DVB Multimedia Group

Shan state officials extort money from local villagers

Jan 21, 2009 (DVB), Residents of Keng Tung township and the border town of Tachilek in Shan state have complained that officials have been extorting money from villagers and local traders.

Thet Saing, chairperson of Ban Saung village authority in Keng Tung township, forcibly collected 2000 kyat from each household to cover the travel expenses of authority members when they go to meetings, a local villager said.

"Although people are feeling aggrieved by it, they don’t know where to report it and even if they did, nothing would come of it," the villager said.

"It’s occurring all over Keng Tung township except in the wards in town."

In nearby Tachileik, border trade officials led by Htay Htay have been collecting an unofficial toll from traders taking goods across the border into Thailand.

A local villager said the officials were demanding money not only from people smuggling banned goods across the border but also from villagers who cross the No. 1 Friendship Bridge to sell permitted vegetables in Mae Sai.

"They collect 10, 20, 30 baht from the bullock carts but it is not official," the villager said.

"You have to pay them for vegetables too or they won’t let you through and they send you away if you don't."

A regular fruit and vegetable seller said the extortion made it difficult for local people to make any profit.

"On a good day, we make about 100 baht and we have to pay them 50," he said.

"But even on days when we don't make any profit, we still have to pay them."

Local residents complained that officials are illegally collecting money from local people, but no action has been taken against border trade committee official Bo Lay, who has been smuggling banned goods in a state-owned car.

Reporting by Htet Yazar