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The Kachin Independence Organisation/Kachin Independence Army (KIO/KIA) is demanding protection money amounting to nearly US$50,000 from the Muse branch of the CB Bank, according to a statement released on Sunday by the Office of the Commander-in-Chief in Burma.
Purportedly evidenced by a copy of a letter with KIO letterhead and stamp, the Burmese military statement accuses the Kachin group, which has resisted signing a Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) with the government, of delivering the demand via a courier at 8:30am on 1 June.
The courier, described as a 30-year-old male, reportedly delivered the letter by hand to a staffer at a CB Bank branch in Muse’s South Ward, in northern Shan State, and then left the premises immediately.
The letter is headed: “Notification to Pay Tax.”
“The letter says that tax payments are collected every year by the KIO/KIA [South] from businesses, groups and companies operating in this area,” said the Office of the Commander-in-Chief. “Therefore, the KIO informed the CB Bank that it must pay its due taxes like all other corporate establishments.
“The letter requested a payment of 60 million kyats [$44,000], which should be paid directly to the office of the KIO/KIA [South]. The Kachin army goes on to say that a previous request for payment was issued on 9 May, but no tax was paid. The KIO gave the bank until 10 June at the latest to make the payment.”
Responding to the Commander-in-Chief’s statement, KIO spokesperson Gen. Naw Bo told DVB: “The KIO meets with the public and asks for donations from time to time, but no coercion is involved.”
Naw Bo continued: “ I have just heard that a letter demanding a tax payment was received [by CB Bank], but I cannot say for sure if the letter was issued by KIO/KIA. Fake stamps and names are used frequently nowadays. We do request donations from local businesses, but never using force or threats.”
Sunday’s statement by the Office of Commander-in-Chief added: “The KIO/KIA also demanded protection money from the Myawaddy Bank in Muse on 8 March, and from a corn storage facility in the town on 27 May.”
The KIO’s military wing, the KIA, has been involved in hostilities against Burmese government forces over the past year in the Muse area, which is a strategic trading zone situated on the Burma-China border. Fighting has also been reported in several other areas of northern Shan State.
The KIO/KIA is allied with other ethnic armed groups in the region: the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, Ta’ang National Liberation Army and Arakan Army. Together they constitute what is known as the “Northern Alliance,” a coalition declared “terrorists” by the Shan State assembly in December.
CB Bank, or Co-operative Bank, is one of the largest private banks in Burma. In 2011, it launched the country’s first ever ATM machine.