Thursday, June 11, 2009

Villagers doubt protection by Mon ceasefire party, prepare to pay new insurgent group – or flee

By Asah and Blai Mon

(Mon News) -A new insurgent group has demanded payments from villagers in territory controlled by Mon cease-fire party. Doubting the party’s ability to protect them, residents say they feel compelled to flee or make them payment.

Over the last week, residents of Brigade No. 3 village in territory controlled by the New Mon State Party (NMSP) say they have been forced to weigh their reluctance to make payments demanded by Mon insurgents against questions about whether the NMSP can effectively protect them.

Last week, a new Mon insurgent group calling itself by the name “Rehmonnya” ordered residents of Brigade No. 3 village to pay 100,000 baht. A few days earlier, on June 3rd, 10 armed men from group had entered the village and kidnapped two retired village headmen. According to local sources as well as contacts in the NMSP, the two men were only freed after their families paid a ransom of 50,000 baht.

Many villagers feel compelled to pay, though Brigade No. 3 of the the Mon National Liberation Army (MNLA), the NMSP’s armed wing, sits less than a mile away. MNLA reinforcements recently arrived as well, and the village is now guarded by a rotation of 15 MNLA soldiers.

“Some houses do not want to pay, but they have to pay. Even though the NMSP will guard the village, if any house does not pay Nai Khin Maung [the man from Rehmonnya who issued the taxation order] says, ‘if you don’t pay, I will get the money any way I can get it,’” a villager told IMNA. “I cannot say what he will do because it is not that time yet, but we are afraid.”

On June 8th, the headman of Brigade No. 3 village called a morning meeting to discuss how the payment would be made. About 30 villagers attended. The deadline for payment is tomorrow.

“We didn’t call the whole villages, we only called villagers who we know have enough money,” said a source close to the village headman. “If the villagers can, they have to pay 2,000 baht. Others only have to pay 1,000 baht – we won’t force them.”

Another villager present at the meeting quoted in a recent report by the Human Rights Foundation of Monland, however, said that the headman relayed what appeared to be a thinly veiled threat from Nai Khin Maung: “Villagers who don’t want to give the annual payment, write down their name and give it to us [Rehmonnya]. We will come and we will collect it ourselves.”

As the payment deadline looms, local residents say that over the last few days they have been afraid to travel to their farms or plantations for fear that they be kidnapped and held ransom.

“Now, after this order, how will we pay 2,000 baht? We work the whole day, but we can never make that,” said another villager, who went on to explain the painful irony of his situation: even if he could earn the money to pay the insurgents, the very presence of the insurgents makes him afraid to travel to his worksite where he earns his income. “At this time, we usually collect bamboo shoots from the mountain, but now we are afraid their group will kidnap again.”

Other villagers describe having to borrow money, portending quickly rising interest and the specters of vicious cycles of debt. Still others said their neighbors had left the village entirely, some selling their homes and others simply to wait out Rehmonnya.

“In our house, we have to pay 2,000 baht – at the present 25 houses have to pay,” said another resident. “Some houses which can’t pay the money, they were afraid and left to avoid this. Some people, they put up notices to sell their homes.”

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