Narinjara news

Military Checkpoints in Western Burma - for illegal toll collection?

Sittwe, 25 Jun. 02: Two military checkpoints in Southern Arakan State have been added to already existing hundreds across the state that are engaged in collecting illegal toll, according to traders available at Thandwe town and Sittwe the capital.

A trader who was bringing shrimps, fish and crabs for transporting to Rangoon from Gwa via Thandwe on June 11th had to pay kyat 12,568 for 730 viss (1 viss=1.7 kg) of shrimp, kyat 1,100 for 220 viss of fish, and kyat 15,555 for 311 viss of dried fish at the Thandwe military gate.

The tolls so collected are neither customs nor excise duties for the government treasury but funds for the military and have to be paid compulsorily through written receipts to the guards at the military checkpoints.

As the economy of Arakan is based on agriculture and sea resources, the rampant toll collection prevalent across the state has put the life of the farmers and fishermen into jeopardy because of all the restrictions and illegal tolls they have to pay to various law enforcing agencies including the Burmese Military all along the roads and waterways.

“The ruling State Peace and Development Council junta have engaged all the members of the law enforcing agencies to raise funds for their own use. As a result the various law-enforcing agencies have been with impunity carrying out fund raising drives throughout the state in a competitive way,” said a prominent lawyer of Sittwe who had recently travelled by road to Rangoon.

In another incident, a vegetable vendor from Kyauktaw told our correspondent that, along the main river of the state, Kaladan, there are more than two-dozen military checkpoints between Kyauktaw and Sittwe, the state capital, where illegal toll is regularly collected in the name of fund raising for the military.

“The exorbitant collection of toll has rendered transportation and sale of agricultural produce or fish most unprofitable and time-consuming so that the growers in the state are deprived of the right price,” many of the transport owners in the Sittwe Kyauktaw road also complained.

“It is not unusual to find the Burmese Military personnel demanding share of the goods carried for their own consumption at the military checkpoints”, yet another businessman from Sittwe assured. He added that the number of harassment for the payment of illegal toll at these checkpoints are also so widespread that people usually pay the illegal tolls to avoid facing any of the bitter confrontations.

“In a state a little over fifteen-thousand square miles in size the deployment of about sixty battalion Burmese military and the collection of illegal tolls from its over four million Arakanese have left the economy of the state in shambles. Though Arakan has so far boasted of being a rice-producing region of Burma there are reports of pockets of famine especially in northern part of the state because of the wholesale plunder by the Burmese military. And this is done with complete impunity on the part of the perpetrators,” a concerned retired high-ranking government official told our correspondent. #