April 11, 2012
A report detailing mounting human rights violations in Yebyu territory, titled, “Government’s Navy Units Continue to Violate Rights of Locals in Yebyu Township,” was published on January 20, 2012, on the Human Rights Foundation of Monland’s website (HURFOM/www.rehmonnya.org). Since then, continued monitoring has indicated that the violators–low-ranking soldiers and officials of the Mawrawaddy Navy Command naval administrative unit No. 43–have been blatantly disregarding the human rights of local residents who make their living in fishing and cultivation. The growing violations committed by government troops against civilians are unacceptable and unbefitting to a transition period during which the country is carefully taking steps in a new direction. This short report aims to force the governors and chief ministers of their particular states or divisions to stop the unit No. 43 navy administrative officials from repeatedly violating locals’ rights. In February and March, three field reporters interviewed 22 villagers in order to present the events and opinions found in this report.
Money extorted from local fishermen
The officials and soldiers of the navy administrative unit No. 43, which operates under Mawrawaddy Navy Command, number more than sixty troops and have bases in the Yebyu Township villages of Own-pin-kwin, Kywe Thone Nyi Ma, Kadike harbor, and Kyauk Hta Yan. The troops have extorted money from people with marine-related businesses or fishing-boat owners in the villages near their bases. In February alone, fees of 30,000 kyat, gasoline, and fishing products were unfairly seized from 210 owners of small or large fishing-boats in Kyauk Hta Yan and Da-Min-Seik villages, according to locals. Ko Ngwe Own (pseudonym), a 44-year-old Kyauk Hta Yan resident, feeds his six family members by fishing off a small boat powered by a Honda engine. On February 18th, he reported that the military troops, police, and navy units have extorted money from him over his entire fishing career, creating a situation in which he struggles to provide for his family. Even in this era of new government, there is no decline in the bribery and extortion committed against civilian populations. In fact, the violations are increasing dramatically.
“During my 20-year career as a fisherman, I have always faced extortion, even up to today. It is heard that other regions are peaceful, but the conditions in our region are still bad. Now, each month I have to pay 30,000 kyat to Captain Min Zaw Moe of Navy 43 and his staff. They justify the fee by saying they provide security and grant a monthly fishing-permit. I merely own a small boat, so I have to work the whole day to cover my daily food costs, not including 5000 kyat for gasoline. Sometimes, we don’t catch anything. They should lower their demands. In Kyauk Hta Yan village alone, there are over eighty villagers required to pay this “boat-tax.” You can calculate how much [the troops] get if each villager has to pay 30,000 kyat.”
The monthly 30,000 kyat fee is demanded only of engine-powered boat owners. Ko Min Chit, a 39-year-old Kyauk Hta Yan resident, fishes in a small boat without an engine. At the end of February, he reported that the troops from naval unit No. 43 were demanding a weekly gallon of gasoline and 200 prawns from rowboat owners who only fish periodically.
“The engine-less boat owners have to pay 5,000 kyat, or the equivalent of a gallon of gasoline, per week. [The troops] will not give receipts, so if another group demands the same payout that week, we have to pay again. Normally, the 5,000-kyat fee is paid to Sergeant Kyi Wai and his group, who work under Captain Min Zaw Moe. There are over forty villagers in the same situation as me. If the troops come across a prawn-catching boat, 200 prawns are demanded. If there is any failure to pay, a work-permit isn’t granted on the following day. My uncles have to pay 200 prawns daily.”
Forced labor and boat commandeering
On top of seizing prawn hauls or exacting fees, locals explained that troops also commandeer boats to transport high-ranking naval administrative officials and force residents to labor in local army units. Male villagers and boat owners in Kyauk Hta Yan and Da-Min-Seik villages described how they were forced to work for the navy unit in March.
“My boat was commandeered for two consecutive days in mid-March, during a visit from Moulmein and Tavoy Navy executive officials. I was unable to raise money for food and they used four of my gallons of gasoline during that time. Meanwhile, eight other boat owners also had their crafts seized. A lieutenant colonel led the visit, and Captain Min Zaw Moe ordered us to yield our boats. None of us could work our jobs. Around twenty ordinary villagers from Kywe Thone Nyi Ma who aren’t in the fishing industry or rubber plantation owners were forced to work on Kadike Base, welcoming high-ranking visitors. The village administrators managed everything.”
Ko Kyaw Min Htike, a 22-year-old Kyauk Hta Yan resident, said that motorbikes with full tanks of gasoline were also commandeered to transport the patrol navy soldiers. The troops carelessly and roughly handled the bikes, but then were not accountable for their actions.
“These incidences are occurring under the civilian government of President U Thein Sein; therefore, we want the government to stop the military. We want nothing else. If the situation changes and we are allowed to live freely, then no one will want to flee this place (Kyauk Hta Yan),” said 55-year-old boat owner U Thin Po during an interview on March 24th. He added that one of his sons fled to Thailand in late 2011 after getting in a fight with a navy soldier and subsequently being severely tortured.
“Kyauk Hta Yan, Da-min-seik, and Kywe Thone Nyi Ma are villages that have never tasted peace. Land confiscation, forced labor, money extortion and other abuses are still occurring today. In 2011, Navy No. 43 confiscated plots of land in Kywe Thone Nyi Ma and Min Thar villages. The government never resolved that crime. Since we are in a transition period, I would like to urge governors and members of parliament (MP) of each particular state or division to stop the violations against civilians committed by the Navy No. 43.”
Government’s Navy Units continue to violate rights of Locals in Yebyu Township
January 20, 2012
Northern Yebyu, Tenasserim Division: The local villagers who make their livelihood through fishing along coastal areas of North-West of Yebyu Township, Tenasserim Division, were abused by the navy administrative unit No. 43, which, according to the field records, operates under Mawrawaddy Navy Command. During the interviews, the locals mentioned that the navy units continues to commit abuses such as extorting money, commandeering fishing boats, demanding gasoline and rations and forcing the local villagers to serve as guards. These field records were collected from ten locals in fishing villages in North-West of Yebyu Township by two field reporters from HURFOM between December 28th 2011 and January 10th 2012.
The local navy administrative unit No. 43 has been collecting a monthly fee which ranges from twenty thousand kyats to seventy thousand kyats per household, as local security subsidy from the villagers of Kyauk Hta-yan village, which has over 160 households, and Da-Min-Seik village, which has about 80 houses. Ko Thar Kyi (Not real name), 36, who depends on fishing for his living, said on January, 2 that unlike villages in other regions, (his village) had to pay heavy monthly security fee to the government navy unit and have suffered from many abuses, including financial abuse.
“The fishermen from our village had to pay more local security fees. Fishermen can make money (easily) when they catch more fish and prawns. Therefore, the navy officials showed reason that the peaceful livelihood of the villagers is due to their fully-supported security services. The households which have only one fishing boat are obligated to pay twenty thousand kyat per month. The households which own more than one boat are forced to pay general security fees on up to seventy thousand kyat every month.Thousands of kyat has been paid to the navy unit No 43. Our livelihood is just easier than those of hand-to-mouth people. A big problem occurs on the day we cannot work. When that time comes, extracting from our saved money for food, the monthly fee of twenty thousand (kyats) has to be paid.”
Ko Thar Kyi and most of his neighbors have to pay twenty thousand kyat to Navy Official Captain Min Zaw Moe who used to be based in Kywe Thone Nyi Ma. Moreover, for military transportation, their boats were commandeered at least three times per month. Each time [if commandeered] it could last from one day to two days, said Ko Win Myint [not real name], Own-pin-kwin villager and boat owner.
“Besides monthly security fee, our boats, including boat drivers, were commandeered to transport the staff and troops from the navy unit. We had to use our own petrol during commandeering. Each time of commandeering, the boats were used at least one day. Two gallons of petrol were consumed per day. No one dared to complain. Even the village administrator had to arrange (the commandeering). When we were commandeered, we could not go for fishing and could do nothing even if we had work to do. During the visit of the higher-ranking officials, the commandeering could last up to one week. If the one’s turn coincides with the visit, the one has to be suffered a lot. During these days, the commandeering without any reasons occurred frequently. In the previous years, each boat was commandeered only one time per month. The village headman said that these events happened according to the order of Commander Major Ye Lin Tun.”
Unlike other villagers in Yebyu Township, Kyauk Hta Yan and Da-Min-Seik villagers have to make their livelihoods only on fishing, not on plantation and other businesses. Even the less-earned small boat owners could not avoid the abuses of the local-based government’s navy unit. The households who go for fishing with small boats which do not include engine and has to be paddled manually was ordered to pay one gallon of gasoline per month to the navy authorities of Kadike harbor situated in the estuary of the Heinze river, according to U Htun Myint [not real name], 55, a resident of Own-pin-kwin village.
“For the fishing permits of our (small) boats which do not include engines, we had to buy a gallon of gasoline which equates to five thousand kyat in cash monthly (and pay it to the navy unit). We had to bring the gasoline to the navy base of Kadike Harbor. It was an order stated that the locals could not go for fishing in Heinze River unless they paid a gallon of gas. Without paying (a gallon of gas), there were nothing they could do. We had to pay with fear. In reality, no one wants to pay a gallon of gasoline. In the past, small boats like ours did not need to pay this amount of gas.”
Even the permission of fishing along Heinze River and at its entrance was granted after paying a gallon of gasoline to the local navy authorities. He frequently mentioned that the navy men forcefully demanded good and big prawns and fish that he had caught, said Hla Win [not real name], over 20, as below.
“Forceful demanding of fish and prawns was often encountered. If demanded fishes and prawns were not given to them (the navy men), difficulties was to be expected in the future. We can only earn money from those fish and prawns. And, if demanded fish and prawns were not given to the navy soldiers, fishing could be banned and we could face further hardship. Now, like in the past, we are still abused. Nothing obviously became better. Fish are not abundantly caught like in the past, so we have to struggle a lot for our food.”
In late November of 2011, a Kyauk Hta Yan-resident youth who lives in Moulmein, Mon State came to the villagers of Kyauk Hta Yan, Own-pin-kwin and Da-Min-Seik villages and delivered papers and information which are useful for reporting to International Labor Organization(ILO). According to the information, the villagers have the right to report to ILO when they have to be involved in forced labor and suffered from oppression. However, the authorities of the navy administrative unit No 43 had heard about this news (of sharing information) and a few days later, intimidation from the navy unit appeared, said U Shwe (pseudonym).
“They [the navy authorities] chased the youth who said that the abuse cases should be reported to ILO and they wanted to arrest him, the young man. He is an educated youth, who lives in an urban area and knows about ILO. Now, he is not in this village. Later, it was said that the authorities from the Navy Administrative Unit No. 43 called and intimidated the village administrative team. The village administrator re-told the villagers that they were intimidated that if there is a report to ILO, and they all will be arrested. Therefore, everyone is silent and too afraid to report the abuse cases to ILO.”
According to the interviews conducted with locals in Yebyu Township, it shows that the human rights abuses such as land confiscation, extortions (related to owning lands), forced labors, and monthly allowances ( for work permit, which allows the rubber plantations owners to work on their plantations) have increased in most villages in Yebyu Township, despite the aftermath of new civilian government’s installation, which is led by President Thenin Sein, instated in March, 2011 after the nationwide elections.
“Myanmar National Human Rights Commission” (MNHRC) which was formed and is led by the civilian government does not come to collect and document those happening abuse cases, and there is no victim who dares to report up-to-date information to ILO.
“Even the government itself said that the structure, members and policies of the government have been changed. There is no real change and development yet in spite of the government’s claim. This is because the [human rights abuses] cases that locals in the region face committed by local based military men, who do not seem to care and respect the government’s order and power, still exist. In fact, during this transition period, the abuses should be stopped earlier,” remarked by a former school teacher, from Alae Sa-khan village, Yebyu Township.
Comparing with the ongoing local abuse cases, a former school teacher, analyzed the national development and the situation of human rights.
Kadike Navy Command operates under Heinze Naval Region Command Head Quarter and the navy administrative unit No 43 is based in Own-pin-kwin Village located near Kywe Thone Nyi Ma Island. After late 2010, over one thousand acres of rubber and perennial fruit plantations were confiscated and about 3,000 acres of rubber plantation were surveyed to be confiscated in the mid of 2011. According to reports from HURFOM’s researchers, the local authorities are making money by granting permission to the owners to work in the confiscated plantations after receiving monthly allowances.