More than 20 Village Administrators in N. Shan Quit to Protest Leader’s Arrest

By Lawi Weng 30 July 2019

Twenty-two village tract leaders in Kyaukme Township, northern Shan State have submitted their resignations after their village leader was detained by the Myanmar Army and charged under the Unlawful Association Act.

The 22 from Nang Hau Tawn submitted resignation letters to township authorities in Kyaukme on July 23, according to local sources. They reportedly fear they will be arrested on the same charge.

Sai Sai Tin Cho, who was the head of Nang Hau Tawn, has been jailed in Kyaukme town for over three months, since the Myanmar Army accused him of collecting taxes for two ethnic Shan rebel groups, the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and the Shan State Progress Party (SSPP).

Sai Nay Win Aung, one of the village tract leaders from Nang Hau Tawn, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday, “The reason we submitted resignation letters to the township authority was that our leader was detained. We have no leader at the moment, as he is locked in jail.”

“Without him, we cannot rely on anyone. In the past, we could consult him when there was something that needed doing. We could be arrested at any time if we do something wrong. Therefore, we want to resign our positions,” he added.

Village leaders are not appointed by the Kyaukme administration. Rather, local people in the community elect them to serve as leaders and work for the community.

The community leaders must answer to both the Myanmar Army and Shan ethnic armed groups, as the rebels also have influence in the area. However, the Myanmar Army sometimes detains village authorities such as Sai Sai Tin Cho for collecting taxes for the rebels.

“We have three ethnic armed groups in our area. Whenever those rebels come to the village, we have to deal with them. We never know whether we will be arrested,” he said.

Officers from the Myanmar Army and the ethnic armed groups normally deal with village leaders. With the village leader in jail, Sai Nay Win Aung said, the soldiers and rebels seek out the village tract heads.

The army uses the Unlawful Association Act to put pressure on the village tract leaders. The law says it is illegal to communicate with ethnic rebels.

In theory, a village tract leader just needs approval from the township authorities to resign. However, Sai Sai Tin Cho submitted his resignation as village head in 2016 and never received approval from the township, according to Sai Nay Win Aung.

Township authorities in Kyaukme have not been able to help Sai Sai Tin Cho since his arrest. His plight has left all the village tract leaders from Nang Hau Tawn feeling unsafe in their work, according to Sai Nay Win Aung.

“If they [the township authorities] don’t accept our proposal, they should come and do the work. We do not get paid by them,” Sai Nay Win Aung said.

The action by the village tract leaders was taken to protest the detention of their village leader, Sai Sai Tin Cho, according to Sai Tun Nyan, a state lawmaker from the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) representing Kyaukme Township.

“They are unhappy that their village leader was arrested, so the resignations are a form of protest,” he said.

In Kyaukme Township, eight persons have been charged in six separate cases involving the Unlawful Associations Act, he said.

He said SNLD party lawmakers discussed how they could amend the law to ease the pressure on civilian officials caught between the Myanmar Army and ethnic armed rebels. However, only the Union Parliament has the power to amend this law.

“It is a problem between the two armed groups,” he said, referring to the Myanmar Army and the ethnic armed rebels. “Civilians should be protected.”