Gold miners in Sagaing Region’s Homalin township say they are being forced to pay taxes to two army-linked companies or face being detained and beaten.
Gold prospectors at Thahinkyin mine in Homalin are required to pay tax based on the size of their machinery. Originally they paid the tax to Aung Naing Thu Co-op Limited, which they said was formed by disabled former soldiers and businesspeople and is licensed by local officials to collect the charges.
However, recently a company named Kon Thiri has also been forcing the miners to pay tax on their equipment.
“Kon Thiri has also asked for levies. If we have to pay levies to both groups, how can we survive?” said U Shwe Ba, who runs a prospecting business at Thahinkyin.
Miner Ko San Lwin told The Myanmar Times in an interview in Mandalay in late December that he and a colleague, Ko Thet Naing Soe, were detained and beaten after they refused to pay the tax to Kon Thiri.
“[Kon Thiri] asked double the amount that Aung Naing Thu did. Making payment to the first company is convenient but [Kon Thiri] is reportedly linked to the army,” he said.
“When we didn’t pay we were arrested and beaten up. We had to stay at Mandalay hospital for a long time. When we filed a complaint with the local police station, we got no response. We have sent the president a letter about it and we also sent a letter to both Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the commander-in-chief,” he said.
Prospecting for gold in the area entails paying levies, or “membership fees”, based on the size of the equipment used, ranging from K800,000 a year for a one-cylinder engine to K2.1 million for a six-cylinder engine. They must also pay a monthly fee ranging from K35,000 to K65,000.
An official from Aung Naing Thu Co-op said his company did not set levies and instead charged the miners “whatever they can afford to pay”.
“We have a membership of more than 60 people,” he said. “The village administrator arranged for the workers to become members. But when another group appeared, he also asked workers to be members of that group.”
The Myanmar Times was unable to contact the village administrator or Kon Thiri company last week.
Translated by Thit Lwin