Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Day 286 - Bago

Oh shit! I have been a naive fool and now I find myself in the middle of a right bloody mess.

Life at the Inn in Yangon was very sociable, a backpacker place and always plenty of people to talk to, but as I have to return here to a flight that only goes twice a week I decided to leave as soon as possible and finish sight seeing on my return. I departed Sunday having changed another $60 to Kyat, so I now have a great wad of cash, something I never like. This is a cash only place for foreingners as traveller's checks and cards are not accepted, so I have to carry enough dollars to see me through and buy a flight out. Once on the road it was easy to find my way past the airport, from from there on I was never quite sure I was on the right road, despite asking people at regular intervals, but it turned out I was on the right road all the time. The road was busy and rough, very wide with the only smooth bit in the middle with effectively a wide potholed hard shoulder, that gets used for undertaking. Soon I came to junction, then a toll gate, so after that the road was almost deserted, but the drivers here are the best I have seen in months, they obey the road rules and drive using their brains and not their horns. I was pretty uneventful riding up to Bago, but stinking hot reaching the low 40's.

As I arrived at Bago a big green hotel stood out, so I went there first. I was shown a room but decided to check a couple of other hotels first, but it was by far the best so I resturned there. I had to show my passport when I checked in and I was helped with baggage to the room. After a nice cool showers I went for a tea and a wander to return just one hour later. Within seconds of entering my room I realised somebody had been in my bag, all my cash had been stolen, about $1200 and 70,000 Kyat, but everything else left totally untouched. I immediately went to reception and reported it, but little seemed to be done about it. Usob, who showed me in went off to find somebody who could speak English, despite the fact he could understand what had happened. I later found out that he is actually a motorcycle taxi driver and nothing to do with the hotel. Sawton, the daytime manager seemed bemused and did nothing. I insisted that they called the police but they wanted me to wait for the English speaker. He still didn't turn up so I started to get even more angry and thrust the phone at them and told them to call the police, but they still refused. After about 5 minutes of continuing to pressure them they at last called the police but handed me the phone, they didn't speak English so I handed it back. The police were on their way and the English speakingg guy turned up, he was know as the Tall Man. He was useless, wanted to talk and refused to listen, trying to tell me that the theif had entered through the window. I am on the 4th floor, which for some reason is the first one with outside windows and there are no ledges, so very unlikely. He insisted it was very easy, but only easy to kill yourself in my opinion. The policeman arrived, in plain clothes and on a scooter. He looked more bemused than everybody else and I was told he was from the wrong police station, so he radioed another one. Eventually two more turned up on a scooter, one wearing plain clothes, the traditional 'skirt' type wrap around worn here, the other wearing a combat waistcoat. At least they showed some interest, listened and took a few notes. I took them up to the room, more notes were taken. Over the next two hours more and more police arrived, in the end about a dozens with only the radios to destinguish them, though some more had combat jackets with US Army labels. Photos were taken and sketches were made, then I was told to take a rest while they went downstairs. About an hour later the night manager, Kyeemaung, came to the room with police and asked if I wanted them to start an inquest. He explained that if one was started people would be arrested, but I suspected if I said no, then the case would be dropped so I agreed. An hour later when I went to reception the place was packed, mainly police, but some very concerned looking staff.

The next morning Kyeemaung knocked at my door and told me that Usob and Sawtun had been arrested. After some discussion I asked to be taken to see them at the police station. When I arrived there Sawtun was in an office with his hands behind his back being questioned and looking very stressed, while Usob was in the cell. The cell was a black wooden cage covered with metal mesh and barbed wire. I saw Usob inside. The cell was wooden with no beds or bedding. No food or water are supplied, but have to be supplied by family and friends, the toilet was a pot in the corner, it was the stuff that nightmares are made of. Sawtun was returned to the cell which had the be crawled into through a very low door, then his hadcuffs were removed. A friend of Usob was there, Myatko, who could speak English. He swore Usob was innocent, Usob was crying and I reached my fingers in through the mesh and he held them, I too was reduced to tears, I held my head in my hands, what a bloody mess! He assured me that he hadn't been ill treated by the police. Myatko wanted to speak to me in private, where he told me that they had both been politcial prisoners having been arrested for protesting against the government when they were students in 1998 and released in 2004. They are both still watched by the authorities who would take any opportunity to re-arrest them. The Tall Man arrived and started to talk, but again he would not listen to anything that I had to say, so I refused to talk to him anymore. Myatko wanted to speak to me away from the police station. At a teashop he said that if I repealed the case then Usob and Sawtun would raise 50% of the missing money themselves, this would mean Usob selling his motorbike and Sawtun taking out a loan. I told him I would not accept that as if they are innocent then they and I are out of pocket while an guilty person has got away with a crime, but if they were guilty then justice should be done. Justice would mean them being in prison over a year until the case came up and if found guilty then a further 7 years in prison. This leaves me with horrible moral dilemmas. The police are not really going to do anymore and have told me nothing, so really it is up to me to decide what happens to these 2 men. If I had been the police with the information I had given them then I would say one or both of them are probably guilty. By taking my passport out in reception I revealed where my cash was, they both knew which room I was in and they both saw me go out. I had taken the key with me and I suspect another key was used to get in. Once in they knew exactly where to look. Out of 5 bags it was the only one opened, not even moved from the spot where I left it. I have also been in touch with the British Embassy who have answered my legal questions but can do little for me, though they said that if they had offered me a deal it is likely the police have the right person and the money, but would be keeping some or all of it for themselves, this a a corrupt society, with a judicial system that falls far short of the west.

This morning I met again with Myatko, there have been no further developments Apparently he has also been arrested, but on a separate case, though I wouldn't be surprised if he is involved, may be he was haned the stolen money, which incidentally is the reason he has been arrested. I still haven't decided who is guilty or what to do, but I tested the waters and said I may be willing to repeal the case for a cash settlement, to which Myatko replied "If you did that they would be willing to return 50% of the money", but he quickly changed his wording. That rather makes me even more suspicious, though it seems crazy that they should steal when they must have known what would happen. I certainly suspect Usob, but I am not sure about Sawtun, he might be totally innocent. I feel very confused and my mind keeps changing about them both. They are now in different police stations and I have visited them both today and taken them some food. Sawtun is now in a bigger cell with about 7 other people, he looks very sad and frightened, but I can not communicate with him as he speaks no English. I also met his wife this morning who looks shell shocked.

Needless to say I am hardly enjoying my time here in Bago, I desperately want out of the place, but I would also like to know the truth and be sure that innocent people are no suffering. To that end I expect to be here for some time. I have a small amount of money that I had in my wallet, and I can make that last some time by eating plain rice and bread and drinking water. I boil tap water when the electricity is on, not very often. So it doesn't cost alot each day especially as I have no intention of paying for the hotel. But I don't like having this moral dilemma and it's difficult to know who I can trust, frankly I trust nobody here at the moment, not even the police. I trusted Myatko, until his choice of words this morning, now I am not so sure.

I want to continue with the tour around Myanmar, to leave now would always leave me with bad memories of the place, the wrong memories, but right now I would be more than happy to leave.


Lorna said...

What a dilemma. You have to think of yourself! It all sounds very suspicious and unfortunate.

S said...

The chances of there being any justice seem very slim so it looks like it would be best to just aim for damage limitation.There is no way you are ever likely to know who exactly is responsible so as Lorna says you need to think of yourself. If you make a deal and drop the charges at least you should end up with some of your money back.

Caff said...

Whatever you do don't blame yourself, hindsight is great, but most of all whatever decision you take, to reiterate what S and Lorna have said, make sure it is a safe one and keep yourself safe. You are in our thoughts and prayers. :-)

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