Myanmar authorities have requested that Chinese officials release migrants who legally crossed the border but were arrested and told they must pay to be set free, a local Myanmar district administrator said Monday.
Myanmar authorities sent a letter on Nov. 4 to the Foreign Affairs Department in the Shweli border district, informing officials that Chinese police have asked the group of migrants to pay 140,000-180,000 kyats (U.S. $109-$141) each for their release, said Kyaw Kyaw Tun, district administrator of Muse.
The small town in northern Myanmar’s Shan state sits on the banks of the Shweli River and serves as the main border gateway between Myanmar and Ruili in southwestern China’s Yunnan Province. Muse is known for corruption, drug addicts, narcotics and human traffickers, armed ethnic groups, and a thriving black market in yaba pills and opium, rosewood, jade and gems, according to a January 2016 report by Nikkei Asian Review.
The letter noted that Myanmar citizens are permitted to travel in the Myanmar-China border area with temporary passes under an agreement between the two countries, he said.
“Some stayed in China over the permitted time length, and some were arrested because they didn’t have proper documents,” Kyaw Tun said of the men being held. “Some were arrested because they committed crimes, but there are some who haven’t committed crimes and have been arrested.”
“If we know that Myanmar citizens who haven’t committed any crimes have been arrested, we ask the Chinese authorities to release them,” he said.
Punished, then released
Usually when Myanmar citizens commit crimes or are involved in drug cases just over the border in China, authorities there arrest and punish them, but they later release them, Kyaw Tun said.
“Whenever we hear that Myanmar citizens have been arrested, we ask the Chinese authorities to review their cases and release them if they haven’t committed any crimes and have not been involved with drugs,” he said.
It is unknown how many Myanmar migrants are being held until they pay the requested money to Chinese authorities, he said.
About 5,000 to 10,000 people from both countries cross the border every day, he said.
Local officials say more than 80 percent of the agricultural products, raw materials, and jade that Myanmar exports overland to China travels via the town of Lashio in Shan state to Muse and then on to Ruili, where the goods are repackaged once over the border and sold on at a premium, according to the Nikkei Asian Review.
In return, Myanmar imports mainly machinery, construction equipment and electronics, the report said.
The Muse government and a Mandalay-based construction company are working on a development project to turn Muse into the “biggest border trade zone in the country,” the report said, citing project director Ngwe Soe.
The six-phase project will include commercial zones, condominiums, office towers, a jade market for finished products, 300 luxury villas, three hotels, supermarkets, police and fire stations, and a Shan ethnic village, it said.
Reported by Zarni Htun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.