04/17/2009, 00.00
MYANMAR
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Kachin Christians forced to pay tax for Buddhist holiday

The festival of Thingyan marks the start of the Burmese New Year with water games and activities related to water. Military junta officials imposed a “fixed tax” and go house to house to enforce it. Military rulers claim to be good Buddhists and discriminate against religious minorities.
Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Myanmar’s military junta has forced Kachin Christians in Kachin State (northern Myanmar) to make a “donation” for Thingyan, the Buddhist Water Festival, which marks the start of the Burmese New Year, on 12 April this year, and which ended yesterday.

Christian sources, cited by the Kachin News Group (KNG), said that donations in the Bhamo District were raised forcibly by local government officials.

Funds thus raised were used to build stages from where water was spayed on revellers in accordance with tradition.

According to local Christians, they had to pay a fixed amount as set by local administrators.

Each neighbourhood in Bhamo had to set up their own stage following orders by the junta’s Town Peace and Development Council (TPDC), which is the government body that represents the military regime that runs the former Burma.

A Kachin Christian from Min Hla neighbourhood, home to about 50 Protestant and Catholic families, said that he had to contribute 1,000 kyat (about US$ 145) to the Thingyan fund last week as well as 500 kyat in municipal taxes as “requested by the authorities.”

Such fees are huge for a population that leads a hand-to-mouth existence, below the poverty line, especially in the areas hit by cyclone Nargis in May 2008.

Both sources confirm that these fees are compulsory with government officials going house to house to make sure that everyone has paid up.

The sources noted that every Christian family was visited. Only parish churches and clergymen’s homes were spared.

In Myanmar the members of the ruling junta claim to be devout Buddhist; often more out of habit or superstition than real conviction.

Members of other religious groups, Christians included, are often victims of discrimination and harassment, especially if they belong to ethnic minorities like the Kachin and Karen.

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