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The government of Tenasserim Division ordered the Karen National Union (KNU) to stop letting their police force collect “taxes” from locals in Tavoy [Dawei] district and to keep its armed forces in check.
In a confidential letter sent to the KNU on 4 June, the divisional government said that the newly established Karen National Police Force (KNPF) has been “unofficially” assuming responsibilities — such as collecting taxes — in the Myeik-Tavoy district, which is under the authority of the divisional government. The divisional government demanded that the KNPF be disbanded as it could lead to confusion among locals and be detrimental to the region’s stability.
The letter also instructed the KNU to control its armed forces in the area — such as the Karen National Liberation Army’s (KNLA) 4th Brigade – to prevent them from assuming government duties.
“We have to reach out to the KNU as their members have been collecting money in local villages and wearing armbands that read ‘police’, which could be confused with the divisional government’s officials,” said Tin Thein, the secretary of the Tenasserim Division who had signed the 4 June letter to the KNU.
Myeik-Tavoy district – referred to simply as Tavoy by the divisional government — was the site of fierce fighting in the past between the Burmese Army and the KNU, who say it falls under their armed group’s 4th Brigade. Since the KNU came to a ceasefire agreement with the government in 2012, the KNU has been operating in the area in an official capacity.
The KNU’s regional chairman Pado Bee Leh defended the KNPF’s tax collection, saying that it is in accordance with their own regulations, and that these types of letters from the government are frequent.
“We have our policies and adopted procedures which we must follow,” Pado Bee Leh said. “It is necessary to seek assistance from the public before the nationwide ceasefire is implemented, and we use diplomatic means when collecting money from the locals. Violence has never been our practice.”
He added that the KNPF has been in operation since 1998 though the government was not aware of it. This police force is also operational in areas that the KNLA’s brigades are active in, including Karen state, and have received cooperation from the police of divisional governments.
Despite the ceasefire, there are still skirmishes between the KNLA and the Burmese Army. The KNU most recently reported that two of its 4th Brigade members were shot dead by the Burmese Army’s 552nd Light Infantry Battalion on 13 June when they were returning from picking corn in a field in Tavoy.
Pado Bee Leh said the KNU and government officials were still addressing this incident.