On October 19th 2012, a community member trained by KHRG to monitor human rights conditions met with Saw W---, who is 48 years old and from D--- village; Saw L---, who is 51 years old and from M--- village; Saw K---, who is 41 years old and from H--- village; Saw D---, who is 54 years old and from G--- village; and Saw P---, who is 42 years old and from E--- village. All of these individuals are village heads and leaders from T'Nay Hsah Township, Hpa-an District. These villagers joined together to discuss the activity of the Border Guard in their areas.
One event they discussed occurred on October 17th 2012, where three Border Guard Battalions that are stationed in T'Nay Hsah Township held a meeting for villagers from five village tracts. The meeting was conducted by Commander Mya Thein from Battalion #1016, Commander Mya Khaing from Battalion #1019, and Commander Lah Thay from Battalion #1018. The meeting was conducted from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. Villagers from Htee Hpoh Kyaw, Noh Kay, Yaw Koo, Htee Klay, Mya P'Keh village tracts were required to attend. In total, 1,000 villagers were present at the meeting, where the subject of 'soldier recruitment' was discussed.
According to the community member who spoke with villagers in attendance at the meeting, Border Guard Battalions #1016, #1018 and #1019 are instituting a new soldier retention policy in order to curb recent losses in active duty members, where 22 local soldiers, who have completed their year-and-a-half service, will no longer go on reserve status. Instead, these soldiers will be required to extend their service tenure. The attending villagers are required to provide money to the battalions, in order to cover the cost of the new salaries. For each of these soldiers, villagers have to provide them with three million kyat (US $3,525.26). The community member who provided this information could not confirm the actual amount that each household is required to pay, but reported that all households will have to pay at least 50,000 kyat (US $58.75), irrespective of ability to pay.
These soldiers were recruited when the Border Guard battalions were still the Development Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA). Out of the 22 soldiers, some currently work in the Karen Peace Force (KPF), some joined the KNU-KNLA Peace Council, some remained in the DKBA, some deserted and went to Bangkok, and others joined the Border Guard after the 2010 transformation.
During the October 17th meeting, villagers attempted to negotiate with the commanders in order to not have to provide funding for the Border Guard soldiers retention plan, but they were told that nonpayment was not an option. The villagers attempted to highlight the fact that many had other debt obligations that make this new obligation difficult to satisfy. The villagers were told: "Now, you have to recruit our new soldiers, [because] DKBA and Kaw Thoo Lei [Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA)] soldiers are the same as BGF [Border Guard]." To which, some villagers said that: "Kaw Thoo Lei [KNLA]does not recruit their soldiers. A person who is interested could join. But look at you; the villagers have to hire the soldiers for you. Because you recruit the soldiers, there are many people who could not repay their debt. You will do it again now. Then, we will have more debt." Again, the Border Guard soldiers confirmed that nonpayment was not an option for the villagers, by saying: "Even if you cannot pay, you have to pay."
On November 30th 2012, the community member returned and met with two villagers from D--- to ask for updates on the recruitment. The villagers reported that the A--- village and D--- village heads went to "Koh Ko", the central Border Guard base, where Border Guard soldiers ordered each of them to contribute money for the recruitment plan. Those village heads returned and began collecting money from villagers under a three-tier system: 1,000 baht from households with members that both work and do not face food problems, 800 baht from households with members that work and have some food but do not face shortages, and 500 baht from the remaining households. The villagers reported that the Border Guard distributed paper invoices with names and contribution amounts for the village heads to give to villagers, which they said is different from how collection had occurred in the past.
On December 17th 2012, the community member reported to KHRG that most villagers have refused to pay according to the collection plan requested by the Border Guard. Villagers reported to the community member that the Border Guard soldiers threatened the villagers and the village heads that anyone who refused to pay would be arrested, but villagers told them, that "It is peaceful [ceasefire is in effect], so we do not need to pay it [contributions] to you anymore." Villagers reported that a village head with a good relationship with Border Guard soldiers attempted to collect the money, but was hesitant to make this request due to opposition from the local community. Additionally, villagers reported that the Border Guard soldiers worry that news of this recruitment and collection effort will spread, and are afraid to use force. While D--- and A--- villagers have been informed they will have to support 13 soldiers throughout 2013, and paper invoices were distributed in September 2012, no payments to the Border Guard have been made yet.