- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 3, 2007

Getting reimbursed

We work a lot with freelance correspondents overseas, who are normally paid by the story upon publication. Making their lives just a bit tougher, we generally decline to reimburse expenses unless we have approved them in advance.

This is not meanness on our part. We have to work within a budget, and there is no way to manage that budget if 40 to 50 freelancers around the world are out there spending our money without checking with us first.

But rules are made to be broken, and occasionally we receive an appeal for reimbursement that is just too compelling to reject.

That was the case with the writer of the story on yesterday’s Briefing Page — a particularly compelling story about Burmese health care workers who live in Indian border states and disguise themselves as traders to sneak across the border into Burma — in order to minister to the sick.

Burma now calls itself Myanmar and, though this newspaper continues to call it Burma, the writer uses both names interchangeably in his note. His identity is disguised here for his protection, just as it was in yesterday’s article:

“I spent two days in Sagaing division and all six men, whom I hired in Burma as private security guards for protection. I found out later they were separatist rebels,” said the e-mail, in which the writer asked to be reimbursed for about $175 in unanticipated expenses. “While I was working on my story in Myanmar, I was afraid of being intercepted by Burmese military police and intelligence agents, who are well known for routine harassment of journalists.”

“These Indian tribal Kuki guerrillas and their Burmese tribal wives and girlfriends helped me in [Burma]. They said, using their force, they could free me from the Burmese agents and take me across the border to India, if needed in an emergency.

“I paid 8,000 rupees (about $179) for my security to those rebels through a Manipuri friend. The Manipuri friend gave me a receipt in which it is written that the payment was made for ‘guiding and vehicle assistance for three days in Chandel district of Manipur.’ …

“For two days the rebels (two of them were Burmese rebels — yes, the Indian and Burmese rebels camp and train and stay together in Myanmar) provided security to me inside Myanmar and for one day they were with me in the Indian border town of Moreh.”

Tamil trader

The writer also asked for another $55 and explained that there might be a small problem about the receipt:

“To a Burmese woman (girlfriend of one rebel) I separately paid 2,500 rupees for her services. She secretly carried my camera to the places where I took pictures of HIV and AIDS victims in Sagaing. I stayed for two nights in her house.

“Once in Namphalong village (in Tamu, Myanmar) two security agents asked the village chief who I was. That woman introduced me as an Indian Tamil trader. (Tamils are the leading businessmen in this part of Burma.) Also she hinted to the Burmese agents that I was in love with her and planning to marry her.

“The agents overlooked my presence in Namphalong and I was impressed by the woman’s intelligence. I happily gave her 2,500 rupees ($55). She gave me a receipt for that payment (Received Rs. 2,500 from paying guest).

“The rebels got an Indian driving license of [name deleted] and replaced that Tamil man’s photo with mine. I carried that fake driving license with me. When the Burmese agents inquired about me, my host showed them that driving license and introduced me by that name.

“On this Rupees 2,500 receipt, payment was received from this fictitious name. Can you not arrange to reimburse this payment?”

We like to think of ourselves as tough-minded, but we are not cruel or unfeeling. The accounting department may protest, but we will see that this reporter gets his money back.

David W. Jones is the foreign editor of The Washington Times. His e-mail address is djones@washingtontimes.com.

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