request.
Since shortly after the national election up to early 2011 when this report was received, Burmese army troops from IB296 manning a checkpoint at Ta Kaw bridge, spanning the Salween river in Kun-Hing township, extorted big amounts of money from virtually every traveller, except small children.
On 11 November 2010, a few days after the national election, the said Burmese military authorities started to extort about 5,000 kyat of money from every passenger, except small children, on every civilian vehicle passing through the bridge.
Most travellers, including traders, people travelling for social and health reasons or visiting places, had to pay not less than 5,000 kyat each. If there were people who could not pay, they would be asked many confusing questions and their journey would be delayed for several hours, usually until they could pay, e.g., with money borrowed from other travellers.
Those who were suspected of going to Thailand were forced to pay much larger amounts of money, and were often threatened with arrest and imprisonment if they were reluctant to pay. The amount of 5,000 kyat was already quite burdensome for many people and larger amounts would virtually be unaffordable for them.
A group of people from Kun-Hing who had gone to attend a ceremony marking the Shan traditional new year, that was held in Murng-Sart township sometime in November 2010, were also forced to pay 5,000 kyat each on their return journey.
During the end of 2010, large amounts of money were extorted from the people in Kaeng-Tung township by the SPDC township authorities to help pay for the expenses during the national election held about a month earlier.
On 5 December 2010, all the 10 village tract leaders in Kaeng-Tung township were summoned to the SPDC township office in Kaeng-Tung town and told to collect money from the people in their respective village tracts to help pay for the national election, although it was finished a month ago.
The authorities said that during the election they had to construct polling stations, buy writing materials, hire people to work at the polling stations and buy food for the authorities who came to inspect the election, using money form the township offices funds.
They said that people were required to contribute some money to refund the SPDC township offices money. The village tracts were required to provide amounts of money in accordance with their size and status as follows:
1. Kaad Pha village tract = 1,040,000 kyat
2. Yaang Kaeng village tract = 500,000 kyat
3. Kaad Tao village tract = 1,030,000 kyat
4. Wat Saao village tract = 500,000 kyat
5. Kaad Thaai village tract = 1,000,000 kyat
6. Loi Long village tract = 800,000 kyat
7. Kaeng Phawng village tract = 600,000 kyat
8. Murng Lang village tract = 500,000 kyat
9. Murng Laab village tract = 700,000 kyat
10. Murng Zaem village tract = 800,000 kyat
People living in the 5 town quarters, situated in the urban and suburban areas of the town, had been forced to contribute earlier, at the rate of 1,500 kyat per household.
Many townspeople said they heard that the SPDC junta had allotted 10 million kyat to Kaeng-Tung township for the election some time before it was held. Even with such amount of money, the township authorities still extorted money from the people, they complained.
In early 2011, money was more frequently extorted by the Burmese military authorities in some parts of Kun-Hing township, saying that they needed it for paying wages to the labourers building 2 military bases in the township.
From January up to February 2011 when this report was received, people in several villages in Saai Khaao village tract, Kun-Hing township, were forced to pay the usual monthly tax every week without fail.
The said tax was previously collected once a month at the rate of 5,000 up to 10,000 kyat per household, in accordance with their social and economic status. However, starting from early January, it was collected once a week.
During the first month, even though the villagers did not know why the tax had become more frequent, they quietly complied with the demand of the military authorities for fear of even more abuses.
However, when it continued into the following month, some villagers started to ask questions and managed to get the answer from the Burmese troops. They said that the military was building 2 new military bases in the township and more money was urgently needed.
This has caused many villagers who could no longer afford to pay the tax to flee to other places, including the border areas with Thailand, like the one from Saai Khaao village tract in Kun-Hing township, who met SHRF field workers.
According to the said villager, many villages in Saai Khaao and Wan Lao village tracts were affected by the incident. But those he actually knew of were Nawng Kham, Kung Sa and Saai Khaao villages in Saai Khaao village tract, and Paeng Khaan and Kot Pung villages in Wan Lao village tract.
In early 2011, Burmese military authorities charged unreasonably high interest on the money loaned to the villagers of Paang Hok and Huay Pherng villages in Kun-Hing township, although they had not told the villagers at the time of loaning one year earlier.
At the beginning of 2010, the military authorities said they wanted to help the villagers and loaned money to the headmen of Paang Hok and Huay Pherng villages, 100,000 kyat each. The authorities did not fix any time frame and interest rate at the time, but said they would take it back at an appropriate time.
After one year, however, on 1 January 2011, the authorities told the villagers to pay back the loan with 150% interest. It meant that each of the 2 villages had to pay back 250,000 kyat, because the interest was 150,000 kyat on the 100,000 kyat loan.
The villagers dared not do anything else about it but to comply with the demand of the Burmese military for fear of further abuses. However, they still dared to complain about it to someone who would listen and would not betray them.
They said that when the loan was offered, they knew there was something afoot because they believed that the Burmese troops would not do such a thing without expecting some benefits. But they dared not refuse to take it for fear of other kinds of abuses, and they had not expected it to be that bad.