Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Rubber plantation owners in Yethakon area threatened by Karen armed group

July 23, Independent Mon News Agency
Rubber plantation owners from Yethakon Village and nearby villages in Mon State’s Thanbyuzayat Township were summoned to meet with a Karen armed group to discuss issues relating to ownership of their land.

According to Ko Myo, a local rubber plantation owner, a Karen armed group set July 22nd as the deadline for Yethakon-area plantation owners to meet with them, and any plantation owners who failed to attend the meeting would have their plantation huts burned down. The armed group notified plantation owners of their demands by posting signs at two locations around Yethakon Village.

One sign posted by the Karen National Union/Karen National Liberation Army – Peace Council (KNU/KNLA-PC) said: “Warning: rubber plantation owners in Yethakon area must attend a meeting [with the Karen armed group] by 22.7.2014, and if they are not present there will be no responsibility [from the Karen armed group] if anything later happens to the plantations.” The notice was signed by KNU/KNLA-PC Major Soe Soe and KNU General Latwae.

Major Soe Soe and 15 of his soldiers then organized a meeting on July 18th in Yethakon Village at the house of Ko Palophtop, a soldier in General Latwae’s unit, to discuss these issues. However, not one of the summoned 48 plantation owners was present at the meeting.

“The price of rubber is falling down so much, so, we can barely afford to pay our employees. Last year, General Latwae’s men—namely Ko Thar-nge and Ko Palophtop—said that this land where our rubber plants grow belongs to them. Then they demanded that we pay them 150,000 kyats per acre of land. Like us, many other rubber plantation owners have had to pay them,” said Daw Haw, a local rubber plantation owner.

The majority of rubber plantation owners whose land is located in and around Yethakon Village are of Mon nationality, so they submitted a request for help to the New Mon State Party (NMSP).

In response, Captain Myo Htoy of NMSP’s Thanbyuzayat Township office said that the NMSP “approached the Karen Peace Front (KPF), the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), and the Karen Sayarday (senior monks) to ask for their opinions. They all disagreed with the actions of Major Soe Soe and General Latwae, so we are continuing to negotiate this matter within [the] peace framework.”

During the 1992-93 ceasefire between the former SPDC government and the KNU, Yethakon Village was founded under the administration of former Major-General Thura Thiha Thura Sitt Maung. As part of the ceasefire deal, houses were provided for General Latwae and his soldiers in the village. The SPDC government also granted ownership permits for about 800 acres of vacant land and other nearby land to the General and his soldiers for 100 kyats per acre in accordance with a law in effect at the time.

However, Gen. Latwae was jailed around 1996 for criminal violations and the 800 acres of land were taken over by Burma’s 5th Military Intelligence Unit and then sold to local people. Although all the land was sold to local villagers, records at the Land Record Department still show that Gen. Latwae is the official owner.

As a result, ever since Gen. Latwae escaped from Moulmein Prison in 1999 he continued to live around Yethakon Village and extort money from local rubber plantation owners with help from his soldiers.

According to documents obtained by IMNA, Yethakon rubber plantation owners who maintain that their plantations have been inherited from their ancestors regularly face extortion, arrest, and other threats from armed groups operating in the area.