Extortion and restrictions under the DKBA in Pa'an District

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Published date:
Monday, March 16, 2009

Recent reports suggest that, in negotiations with State authorities, the DKBA has been able to ensure its long-term political future in Burma by transforming itself into a 'Border Security Force', a title that would nominally place the group within the SPDC hierarchy. Consequently, the DKBA's ongoing restrictions and extortion in T'Nay Hsah and Dta Greh townships of eastern Pa'an District (near the Thai border) may be expected to continue even after the planned 2010 elections. This report examines cases of abuse against villagers by SPDC and DKBA forces in Pa'an District from the end of 2008 to March 2009.

In eastern Pa'an District, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), and Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) all continue to conduct armed operations. However, the DKBA continues to be the most active armed group in this area. As a result, local villagers in eastern Pa'an District, and in particular those living in T'Nay Hsah and Dta Greh townships, face a wide range of restrictions, taxes and ad hoc demands from DKBA soldiers. DKBA forces operating in this area are primarily those under the authority of Brigade #999 (including the Brigade's 'Special Battalion' commanded by Maung Chit Thoo).

The KNLA no longer has a fixed base in T'Nay Hsah Township. In Dta Greh Township, KNLA Battalions #21, 22 and 101 have been largely pushed up against the western flank of the Moei River which, in Pa'an District, forms the border with Thailand.

The SPDC has taken a somewhat reduced role in the region but continues to patrol T'Nay Hsah and Dta Greh townships and, in some cases, has looted villagers' property and demanded porters to carry military supplies. In previous years, SPDC Army units active in Pa'an District generally followed a practice of rotating every three months (except during the rainy season, when the wet conditions would make travel more difficult.) Since the start of 2009, however, SPDC Army units active in Dta Greh Township have rotated every month.

On February 20th 2009, column #1 of SPDC Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) #206 of Light Infantry Division (LID) #22, under the command of Major Soe Win Aung, was rotated out of Wa Mee Gkla village tract, Dta Greh Township. When LIB #206 left the area on February 20th, it was replaced by SPDC LIB #205 of LID #22 under the command of Thaung Htaik. Upon arrival on February 20th, LIB #205 troops entered Gk--- village and looted property belonging to the following local villagers:

#
Villager's name Items looted Approximate value of looted items
1
Saw Gk---
1 hen and the eggs it was incubating 250 Thai baht (US $7.14)
2
Saw P---
1 duck 250 Thai baht (US $7.14)
3
Saw Gky---
3 chickens 300 Thai baht (US $8.57)
4
Saw Dt---
1 musket and 10 bowls of chillies 700 Thai baht (US $20)
5
Saw D---
3 chickens, 1 mattock and 50 coconuts
745 Thai baht (US $ 21.28)
6
Saw P---
An empty 20 litre plastic container and tobacco being laid out to dry
240 Thai baht (US $6.85)

The following morning (February 21st 2009), prior to leaving, LIB #205 troops demanded three Gk--- villagers to accompany the patrol and porter their supplies. Local villagers Saw L---, Saw G--- and Saw P--- went along with the patrol, carrying the soldiers' supplies for three days before they were allowed to return home.

Extortion and restrictions under DKBA control

Villagers living in T'Nay Hsah and Dta Greh townships continue to face a diverse range of DKBA demands and restrictions that are often employed, it appears, solely for the purpose of extorting funds. Indeed, some villagers have told KHRG that they've had to hurriedly sell off their land and livestock for as little as half their real value in order to cover the amount needed to pay the DKBA's arbitrary taxes.

As KHRG previously reported, DKBA Special Battalion of Brigade #999 began recruiting new soldiers from amongst local villagers in T'Nay Hsah Township in August 2008. Those villagers who did not want to serve as DKBA soldiers and had sufficient cash could pay a fine in lieu of military service.[1]

In the latter half of 2008, DKBA forces under the command of Maung Chit Thoo began enforcing restrictions on the distillation and consumption of alcohol in T'Nay Hsah Township.[2] This was followed by the imposition of additional taxes on the production of charcoal in T'Nay Hsah Township.

Then, at the end of 2008, Maung Chit Thoo imposed new restrictions on the sale of corn to buyers in Thailand. The reasons behind these restrictions are unclear.  However, according to a May 2007 agreement between Burmese and Thai authorities, Thai agribusinesses were to be allowed to contract out tax-free cultivation of corn and other crops to farmers in designated areas of eastern Burma including parts of Karen State with the produce being exported to Thailand.[3]  Continued taxation of the designated crops by the SPDC, DKBA and KNU reportedly stalled the initiative, with conflict over these taxes being a cause of fighting between KNLA and DKBA forces in late 2008.  Following the DKBA-imposed restrictions, local villagers who had just finished their corn harvests were worried that they would be unable to sell their corn elsewhere. For fear of seeing their corn rot unsold, some corn farmers secretly travelled to Thailand to make deals with Thai buyers. Although Maung Chit Thoo finally relaxed the restrictions on the sale of corn to buyers in Thailand in early 2009, much of the corn harvest in T'Nay Hsah Township had already begun to rot and buyers in Thailand were largely uninterested in purchasing it.

At the start of 2009, Maung Chit Thoo, commander of DKBA Special Battalion of Brigade #999, had soldiers under his command distribute photos of himself and his wife to villagers living in T'Nay Hsah Township - the villagers were forced to buy them at a cost of 2,000 kyat (US $2.03) each. Some villagers did not have sufficient cash on hand to buy the photos and one complained to KHRG, saying "Maung Chit Thoo is a human like us, but we have to buy his picture. We could take pictures of ourselves as well and sell them like he does since we're also humans. But could we also sell our pictures for 2,000 kyat like him?"

On March 3rd 2009, DKBA Brigade #999 Brigadier Pah Nwee, Deputy Brigadier Gkya Aye and Special Battalion (of DKBA Brigade #999) commander Maung Chit Thoo arrived in the Gkyaw Gkay Hta area of Dta Greh township with three trucks and approximately 20 soldiers. The soldiers then began patrolling Wa Mee Gkla and Thay Maw Gkoo village tracts in order to establish and strengthen DKBA authority over local communities. The authorities of DKBA Brigade #999 also plan to build a new pagoda on the western side of the Dawna Mountains at a site near the Naw T'Ya vehicle road in Dta Greh Township. To raise funds for the construction of the new pagoda, Brigadier Pah Nwee was ordained as a monk when he arrived in the area and subsequently travelled from village to village to meet with local villagers and collect donations.

Conclusion

The ongoing pattern of restrictions, arbitrary taxation and ad hoc extortion by DKBA forces operating in eastern Pa'an District shows no sign of abating in the lead-up to Burma's 2010 elections. If, as some sources have reported, the DKBA is intending to position itself within the post-2010 election political arrangement as a 'Border Security Force' under the nominal authority of the SPDC, the pattern of exploitative abuse confronted by local villagers will likely continue.

Footnotes

[1] For more details of DKBA forced recruitment, see Forced recruitment by DKBA forces in Pa'an District, KHRG, September 2008

[2] For more details on this incident, see DKBA bans alcohol consumption to justify human rights abuses in Pa'an District, KHRG, October 2008

[3] Brian McCartan, "Democracy plan fuels war in Myanmar," Asia Times Online, February 25th 2009.