Shan Human Rights Foundation


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April - 2012

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COMMENTARY:Rampant Robbery and Extortion
Among the various gross human rights violations committed against the people by the Burmese army troops in Shan State for decades, extortion could be said to have been the most rampant up to the present.
Incidents of extortion, which here also means robbing and stealing, have occurred almost everywhere and virtually all the time. As the numbers of Burmese army troops have been increasing, in accordance with their policy of military expansion, so have the numbers of human rights violations.
The Burmese troops have frequently forcibly taken money and property of the people during military patrols. They set up many permanent and temporary checkpoints and forcibly collect money from people passing by, as taxes or for various other reasons.
There were also many other types of extortion routinely and randomly imposed on the people by the Burmese military authorities and their cronies. However, in this month’s issue only the 2 types mentioned above, that took place mostly during mid 2011, have been reported.
Rampant robbery and extortion by the authorities have been one of the main factors that have been badly affecting the livelihood of the people for decades. As they become more and more rampant, the lives of the people also become more and more difficult.

It has been virtually a regular practice for roaming Burmese military patrols to extort money, food stuff and livestock from the villagers to consume during their operations.
However, they also often did it for other reasons, such as collective punishment and self enrichment, etc.. Sometimes they even blatantly robbed the villagers of their money, valuables and other property.
The following are some such incidents:
In August 2011, a house in Kaad Pha village in Kaad Pha village tract, Kaeng-Tung township, was searched and looted by a patrol of Burmese army troops from LIB314, LIB422 and IB245, who took away many valuable items including gold, money, clothes, consumer goods and live stock, etc..
On 27 August 2011, a patrol of 30 Burmese army troops, consisted of about 10 soldiers from each of the 3 battalions mentioned above, came to Kaad Pha village in Kaad Pha village tract in Kaeng-Tung township by 2 military trucks.
The time was about an hour after midnight and the whole village was asleep except a few members of the village people’s militia who were on night security duty. But they all ran away and hid themselves as soon as they saw the Burmese soldiers for fear of being bullied by them.
The Burmese troops jumped down from the trucks and went around the village, knocking at the doors of one villager’s house after another. But the villagers thought they were bandits and dared not open their doors for fear of being robbed and harmed by them.
After knocking at the doors of a number of houses, the Burmese troops came to a house that was newly constructed but not yet completed. Some of the windows had not yet been in place, but the owners were already living in it using bamboo mats to cover the windows during the night.
Some of the Burmese troops pushed the mats away from the windows with the tips of their rifles and climbed into the house, and opened the main door to let the rest of the troops into the house. All the people in the house were then made to sit in a group in the centre of the house.
There were Naang Phu, wife of the head of the family, her 3 children, and her mother-in-law, altogether 5 of them, in the house. Naang Phu’s husband and head of the family, Zaai Yi Lawd, was not at home at the time because he had gone to sleep at their shop which was in another part of the village.
The Burmese troops accused the villagers of supporting the Shan resistance and said that they even heard news about Shan soldiers often coming to have meals at the house. Although they asked to see the head of the family, Naang Phu told them that her husband had gone to Murng La township and would not be back for some time.
Naang Phu’s mother-in-law, aged 65, said that she had not seen any Shan soldiers in the area for about 20-30 years already, and had only heard about them as told by the Burmese troops. One of the commanders of the troops then kicked her in the chest, sending her to the ground.
The Burmese troops then searched the house and took what they wanted. They put all the things they looted in 2 gunny sacks, which they forced Naang Phu to provide, put them on the military trucks and left the village.
After that, Zaai Yi Lawd came back home and found that the Burmese troops had robbed them of the following property: Gold weighing three-and-a-half baht, 2 sets of hand-phones, 500,000 kyat of money, a wrist watch worth 130,000 kyat, a good-quality air-gun, 20 sets of male and female clothes, 10 sets of blankets and bedding, 7 chickens, and food stuff and consumer goods worth about 200,000 kyat.
On the following day, Zaai Yi Lawd and community leaders in Kaad Pha village tract went to lodge a complaint with the authorities at the township administration office in Kaeng-Tung town, who in turn submitted their case to the Triangle Regional Command.
Although the authorities of the Triangle Regional Command said that they would look into the case and, if it was true, all the stolen property would be returned to the owner, up until mid September 2011 when this report was received by SHRF, Zaai Yi Lawd had not yet received any of his lost property.
In September 2011, money was extorted from the villagers of Zalaai Loi village in Paang Phon village tract in Lai-Kha township, by a patrol of Burmese army troops from LIB515 and some members of a Shan ceasefire group.
On 2 September 2011, after patrolling the areas of village tracts northeast of Lai-Kha town for several days, asking questions about Shan rebels and extorting money from the villagers, the said Burmese military patrols came to Zalaai Loi village in Paang Phon village tract.
The Burmese troops stopped in the centre of Zalaai Loi village and summoned the village headman, Lung Ling (m), aged 70, to come to them. They asked the headman several questions most of which concerned Shan resistance soldiers.
The Burmese soldiers wanted to know if the Shan soldiers often came to the area and where they usually stayed when they came, and the routes by which they often came and went. The headman said he had never seen any Shan soldier in the area where he lived or known of them having come to it.
After some time, the Burmese troops became angry and accused the headman of lying and said he deserved heavy punishment for holding back important information because he sympathised with the Shan resistance.
As a punishment, the Burmese troops told the headman to give 100,000 kyat of money to the military to avoid arrest. The headman had to find the money and give it to them on the same day. Soon after receiving the money, the Burmese military patrol left the village, heading towards Paang Phon village.


In July 2011, villagers of Naa Maak Wuk village in Ham Ngaai village tract in Murng-Kerng township were robbed of their money and chickens by a patrol of Burmese army troops from LIB514, abased at Ham Ngaai village.
On 27 July 2011, at about 9 o’clock in the evening, a patrol of about 40 Burmese troops from LIB514 came to Naa Maak Wuk village in Ham Ngaai village tract in Murng-Kerng township. As soon as they got into the village, some of the troops went into villagers’ houses and stole their chickens.
As the Burmese troops quietly came into the village when virtually all the villagers were in their houses, they only knew of the troops’ presence when they heard the noises of their chickens and came out to have a look.
When they saw the Burmese troops, some villagers, out of fear, tried to run away out of the village but were stopped by the troops who were already blocking all the village entrances. Those villagers were then made to sit in the streets in the centre of the village.
According to some villagers from Naa Maak Wuk village who had come to the Thai border, while they were guarded by a group of Burmese soldiers wearing camouflage fatigues as they sat in the streets, another group of Burmese troops wearing green fatigues went into villagers’ houses and stole their money and property.
The following were some of those who lost their money and chickens, as remembered by the refugees:
1. Paw Naam Khawng (m), lost 50,000 kyat of money
2. Paw Saang Thun (m), lost 27,000 kyat of money
3. Zaai Thaak (m), lost 10,500 khat of money
4. Naang Wuay (f), lost 9,800 kyat of money
5. Aai La (m), lost 7,600 kyat of money and 2 wood cutting knives
6. Paw Naang Non (m), lost 6,450 kyat of money and 18 chickens, weighing 5 viss (1 viss = 1.6 kg)
As soon as they finished robbing the villagers, the Burmese troops left the village during the same night. About 3 days later, the same patrol came back during the day and passed through Naa Maak Wuk village.
The Burmese troops acted as if they had done nothing wrong to the villagers. They even told the villagers to be careful because the situation in Kae-See township, where they were fighting the Shan resistance soldiers, was not good.
In July 2011, a patrol of Burmese army troops from LIB516 accused the villagers of Wan Kaalaa in Naa Khaan village tract in Murng-Nai township of harbouring Shan soldiers in their village and extorted money from them.
On 4 July 2011, a patrol of Burmese army troops from LIB516, based in Nam-Zarng township, came to patrol the area of Naa Khaan village tract in Murng-Nai township. The troops went to several villages and abused the villagers at virtually every village.
At one point, the Burmese troops came into Wan Kaalaa village and interrogated the villagers about Shan soldiers, threatening them with their guns and breaking villagers’ pots and pans to frighten them. Some of the troops threw sticks at villagers’ chickens to kill and catch them.
After some time, the Burmese troops accused the villagers of harbouring Shan soldiers in the village. “There must be some Shan soldiers among you, disguised as villagers”, they said, “as a punishment, collect 100,000 kyat of money among yourselves and bring it to us within an hour”.
The villagers had no choice, but to comply with the order as soon as possible for fear of further abuses. About 4-5,000 kyat had to be collected from each house to make up the demanded amount. The Burmese troops left the village soon after they received the demanded money from the villagers.
In early 2011, money, rice and pork were extorted from the villagers of Mai Sili village in Wan Paang village tract in Kun-Hing township by a patrol of Burmese troops from IB296, as a punishment after a skirmish with the Shan rebels.
On 13 April 2011, a patrol of Burmese army troops from IB296 came to patrol the areas along the Nam Paang river in Kun-Hing township. Shortly after they passed through Mai Sili village in Wan Paang village tract, the Burmese troops ran into a small group of Shan soldiers and a fierce gun battle ensued for about 10 minutes.
After the Shan soldiers retreated away, leaving one Burmese soldier dead and one wounded, the Burmese troops came back to Mai Sili village. The village headman, Lung Aw-Ya, was called and ordered to gather all the village leaders and elders.
When the headman and 7 other village leaders came back to them, the commander of the Burmese troops scolded the villagers. “When we passed through your village, you said there were no Shan soldiers in this area. But we were attacked by them only a short while after we left your village”, he said.
“For that, all of you deserve to be punished. If you do not want to go to gaol, bring 40 viss (1 viss = 1.6 kg) of pork, 1-1/2 baskets of husked rice, and 500,000 kyat of money for the cost to treat our wounded soldier”, said the Burmese army commander.
Although they had nothing to do with the incident, the villagers dared not say anything against the Burmese troops for fear of harsher abuses, and tried to find all the demanded items and gave them to them as soon as possible.
Setting up of checkpoints on the roads is one of the often and widely used methods for extorting money from the people by the Burmese military authorities in Shan State.
There are many permanent main checkpoints and numerous smaller temporary checkpoints all over Shan state. Although those checkpoints have been set up for various reasons, e.g., security, customs, immigration and drugs control, etc., virtually all of them extort money and property from the people.
The following are some such instances.

In 2011, extortion of money from passing vehicles by the authorities at checkpoints along the roads from Loi-Lem township to Ta-Khi-Laek township had become more rampant than before and the amounts extorted had also increased.
In addition to the 11 main permanent checkpoints at the main villages and towns along the way, including Nam-Zarng, Kho Lam, Kun-Hing, Ta Kaw, Murng-Paeng, Tong Ta, Kaeng-Tung, Murng-Phyak, Ta Lur and Ta-Khi-Laek, there were numerous small temporary checkpoints popping up here and there all the time.
According to a report received by SHRF in late 2011, the amounts of money each vehicle had to pay at each of the 11 main checkpoints to be permitted to pass through were as follows:
1. Large vehicles, e.g., 6-wheelers and 10-wheelers, had to pay 50,000 kyat at each checkpoint
2. Smaller vehicles had to pay 5,000 kyat up to 15,000 kyat, according to their sizes and capacities, at each checkpoint.
Apart from that, the vehicles also had to pay certain amounts of money at virtually all the temporary checkpoints along the way, sometimes up to 2-3 checkpoints in just one township, usually 500-1,000 kyat at each, to avoid being harassed and delayed by the authorities.
During 2011, Burmese military authorities in Paang Long sub-township in Loi-Lem township set up checkpoints on several roads and streets in the area and extorted money from civilian vehicles passing by them.
According to a report received in late 2011, a checkpoint manned by Burmese army troops of LIB513 at a place called “10-mile Hill”, on the road between Paang Long town and Nawng Leng village in Nawng Leng village tract, was extorting money from all kinds of civilian vehicles passing by.
The amounts of money different kinds of vehicles had to pay were as follows:
1. Each motorcycle had to pay 500 kyat
2. Each mini-tractor with a trailer had to pay 2,000 kyat
3. Each car or truck had to pay 3,000 kyat.
Vehicles that refused to pay were deliberately caused to be delayed by the Burmese troops by harassing them with many difficult questions until it became virtually unbearable and the drivers finally had to give the demanded money..
Although some vehicle owners and drivers had lodged a complaint with the Township Administration authorities, who listened and accepted the case, some time earlier, nothing had yet been done about it when this report was received.
During early 2011, Burmese army troops manning a checkpoint at Zalaai Khum village in Wan Heng village tract in Lai-Kha township extorted money not only from vehicles passing by but also from virtually all their passengers.
The Burmese army troops that were stationed at the military camp at Zalaai Khum village in Wan Heng village tract, Lai-Kha township, set up a checkpoint on the Lai-Kha - Kae-See main road and extorted money from people passing by.
Each person was required to pay between 200 and 500 kyat, according to their social and economic status, to the Burmese soldiers manning the checkpoint. Those who did not want to or unable to pay the demanded amounts were not allowed to continue their journey.
During 2011, Burmese army troops of IB294 manning the checkpoint at a bridge spanning the Salween river in Murng-Ton township, known as Ta Saang bridge, collected fees from vehicles for crossing the bridge so high that they actually amounted to extortion.
In addition to having to pay the fees for their vehicles to cross the bridge, trucks carrying cargoes had to unload them and hire tractors to take them across the bridge. Heavy trucks such as 6-wheelers and 10-wheelers were not allowed to cross the bridge with their cargoes.
Amounts of money different kinds of vehicles had to pay for crossing the bridge were as follows:
1. 10-wheel truck = 20,000 kyat
2. 6-wheel truck = 10,000 kyat
3. 4-wheel truck or tractor = 5,000 kyat
4. Motorcycle = 3,000 kyat
To hire tractors, all of which were run by ethnic Burmans with the permission and backing of the Burmese troops, to carry their cargoes across the bridge, the amounts of money truck drivers had to pay were as follows:
1. 10-wheel truck = 50,000 kyat
2. 6-wheel truck = 30,000 kyat
For several months during mid 2011, after the Thai authorities closed the border crossing point known as BP-1 in Murng-Ton township, Burmese authorities at checkpoints along the road leading to the border extorted more money from people going to Thailand.
Even though the Thais had closed the crossing point, the Burmese did not close it and there were other routes by which people could get into Thailand, and people in many areas of Murng-Ton township, such as Naa Kawngmu and Pung Pa Khem, still needed to go to Thailand for several reasons.
Apart from people in the border areas, who had to go to Thailand to buy some sorts of consumer goods and to receive medical treatment, etc., more or less regular flows of refugees from deeper inside Shan State were still coming to Thailand.
One of the known routes used at the time by people coming to Thailand was via Nawng Wen village in Shan State, opposite Murng Na village in Thailand, some distance from the BP-1 crossing point, where there was no Thai checkpoint.
During that time, at the checkpoint at Pung Pa Khem village, manned by Burmese army troops from IB66, members of police and immigration departments, 700 baht of Thai money was extorted from each traveller going toward Thailand.
At the checkpoint at Nam Yum village, between Pung Pa Khem and the Thai border, manned by Burmese troops of IB277, coming from Murng-Ton town, 300 Thai baht was extorted from every traveller going toward Thailand.
At the newly set up checkpoint at Nawng Wen border village, manned by troops of IB277, coming from their main outpost camp at BP-1, each person going to Thailand had to pay the Burmese troops 400 Thai baht to allow them to pass through the village and into Thailand.
Before the closure of BP-1, amounts of money extorted at those checkpoints were much lower. According to well informed local villagers in the area, the rates each person had to pay the checkpoints at that time were as follows.
1. Pung Pa Khem checkpoint = 300 baht
2. Nam Yum checkpoint = 150 baht
3. BP-1 checkpoint = 15 baht