Extortion efforts against residents near Kanbauk to Myinkalay pipeline expanded

HURFOM,Mon State: Residents along the Kanbauk to Myain Kalay gas pipeline have reported increased efforts to extort money by Burmese government State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) forces.

In March, Burmese soldiers in areas along the pipeline stepped up extortion efforts, making demands for money more frequently, using the new justification that the funds cover the costs of “the general military spending”.

The Kanabunk to Myaing Kalay gas pipeline, which was completed in 2002, was constructed through Tarnissarine Division, Mon State, and Karen State. Detailed in HURFOM’s 2009 annual report, Laid Waste: Human Rights along the Kanbauk to Myaing Kalay gas pipeline, the construction and operation of the pipeline have brought extensive human rights abuses to the area.

Highlighted in the report are countless instances of extortion committed in areas located close to the pipeline such as Tarnissarine Division, Thanbyuzayat, Mudon, Moulmein, Yebyu, Ye, and Kyaikmayaw Townships in Mon State, and Pa Ann Township in Karen State, by local military battalions.

A source from the SPDC Artillery Battalion (AB) No. 318, based Abit village, Mudon Township, described how in the beginning of March that the local authorities have, been expanding their justification for extortion of villagers, from “gas pipeline security and repair costs “ to also include “the general spending for the military service.” According to residents in the area, prior to this new cost, local authorities would collect 2,000 to 3,000 from each household every month.

The justification for an additional monthly costs, appears to arbitrary, as no significant changes have been made to either the pipeline or the methods by which Battalions operate in the area.

Residents have told HURFOM that they see no way in which there is any justification for the extortion money they have paid, even when the government troops claim the costs go towards maintenance of the gas pipeline and for security against potential attacks from splinter groups. Villagers subject to the new cost, though unable to confirm how much more is money is take, have expressed concerns that local military authorities will continue to create additional justifications for further extorting money.

Ko Nge, a Kawkhapon villager, explains how the amounts of money extorted by local battalions have slowly increased, “We have been paying the pipeline’s extortion money every month since the pipeline started.Sometimes the pipe leaks or explodes near your farm and you have to pay the military for repair costs. But, we don’t know if they [actually] use our money to repair their pipeline or not. If not, we also don’t know what the money they charged us is being using for. No one dares to ask them. Before 2003, the military authorities collected 1,500 [kyat] per month. Now, they have increased it up to 3,000 kyat a month. Sometimes, we have to pay twice, for example, after the military collect the extortion money, the village headman would collect it again. Even though they change the reasons for why they are collecting, we have to pay them. We just worry that the military will increase the extreme amount extortion cost, if they are going to add the justification ‘general spending for the military’.”

Even though Ko Nge described to a HURFOM reporter that some areas have to pay 3,000 kyat per month for the current pipeline security cost, some residents around northern Yebyu and Ye Township have been paying over 3,000 kyat to gas pipeline and security force costs in the area.

Nai Phoe, a 45 year old of Kaloh villager, talks about how extensively extortion efforts and other abuses have disrupted villagers’ lives, “In my village, it is a free-fire place for the SPDC – they call it a black area. I mean, they can enter into our village whenever they want, kill our farms, and [take] whichever food they would like to eat. The gas pipeline runs near my farm. Because of the pipeline, we have lost part of our farm and [must pay] monthly pipeline security extortion money [to the authorities]. Sometimes they [SPDC ] force us to build a hut and conduct security for the gas pipeline at either day or night. Our situation is very different if we compare it with the situation in Mudon and Thanbyuzayat Towships. We have pay over 3,000 for pipeline security. Sometimes they charges up to 5,000 kyat. “

Residents have described how the money that soldiers collect every month from villagers is being used for personal expenses by military officials and local authorities. According to Nai Kan (not his real name), a 36 years old Waerat villager, in Thanbyuzayat Township, “Even though they claimed [the costs] were for gas pipeline security and maintenance of the gas pipeline, they always collect extra extortion cost after a gas explosion. It seems like to me that the monthly extortion cost is just for the military and local authority’s income. Now, they have started adding the additional cost for, “Military general spending” and are trying to make more extra money their [local authorities and military] pockets.”

With over 50 villages in close proximity to the gas pipeline, an estimated 90% of the resident who live along the gas pipeline have faced this abuse by the local military units based around the area. Due to the extent of extortion efforts, residents believe that the monthly payments are systematic, and are ordered from the highest-ranking Burmese military authorities.

In a unique interview, a HURFOM field reporter was able to speak to a retired member of the SPDC military. This person, whose name is concealed for security purposes, had 30 years of military service, and has since retired to Mudon township. The retiree describes how, “there are many things that the resident do not know, about what happens in the military community. The soldiers are not getting enough income to feed their families. As a result, they are abusing their power and giving different reasons for collecting money from the residents. Now collecting monthly costs for the gas pipeline is just ordered from above [from high ranking military authorities]. The money that the soldiers get from the residents is only shared between the upper ranks of the military forces. The normal soldier get nothing from these efforts. So that’s the reason why when the normal soldiers are collecting the extortion money from the resident, they are collecting extra cost for themselves. These kind of abuses are always happening between the local residents and troops.”

Nai Khun Kaluh, a rubber plantation worker from Kwan Hlar village, Mudon Township said, “We have to pray that the pipeline will not explode again, [or that] others groups [or] people don’t come and blow it up. We always have to be responsible for the gas pipeline; they always blame the residents whenever the pipelines explode.”

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