YANGON—The Arakan Army (AA) is planning to levy “taxes” on infrastructure projects and other businesses in areas of Rakhine and Chin states under its control, including the India-backed Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transportation Project, worth an estimated US$480 million (722.25 billion kyats), according to AA chief Major General Tun Myat Naing.
He told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the ethnic armed organization (EAO) would start collecting money from the operators of large-scale projects, but did not say whether small and medium-sized businesses would also be taxed.
He said the taxes would be imposed from next year, as the group is currently compiling lists of the projects and businesses operating in those parts of Rakhine State and Chin State’s Paletwa Township where AA troops are present, and is in the process of deciding how much they will be required to pay.
Maungdaw Border Traders Association chairman U Aung Myint Thein told The Irrawaddy he was unaware of the AA’s plan.
Daw Toe Nandar Tin, vice chairwoman of the Myanmar Fishery Federation, said businesspeople from other parts of Myanmar do not invest in Rakhine’s fishery sector, due to the conflict there.
Maj-Gen Tun Myat Naing said projects and companies that fail to pay would not be allowed to do business in the area, and threatened to destroy them.
He said the operators of the Kaladan project, which was initiated jointly by India and Myanmar, had failed to acknowledge the group’s authority in the region, and that the AA planned to collect taxes as a way of asserting itself.
The AA chief said, “We are planning to send letters to the Indian Embassy and Indian companies. They can carry out their work, but they must inform us of their plans. And they must avoid engaging in any activities that resemble military operations. If they are only undertaking projects, they need to make sure they look like projects.”
If they intend to implement any projects in Rakhine State, the AA chief insisted, “They must negotiate with us with respect.”
He said the AA would support those projects whose owners informed the group in advance of their travel plans within the region. “If they don’t inform us, we will make them,” he said, “for security reasons.”
The AA earlier warned transportation companies, both road- and waterway-based, to inform the group of their movements to avoid “unnecessary consequences” in zones where it is fighting the Myanmar military.
In early November, an Indian man died in AA custody after being abducted along with nine others, including several Indians, who were working on the Kaladan project. The group was abducted from two boats traveling from Paletwa to Kyauktaw, Rakhine State, on Nov. 3.
AA spokesman Khaing Thukha told The Irrawaddy at the time that the armed group had not specifically targeted the Indian civilians for detention, adding that the men were detained in the course of regular AA checks on boats and speedboats for security reasons.
On March 30, the AA arrested 13 employees of the Hsu Htoo San Construction company, accusing them of affiliation with the Myanmar military. The Myanmar company works with the Kaladan project, which aims to link western Myanmar and eastern India via multiple routes. The AA later released five of the 13, including two women, but accused the rest of working undercover for the Myanmar military and detained them for five months, until they were released on Aug. 18.
On March 16, the AA fired missiles at the Yadana Win vessel in Paletwa. The vessel was carrying steel trusses for use in the Kaladan project. The attack resulted in losses to the project of 1.072 billion kyats.
Maj-Gen Tun Myat Naing promised the group would not engage in clashes near the China-Myanmar Crude Oil and Gas Pipelines, or the planned Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone and Belt and Road Initiative projects, because Beijing acknowledged the existence of the AA.
“Sometimes China puts pressure on us in order to maintain stability at its border. That’s reasonable. We are fighting the Myanmar military at home. But at the same time we have to maintain good ties with our neighbor, which is much more powerful than we are.”
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko
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