A Burmese army captain was killed on Saturday when a gunfight broke out between two factions of soldiers that were trying to extort money from Thai fishermen in waters near Kawthaung Township in southern Burma.
The exchange of gunfire happened when two separate groups of Burmese soldiers from Light Infantry Battalion 267, based in Tavoy in Tenasserim Division, clashed while tackling Thai fishermen who were operating illegally in Burmese territorial waters.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Thursday, a Burmese fisherman in Kawthaung said that the captain was killed at 1 a.m. On Aug. 14 after an altercation between the two factions, which were from the same battalion. Apparently, the captain and his men attempted to prevent the other faction from extorting money from the fishermen who had been caught fishing illegally.
“They [the first faction] arrested the Thai fishermen and started demanding money,” the fisherman said. “They confiscated all manner of fishing equipment and threatened to detain the fishermen.”
“Then the other army faction arrived on the scene,” he said. “The captain and his soldiers ordered the other group to release the fishermen and their boat and equipment.” The first group refused and gunfire broke out, he said.
The source also said that the captain’s group had previously extorted money from the fishermen and regularly patrolled the waters seeking to take bribes from Thai fishermen.
The source said that there are two or three groups of Burmese soldiers that routinely extort money from Thai fishing boats in the area. In general, he said, each fishing boat has to pay a bribe of 20,000 baht [US $633] and two tanks of gasoline every month if they are caught fishing in Burmese waters.
Many of the fishing boats can only afford to pay one faction of the Burmese army but not all, which means they can be arrested and harassed by the other factions at any time.
Kawthaung, located at Burma’s far southern border, is one of the major border points where Burmese migrants cross over to Ranong to look for work in Thailand or to travel to Malaysia