Locals allege novel extortion rackets by Burma army

The Burmese Army’s Light Infantry Battalion 36, based in Irrawaddy Division’s Kyonpyaw township are forcing local villagers to buy tickets for an army fund raising music concert, according to local residents.

The LIB, organisers of the concert, planned for 3 May, handed out tickets to local administrators in more than 90 village-tracts and ordered them to sell them for 1500 Kyat (USD 1.50 approximately) per ticket, according to a local villager.

“The ticket fee is 1500 Kyat. The battalion’s major handed out 100 tickets for each village-tract and ordered them to sell every ticket; to make 150,000 Kyat each,” said the villager.

“The villages’ administrators didn’t want the tickets but were afraid to refuse them.”

During over two decades of military rule, village administrators had no choice but to comply with the army’s orders. The same situation seemingly continues under Burma’s supposedly civilian government that came in to office last month.

The local said villagers said they were currently in financial difficulty due to unseasonal rain over the last month that destroyed their green gram lentil crops.

“We are under a hardship for survival and have a very limited time to harvest our crops under the rain that is still continuing and now we are being forced to pay 1500 for the fund raising. Our village administrator doesn’t want to sell the tickets and no one wants to buy them.”

Policemen in Kyonpyaw were also allegedly ordered to sell 25 tickets each.

A sergeant from LIB-36 denied that they were force-selling the tickets.

“We didn’t obligate them to buy the tickets. We are just holding a concert for amenity in our battalion and just selling tickets for outsiders. We were only asking help from the village administrations,” said the sergeant.

He said the concert will be included performance by well-known singer Jinny.

Whilst in Arakan State’s Kyauktaw township Light Infantry Battalion 372 stand accused of extorting money from farmers in over 20 villages, for permission for hillside cultivation.

A resident in Kyauktaw’s Zaparseik village said the army have been collecting 10,000 Kyat in exchange of permissions to cultivate a stretch of land since the second week of April.

“The army issued an order prohibiting hillside cultivation for those who don’t pay money. They are charging 10,000 Kyat per a stretch of land. They warned the locals through [local] administrations that those who cultivate without paying the money will be arrested,” said the villager.

Local administrations were ordered to collect the money from locals and send it to the LIB by the end of this month.

“We work on farms and hillside cultivations depending on the season but don’t really have other professions. We know it is illegal to collect the money from us but who are we going to report this to? No one would really take action about this anyway.”

The villages being extorted included Pantatmaw, Zaparseik, Wapyan, Zanitaung, Seikkyutchaung, Taungmasi, Ywarthit, Nyaungbin and Thethton.

Extortion is an accusation that Burma’s national army as well as smaller ethnic armies regularly face. The Burmese army is notoriously under paid and systems of buying permission from the army is often an unconventional taxation system that many have to bare, with seldom a recourse to the rule of law.

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