A sign has recently been posted by the Karen National Union/Karen National Liberation Army – Peace Council (KNU/KNLA-PC) reading “Warning; with the deadline of 22.7. 2014, the rubber plantation owners in Yethakon area must show up at the meeting [with Karen armed group] and if they are not present, there will be no responsibility [from the Karen armed group] if anything happens to the plantations later”; the sign is undersigned by Major Soe Soe of KNU/KNLA-PC and General Latwae of the Karen National Union (KNU).
According to local rubber plantation owner, Ko Myo, a Karen armed group gave Yethakon area plantation owners a deadline of July 22, 2014 to meet with them, and any plantation owners who fail to attend the meeting will have the huts on their plantations burned down. The armed group posted warnings at two locations around Yethakon Village.
On July 18th, Major Soe Soe from the KNU/KNLA-PC and his 15 soldiers organized a meeting at Ko Palophtop’s house, in Yethakon Village, to discuss issues surrounding the areas plantation lands. Notably, not one of the summoned 48 plantation owners was present at the meeting.
“The price of rubber is falling down very much, so, we can barely afford to pay the employees. Last year, General Latwae’s men, namely Ko Thar-nge and Ko Palophtop threatened us that this land, where our rubber plants grow, belongs to them. Then, we have to provide them with 150,000 kyats per acre. Like us, many other rubber plantation owners have to pay for that,” said Daw Haw, a rubber plantation owner.
The majority of rubber plantation owners whose land is located in and around Yethakon Village are of Mon nationality, and have thus submitted a request for help to the New Mon State Party (NMSP).
“To help those rubber plantation owners from Yethakon Village, we approached the Karen Peace Front (KPF), the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), and the Karen Sayarday (senior monks), asking their views on this matter. They do not accept this. So, for our party, we continue to negotiate this matter within [the] peace framework,” said Captain Myo Htoy of NMSP’s Thanbyuzayat Township office.
During the 1992-93 ceasefire between the former SPDC government and KNU, Yethakon Village was founded under the administration of former Major-General Thura Thiha Thura Sitt Maung, and houses were provided for General Latwae and his soldiers. The State granted permits for about 800 acres of vacant land, and other nearby lands, to the General and his soldiers for 100 kyats per acre, in accordance with the law.
Around 1996, Gen. Latwae was jailed due to criminal violations, and the 800 acres of land were taken over by the No. 5 Military Intelligence Unit, and sold to local people. Although all of the land was sold to local villagers, the Land Record Department still retained Gen. Latwae as the official owner.
In 1999, Gen Latwae escaped from Moulmein Prison, and has since lived around Yethakon Village, where he and his men regularly extort money from local rubber plantation owners.
According to recorded event documents that IMNA has received, Yethakon rubber plantation owners who maintain that their plantations have been passed from their great grandparents or grandparents regularly face extortion, arrest, and other threats by some armed groups active in the area.