Tired of being taxed by soldiers, and seeing little headway after petitioning state politicians, Kachin State residents are taking up the issue of a graft-riddled checkpoint themselves.
The residents of Nyaung Taw Village in Namti say the local Tatmadaw checkpoint is used to extort money, seize possessions and in numerous other ways harass the civilian population.
“They ask for a recommendation letter. They collect K5,000 for each motorcycle if [the drivers] don’t have a recommendation letter. Motor vehicles are charged K15,000. This is an inconvenience for us since we have to commute regularly,” said Phan Latt, a rickshaw driver.
The villagers say the checkpoint was established on the road toward Ka Sone Village on August 11. Ever since, they have appealed to the local authorities to mediate with the Tatmadaw and take the derided checkpoint down. But the efforts have been to no avail. Local religious leaders tried requesting the state chief minister to intervene, and letters to the head of the Northern Command went unanswered.
In an attempt to show the unified local opposition, a total of 224 local residents signed a joint petition and re-submitted their request to the Northern Command.
“This military checkpoint causes difficulties for local residents who have to go to work every day. There are times when they seize packets of rice … and national registration cards. When we bring agricultural machines [through] they seize them and demand money to collect them. We feel unsafe while we work due to the existence of this checkpoint so we are demanding [the Tatmadaw] to remove it,” said Zaw Jat, a local farmers leader.
Lamai Gum Ja, a spokesperson of the Kachin Peace-talk Creation Group which negotiates between the Tatmadaw and local residents, confirmed that the petition has been received, but said nothing has been planned in response.
“We have only received a copy of [the letter] concerning this issue. We haven’t been summoned to discuss the issue,” he said.