YANGON — The Kachin Independence Organization/Kachin Independence Army (KIO/KIA) has reportedly sent extortion letters to 21 private and boarding schools in northern Shan State’s Muse Township.
Private schools that received the letter told The Irrawaddy that they arrived on Tuesday.
The letter bore the seal of the KIO/KIA and was reportedly sent out by the taxation section of the KIA’s 9th Battalion in Kutkai District.
“The letter was not directly sent to our school. But all the 21 letters were sent to a school, and it was asked to send letters to other schools,” said a teacher who asked not to be named.
The letter asked the school owners to pay taxes for the 2017-18 fiscal year at the battalion’s taxation section by June 15.
Nine of the schools were asked to pay 1.5 million kyats ($1,106) each. Another 11 were asked to pay 1 million kyats each, and a kindergarten was asked to pay 900,000 kyats.
“This is not extortion, but annual taxation as usual,” the letter said.
Police Lieutenant Colonel San Win, of the Shan State police force, said private schools have reported the letters to the police.
“I don’t know if they paid the money. This is the first time I heard that they asked for money from schools. You might have heard reports of them asking for money from industrial zones, bus service providers and banks. It is not unusual,” he said.
The Commander-in-Chief’s Office of the Myanmar Army also reported the letters on Thursday. It said a man arrived by motorbike at the Galaxy private school on Tuesday evening and handed over letters addressed to the 21 schools.
The Irrawaddy called the phone number provided in the letter. The person who answered said he was with the KIA’s 9th Battalion and that the money had to be paid at an office in Ruili, a city in China’s Yunnan Province that sits just across the border from Myanmar. When asked about the requested taxes, he said he was not authorized to answer and that his supervisors were not in the office.
Colonel Naw Bu, information officer for the KIO/KIA, did not deny the KIA collects taxes from businesses, but he said he did not know about the letters sent to the schools in Muse.
“I didn’t see those letters, and I have gotten no report about them. So I can neither confirm nor deny that those letters were sent by us. But according to our policy, we always do it,” he said, referring to collecting taxes from businesses.
The KIO regularly collects taxes from businesses in Muse — based on their size — because the township is under the control of its 9th Battalion.
Col. Naw Bu declined to comment about the total amount of tax it collects per year or about its tax rates.
Other armed ethnic groups collect taxes in northern Shan State as well.
The KIA also levies taxes in Kachin State for their “revolutionary fund” and occasionally collects tolls along some of the state’s roads.
Most businesses do not bother to file complaints with police or other authorities and pay the taxes.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.