Hundreds of Shan State Villagers Call on Tatmadaw to Release Their Headman

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The village administrator from Kyaukme is charged with violating Article 17(1) of the Unlawful Associations Act.

Photo Credit to Sai Myint Bo

More than 500 people added their signatures to a statement calling for the release of a village headman from military custody in northern Shan State charged with violating Article 17(1) of Burma’s Unlawful Associations Act.

Fifty-six-year-old Sai Tin Cho, the village administrator for Nam Hu Tawng, was arrested by Burma Army soldiers on April 26 and transferred to a Kyaukme police station on May 9, where he remains. He was accused of collecting taxes in Kyaukme Township for the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and Shan State Progress Party (SSPP).

“Even though he has been detained for over one month, he has yet to face trial in court. The Tatmadaw is suing him,” Sai Myint Bo, the brother of Sai Tin Cho, told SHAN. “We have collected the signatures of 570 local people for the release of my brother. We will send this petition to the respective authorities,” he explained.

Sai Myint Bo said the petition would be delivered to State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, military Commander-in-Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, and the commanders of both the Tatmadaw’s Northeastern Command and Light Infantry Battalion 502, which is based in Kyaukme.

The Office of the Commander-in-Chief reported that the Burma Army had arrested Sai Tin Cho after finding him in possession of 1.5 million kyats (US$983) and allegedly incriminating documents. The military also accused him of working for Shan armed groups as a tax collection and administration officer.

In the villagers’ petition, they state that village headmen are in a difficult position in conflict areas.

Photo Credit to Sai Myint Bo

“He wouldn’t try to contact armed groups,” Sai Myint Bo said of Sai Tin Cho. “They come and contact village headmen. In Shan State, civilians or village headmen cannot run away if armed groups try to contact them. We cannot oppose them.”

Sai Tin Cho became the Nam Hu Tawng village headman in 2013. Even though he repeatedly asked for permission to resign from the position, he continued to hold it when requested by other villagers to remain as the administrator.

Locals told SHAN is not uncommon for villagers to be reluctant to hold the role of village administrator in these conflict areas, because those in the position often have to communicate with both the Burma Army and ethnic armed organizations, putting them at risk for arrest.

“Our village headman is a good person. We cannot reject armed groups if they ask for assistance. Both regular civilians and village headmen are trying to live within this balance. I don’t think he is guilty, so I want to call for his release,” a Nam Hu Tawng resident said.

Villagers are also calling on respective civil society organizations and political parties in Shan State to join their calls for Sai Tin Cho’s release. They point out that Article 17(1) is being used to link civilians to armed organizations—an obstacle to building peace in Burma. The law dates back to a colonial-era statute that punishes people for being members of or associating with so-called “unlawful associations.” Convictions result in prison sentences of three years.

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