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Cablegate: Burma's Inflation Fuels a Rise in Crime

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

101126Z Nov 05

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 RANGOON 001293

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, DS/IP/ITA; PACOM FOR FPA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV ASEC CASC ECON BM
SUBJECT: BURMA'S INFLATION FUELS A RISE IN CRIME

REF: RANGOON 1203

1. (U) Summary: With unusual candor, the Director General of
the Burma police acknowledged the existence of serious crime
in Rangoon on October 23 and described a new campaign to
combat it. The recent crime wave coincides with a 750%
increase in petrol prices, which caused further inflation in
consumer goods and bus fares. The price increases have made
traveling to work and feeding families much more difficult
for Burma's silent majority. Rangoon residents have begun
taking greater security precautions to fight increased petty
crime and robbery. End Summary.

POLICE ACKNOWLEDGE A PROBLEM
----------------------------
2. (U) In an unusual official acknowledgment of a serious
problem at a stage-managed "press conference" on October 28,
Brigadier General Khin Yi, Director General of the Burma
police force (a branch of the military), responded to
questions about the perceived increase in serious and petty
crime in Rangoon. He stated that there were "eighty-three
serious crimes" in Rangoon from May through August (before
the recent increase), compared with ninety-three from January
through April 2005. He also claimed the police are pursuing
the attacker of three women found murdered in their Rangoon
home in September. The police are promoting "Crime-Free
Weeks" in different parts of the city, and will conduct
surveys in crime-prone areas.

3. (U) Economic hardship may be the most likely reason for
the jump in the crime rate. Food and transportation prices
have increased significantly over the past two months
(Reftel). The cost of the basket of staple goods used by
typical low-income families rose 5.9% from September to
October, according to Embassy research. Rice prices have
increased 8% since September, and 14% since July. The prices
of some essential items, such as fish, beans, onions and
toothpaste, rose as much as 50% during October. A sudden
100-500% hike in bus fares has forced many workers to stay at
home or work on reduced schedules. The Planning Department
of the Ministry of National Planning and Economic Development
provides a K.200 (about $.16) transportation subsidy per day
to its employees, which has helped ameliorate the impact on
those employees. Yet they are the only ones we have heard
getting any increase.

EVERYONE IS AFFECTED
--------------------
4. (U) Sources in contact with the police report that the
increased burglaries and robberies have not been accurately
reflected in official police statistics. In a city of over
six million that enjoyed a generally low crime rate, recent
incidents have made some Rangoon residents take unusual (for
them) new security precautions, including locking all doors,
not traveling alone and not staying home alone at night.
Taxi drivers now refuse to bring passengers to some
neighborhoods after dark.

5. (SBU) The United Nations (UN) Security Officer reported an
increase in robberies among UN personnel in Rangoon. RSO
police contacts in Mandalay told Emboff that the GOB recently
added more tourist police in the city in response to a surge
in crimes reported by Western tourists.

COMMENT: POLICE CANDOR IN A POLICE STATE
----------------------------------------
6. (SBU) Comment: In a "shoot the messenger" police state
like Burma, few willingly report or confirm bad news. The
fact that a senior police official revealed the existence of
a problem and actions taken in response constitutes official
confirmation that the public has reason to take precautions.
At his "press conference", the DG neglected to include
statistics on Rangoon crime rates for September and October,
after the fuel price increase and other inflation began to
hit home. Other factors contributing to inaccurate reporting
are inefficient collection methods and the fact that many
victims avoid contact with the authorities. The crime
situation now has reached a level where the police feel
compelled to respond to public concerns, a very unusual
display of public accountability in Burma. End comment.
VILLAROSA

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