Villagers in the Kawkareik Township area claim the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army and its political wing the Klohtoobaw Karen Organization is taxing boat travelers using the Haung Tha Raw River.
A resident (who did not want to be named for security concerns) told Karen News.
“At the KKO-DKBA checkpoints they are charging money – 10,000kyat (about US $10) a round boat trip. There is also another checkpoint manned by the Border Guard Force, Burma Army and the DKBA that asks travelers to pay 6,000kyat.”
A local source said that there is as many as 20 passenger boats using the Haung Tha Yaw River and that they have to pay money to six checkpoints.
During the monsoon season from late April to early October, people living in the villages in the Kawkareik Township area depend on using the river for travel, as vehicle roads are unavailable due to the heavy rains. Villagers need to travel to take their crops such as durian and betel nuts to sell in Kawkareik Town and to buy goods to take back to their villages.
A villager from Taung Kya Inn village in the Kawkareik Township area spoke to Karen News.
“Normally, we only get a small profit from our trading. Now that we have to pay extra at the checkpoints it really hurts us financially. We don’t know whom we can send our complaints about the issue to. We hope they remove the tax gates on the river.”
As well as extorting money from travelers using the river, villagers allege that the DKBA’s Klo Htoo Lar checkpoint gate in the Tayat Taw area is demanding money be paid on a yearly basis – 70,000kyat for
each boat. Boats are not allowed to use the waterway if they have not paid DKBA’s tax.
Responding to the villager’s accusations, Saw Gon Aung, secretary of KKO told Karen News.
“We used to collect tax previously, but since July 19, we ordered our commanders not to collect this money and they have stopped. If there are still collecting money, we want civilians to inform us with the details – to record the battalion number and the commander’s name.”
A villager also complained that the Karen National Union is also taxing people using the river.
“The KNU only have one gate along the river and are collecting a maximum of 2,000kyat and if there are no goods on the boats, we can explain to them [KNU] not to collect money from us.”