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Future of community events unclear after increased government scrutiny

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BY  Jaloon Htaw and Yin Mon :Increased inquiry by Burmese government administration members at community festivals and events, intended to curb political discussion, has prompted communities to freeze all community events for fear of government suspicion.

Yesterdays “Farmer Day” passed without event as residents of Chaungzone Township chose to simply closed schools and work, and stay at home. After increased visits by members of the Township Peace and Development Council (TPDC) to villagers, residents are have reported being afraid to talk about politics or any unusual events.

While villagers have refusing to explain the details of the conversations, in short TPDC members have inquired about residents political activity. According to villager from Chaungzone Township, Mon State, a TPDC member asked him which residents had been gathering in groups and had been wearing traditional Mon ethnic dress.

The most recent catalyst was during the Burmese Independence Day on January 4th, when an organizer of sports events was called and detained for questioning in TPDC offices in Chouzone town.

Due to residents increased fear about speaking about political topics, IMNA was unable to learn what exactly the organizer had been detained for.

However one female resident explained, “We might not make any activity [any more]. We don’t talk about politics – [If I do] they will arrest me. During Burmese Independence Day, the village was making a spots day with races at that time, [and members of the] State Peace and Development Council came and arrested the leader who set up the sports. And [now its] also the same for Burma farmer day – all residents were quiet yesterday.”

In comparison, a villager from Mudon township explained villages are free from such orders because of the presence of a New Mon State Party (NMSP) Township office, as it is in NMSP controlled territory, and the lacks Burmese controlled village militias.

A resident of Mudon Township, in an undisclosed village, said, “They can’t prevent celebrations in our village because it has a Mon Township office administered by the NMSP and also our village has Mon soldiers. So, no, they don’t prevent us really.”

According to the secretary of the Mon National Democratic Front, (MNDF) Doctor Min Soe Lin, residents are often under surveillance by members of the SPDC, TPDC and The Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), all of which have members in every village. Thus, residents who show an interest in political issues are scared to discuss their thoughts, for fear of attracting attention of this grass roots surveillance network.

The USDA is a government organized non-governmental organization. The USDA insists that it is a social welfare organization and network, but members have been widely accused by human rights groups of acting as un-official militia or intimidation groups under SPDC command.

In late May 2009, authorities from the SPDC held a covert meeting to order teashop and restaurant owners that they must gather the names of patrons who talk about politics while at their shops and report them to the authorities. While no guarantee was given that they must do this, shop owners were warned they would be punished if they were caught failing to report offending patrons’ names.

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