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Tatmadaw Extorts Money from Villagers in Thantlang Township

December 23rd, 2020  •  Author:   Chin Human Rights Organization  •  3 minute read
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(Thantlang Township, Chin State – 23 December 2020)

On 6 Nov 2020, soldiers from the Light Infantry Battalion 16 (LIB) based in Monywa, Sagaing Region extorted 1.3 million MMK (approx. 970 USD) from Chin community members in Thantlang Township, Chin State. A resident who requested to remain anonymous reported that the LIB 16, stationed in Vuangthu village demanded the money after trees had been cut to build three houses, using wood from the local forest:

“On 6 November, Major Khin Aung Kyaw, who was on duty at the Vuangthu village military base, extorted 13 lakhs [1.3 million] from 3 villagers and 3 people who used chainsaws to cut the wood for the house building. They had been given prior-approval from the village administrator. The Tatmadaw forcefully extorted 13 lakh kyats from the 6 people on charges of illegal logging although they had this approval from the village administrator.”

Sources informed CHRO that the Tatmadaw had originally demanded 3 million MMK (approx. 2000 USD) from the 6 people, however, after the village administrator had negotiated with the Tatmadaw, the amount was reduced to 1.3 million MMK. The villagers borrowed money from other members of the community to help pay the fine:

“They [the six villagers] borrowed money from other villagers and paid the amount. The incident happened just before the battalion was about to leave the village [Vuangthu] and shortly after, the battalion moved to another place. Each person had to pay 217,000 MMK (approx 160 USD). The wood is needed to build houses in our village and it is a non-commercial activity, villagers can cut wood within the village forested areas with the approval of the village administrator. I think it is not good and even illegal for the military to interfere with the village administrator’s authority and extort money from local villagers,” said another source who spoke to CHRO on condition of anonymity.

Regarding the incident, Pu Lal Hnin, the Vuangthu Village Administrator told CHRO that the LIB 16 had been stationed close to the village for around a year:

“When they [LIB 16] first arrived, they told me that the villagers who were cutting wood needed to be more careful and not to do [cutting] openly. I was asked [by them] to be stricter, and that the cutting of pine trees should be done with caution because they are forbidden or restricted trees. I informed my villagers accordingly.”

The village administrator added “they were arrested when the Tatmadaw saw around 1,200 cubic feet of wood and chainsaws along the road. The log cutters and villagers came to me and asked for my help. I repeatedly apologized to them [Tatmadaw]. They told me that they would confiscate the wood and chainsaws. They asked me to give them 30 lakh kyats [3 million MMK]. After I negotiated with them to reduce the amount, they agreed to take 13 lakh kyats [1.3 million MMK]. After we paid them, the Tatmadaw gave the wood and chainsaws back to the owners. So, all these problems and incidents happened because of our negligence.”

Another source who agreed to speak to CHRO on condition of anonymity said “in our village, the Tatmadaw troops change once a year. Sometimes the troops are bad and others behave better. It is now a burden for the local villagers to ask permission from the Tatmadaw to build houses.”

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