Sittwe: Arakanese fishermen said they want Burmese navy to step up security in the sea off the Arakan coast as the situation in the sea is still unstable due to the communal violence that took place last June and October in the region.
They however worry that the increase of naval vessels will cost them more atrocities and forcible taxation in the sea.
“We want the Burmese navy to step up its security in the sea because it is still unreliable to fish in the sea. But we fear that we will suffer from more atrocities and forcible taxation if it deploys more ships in the sea. We are now in great trouble to earn our livelihood because of both the security situation and security forces in the sea”, said a fisherman from regional capital Sittwe on condition of anonymity.
The naval ships being deployed for maintaining security in the sea off Arakan State are said to have been forcibly collecting whatever they want that include fuel, fish, food and alcoholic drinks besides regular toll taxes from the fishing boats.
“The forces of the naval ship being deployed at the mouth of Kaladan River collected 1 lakh kyat from a boat for each fishing trip to the sea during the reign of the former military government. Now during the reign of the U Thein Sein-led government, it has increased their toll-tax to 2 lakh kyat. They also take three big fish and fuel oil from the boat returning from the sea and order the fishermen to bring food, beer and rum for them on their next trip. If the fishermen refuse or forget to pay whatever they ask for, they will beat them or disturb their fishing trips”, said the fisherman.
He said a fishing boat from Sittwe can set out to sea to fish once or twice a month depending on the weather and availability of fish in the sea and the fishermen are now unable to make any profit because they cannot go far in the sea due to their security concerns and because of the heavy tolls being collected by the naval ships.
A fisherman from Pauktaw also said they are suffering from similar atrocities and toll-taxes being perpetrated by the naval ships deployed along the coast off their township.
“The naval ships here collected 50,000 kyat from a fishing-boat before. They have now doubled their tolls and also collected fishes from our boats. We don’t like to pay them, but we have to. We are just people earning our livelihood by small fishing boats in the broad sea and are now facing the ruin of our livelihood”, said the fisherman.
According to local residents, the Burmese naval ships being deployed on the coast and riverine routes in Arakan State have been operating like toll-gates rather than undertaking security in the region. They have been collecting forcible toll-taxes not only from the fishing-boats, but also from the passenger and cargo-boats sailing on the riverine itineraries across the region.
They said they expected that such unlawful activities being perpetrated by the forces in their region would disappear with the coming of the new civilian government, but they have to pay more forcible toll-taxes to the forces under the reign of the civilian government than the former military government.
They also said they have reported the matter of forcible taxation by the forces to the regional government as well as to the central government themselves and through their elected lawmakers, but the forces seem to be unruly and both governments are still unable to stop the forcible taxation in their region.
Most of the Arakanese people have seen such perpetrations by the Burmese forces as oppression and racial discrimination against them.
An Arakanese politician from Sittwe criticized the Government, claiming it is apparent the Burmese government and its forces still regard Arakan State as one of their imperial regions rather than a state in the Union of Burma.