RANGOON — Local administrators allege that the army has extorted fisherman on Kyunthaya Island for decades and have filed a complaint letter to concerned parties.
Former village administrator U Saw Hla Thein of Kyunthaya Island, located 30 kilometers south of Myebon Township in Arakan State, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that the army has extorted monthly fees from fishermen in the area for almost two decades.
In early December, U Saw Hla Thein and current administrator U Maung Win Lwin signed and delivered a complaint letter to Arakan State Chief Minister U Nyi Pu, the Sittwe branch army commander, the home affairs ministry, Myebon Township’s administrative body, and Union lawmaker U Pe Than.
The statement said army privates and some officials had bullied and regularly collected protection money (6,000 kyats per month) from every fisherman since the battalion was established on the island in 1993.
Many households on the island rely on fishing for their livelihood but operate without official fishing licenses from the government’s fishery department.
“Over the years, officials have been transferred in and out but the extortion has not ended,” said U Saw Hla Thein.
Over the past two months, drunken soldiers physically abused villagers and opened fire in the middle of the village, according to the former village administrator.
U Saw Hla Thein was included in those victims beaten by army soldiers. On Dec. 3, soldiers kicked and punched U Saw Hla Thein in his home. He sought medical treatment at Myebon Hospital and filed a case at the local police station.
When speaking with The Irrawaddy, U Saw Hla Thein said his teeth and jaw still ache from the beating last month.
On December 2, a group of soldiers allegedly lashed Kyunthaya villager U Maung Win Chay with a rattan rod and tortured him for days.
An official from the Myebon Police Department confirmed reports of these attacks. He also stated that police could not solve the issue of extortion so the matter was referred elsewhere.
U Saw Hla Thein said that after filing the complaint letter, army officials stopped asking the fisherman for money.
Lower House Arakanese lawmaker U Pe Than confirmed that he received the letter in December and urged the army to take legal action against the soldiers who committed these violations. He has so far received no response from the army.
U Pe Than said, “That [physical abuse] has always happened on that island.”
U Saw Hla Thein said when he filed a case at the police station, authorities promised to take action against the offenders. But he does not know if his attackers were punished or not.
The Irrawaddy could not reach the army for comment.