Interview

Myanmar's Ethnic Army Abductee Recalls Mistreatment and Extortion

By Hset Paing Toe 7 December 2020

Several business owners have recently been kidnapped in Mogoke Township in Mandalay Region by the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and one victim has told The Irrawaddy that civilians need better protection.

Most of the victims paid the ransom out of fear of being killed or seized a second time and many have now fled Mogoke.

Daw Khin Myint Htay, who was kidnapped for 10 days and freed on Oct. 26, told The Irrawaddy about her experiences to help put a stop to the incidents in Mogoke.

The kidnappers demanded a ransom of 65 million kyats (US$49,000) from her family. She was abducted at gunpoint in front of her 85-year-old mother, whose health deteriorated and she died on Dec. 4, the day Daw Khin Myint Htay spoke to The Irrawaddy.

In another case, armed men abducted Sanpya Bakery owner and gems merchant U Kyaw Win, a prominent Mogoke figure, from his house on Dec. 4, fueling fear in the town.

Daw Khin Myint Htay said she was taken around 20km from her house and beaten repeatedly.

How were you apprehended? 

Four people arrived in a car saying they wanted to buy a three-digit lottery ticket [an illegal lottery which involves betting on the last three digits of the Thai lottery]. They told me to go outside and we asked if they were police. They then took out guns and pointed them at my family. I had to go with them. They said it would only take a while because they had something to negotiate with me.

Where did they take you? 

They took me to a village called Shwe Nyaungbin in Mongmit Township on the border with Shan State. There were around 100 armed, uniformed TNLA troops in the village.

What did their leader tell you? 

They asked me to give them 65 million kyats because I was selling illegal lottery tickets. I told them that I am not a bookmaker, but just an agent and am not rich. But they didn’t listen. As I bargained, they reduced the ransom to 50 million kyats ($38,000). On the sixth day, they started to tie me, saying they would beat me, starting with my legs if the ransom was not delivered that day. They started beating my legs but we could not agree an amount. They beat my thighs, backside and then my body.

They were around the same age as my son. I could not bear beating so I asked them to take me to their head office and imprison me because I could not afford their ransom. The next day, they said they would hit me in the face and my son mortgaged our house for 34 million kyats ($26,000) and ransomed me.

Will you have to pay again next year?

They didn’t say that. It appears that I was kidnapped for ransom and not because I sold illegal lottery tickets. When they beat me, they didn’t ask me if I would sell again but they only asked how and when I would pay the money. They seemed to use the tickets as an excuse to kidnap me.

Have you stopped your business?

I plan to stop selling after the COVID-19 outbreak is over. Everyone faces financial hardship in Mogoke. My husband died long ago and I fed my five children with this business. Now I am in debt.

How can the kidnappings be stopped? 

Increased security is required. I am now constantly frightened. I have a nagging worry. I cannot eat and sleep properly and am trying to recover mentally. Our neighbors are avoiding us, fearing they may be detained by the TNLA if they speak to us.

How will it affect the town? 

It is harmful. The TNLA said Mogoke is its territory and it will take control of the area.

Has the armed group asked for money in the past?

Yes, I was not asked for money before. Four months ago, they abducted an illegal lottery seller like me who also had to pay up but they were not beaten.

Did they use abusive language during the detention? 

As I am ethnically Shan, the [Ta’ang] soldiers told me the Shan oppress them. I was taken to villages where there are 100,000 kyat ($75) fines for speaking Shan, 150,000 kyat ($113) fines for speaking Burmese and 100,000 kyats for displaying photos of people in non-Ta’ang clothes in their homes.

Who is responsible for those incidents? 

It happens because Myanmar has no peace. They think there is no justice. Some of the villages have no drinking water, electricity or roads. Peace and justice would address this.

What assistance should the government provide? 

We need more security personnel.

What did they say to you when you were released? 

They said they did not care. They said I can complain to the military or speak to the media. They are not afraid. They are inhumane and have no mercy. I am still fearful. I live in constant fear that they will come again.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

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