Military Detains Village Administrator for Extorting Money on Behalf of 2 Shan Groups

By Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint 24 May 2019

YANGON—The Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw) has filed a lawsuit against a village administrator in Kyaukme Township in northern Shan State under Article 17 (1) of the Unlawful Association Act for allegedly collecting funds for two Shan ethnic armed groups.

Tatmadaw soldiers arrested U Sai Tin Cho, the administrator of Nam Hutaung village, at his house on April 26 and filed a lawsuit against him at Kyaukme Township Police Station for allegedly soliciting funds from local villagers for the Shan State Progress Party (SSPP) and Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS).

“The Tatmadaw transferred him to our police station earlier this month,” the head of the Kyaukme Township Police Station, police officer Han Win Hlaing, told The Irrawaddy.

The Office of the Commander-in-Chief released a statement saying that the Tatmadaw had arrested U Sai Tin Cho, 56, for extorting money for the Shan State Army-North, the armed wing of the SSPP, and the SSA-S, the armed wing of the RCSS. It said he was arrested on the evening of April 26 along with documents and 1.5 million kyats that he had allegedly extorted from locals.

The statement said the Tatmadaw made the arrest in response to a tip that the village administrator collected money not only in his village but also in urban areas of Kyaukme from 2013 to 2019 for the RCSS and SSPP.

U Sai Tin Cho’s family members were not able to see him until he was transferred to Kyaukme Township Police Station on May 9.

“We don’t know exactly what offense he is being sued for. But we heard that he will be sued under Article 17(1) of the Unlawful Association Act,” U Sai Myint Bo, the elder brother of U Sai Tin Cho, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday at the first hearing at Kyaukme Township Court.

U Sai Tin Cho was elected the village administrator by locals in 2012. He submitted his resignation in 2016 due to the instability in the region, but his resignation was rejected by the township administrator, said U Sai Myint Bo.

Civilians in unstable, contested areas in Shan State have no choice but to do what is asked of them by armed groups, said U Sai Myint Bo.

“It is not that my brother contacted them. What is he supposed to do when an armed group comes to his doorstep? He can’t just  shut the door and say ‘You are not allowed to come in,’” said U Sai Myint Bo.

Around 30 residents of Nam Hutaung village came to Kyaukme Township Court on Thursday in support of their village administrator, insisting that he is innocent.

“Our administrator is not guilty. We are here to support him,” said Daw Aye Kham, a resident of Nam Hutaung.

Besides the RCSS and the SSPP, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Kachin Independence Army (KIA) are active in the area, and all of them recruit and extort money.

At the village level, administrators are asked by armed groups to collect money and rice and other foodstuffs from villagers. Administrators are also forced to send their villagers to carry loads for armed groups when they march from place to place. At the township level, private hotels, schools and businesses are asked to pay an annual tax of at least 1 million kyats.

Most of the businesses pay the money, as they do not want to see their business operations disrupted, and few choose to file complaints with authorities. In 2018, there were four cases in which businesses filed complaints of extortion by armed groups.

The Irrawaddy visited over 50 villages in Namtu Township in December, and found that all the villages are vulnerable to conscription and extortion by armed groups.

Civilians interviewed by The Irrawaddy in Kyaukme and Namtu townships in northern Shan State reported being beaten by members of both the RCSS and TNLA as the two armed groups tried to obtain information about each other by interrogating villagers. The RCSS and the TNLA are embroiled in a territorial dispute in the area.

The SSPP, TNLA and KIA admit to collecting money from civilians and businesses to fund their operations, but the RCSS denies committing extortion. It says it is sufficiently funded by its headquarters.