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The President’s Office has sought to mitigate a controversy over its delivery of hundreds of vehicle import permits to at least 14 ethnic groups, a measure some commentators are calling a “Cars for Peace” scandal.
At a press conference hosted by the Myanmar Peace Centre, official Nyo Ohn Myint told journalists that the car permits were offered to the ethnic armed groups attending Union Day festivities in Naypyidaw on 12 February after several ethnic officials had requested the permits in order to register legally vehicles that had been brought in to the country via land borders.
“The permits were requested by the ethnic groups – they said they prefer not using unlicensed vehicles. The minister proposed to the cabinet to grant them permits and the cabinet approved,” said Nyo Ohn Myint.
Nyo Ohn Myint added that granting vehicle permits to ceasefire groups has been a long-practised tradition, not just by the current government but by the previous rulers of the country.
Last Thursday, the Karen National Union (KNU) held a press conference rejecting allegations by Eleven News Media that armed groups altogether received over 1,000 vehicle permits. He said the true number is only 870.
KNU’s Central Committee member Mahn Nyein Maung said 290 of the permits are tax-free and the others are set at a 60 percent reduced tax rate.
Permits for luxury cars in Burma are known to sell for up to US$100,000.
The armed groups known to have received the vehicle permits are: the KNU, Shan State Army-North, Shan State Army-South, United Wa State Army, Karenni Progressive Party, New Mon State Party, National Democratic Alliance Army, National Front, Karen National Union (Peace Council), Pa-O National Organisation, National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang and All-Burmese Students Democratic Front.