Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Factory owners being extorted over fake land dispute: Minister

An alleged dispute between people identifying themselves as farmers and factory owners in the Hlaing Tharyar Industrial Zone and the Shwe Lin Pan Industrial Zone, in Yangon Region, has been described as an act of extortion and has nothing to do with a land grab attempt.

Squatter houses from Shwe Lin Pan Industrial Zone in Hlaing Tharyar township, Yangon. Zaw Zaw Htwe / The Myanmar TimesSquatter houses from Shwe Lin Pan Industrial Zone in Hlaing Tharyar township, Yangon. Zaw Zaw Htwe / The Myanmar Times

Minister for Security and Border Affairs Colonel Tin Aung Tun from the Yangon regional government made the comment at the regional Hluttaw on May 15 when answering questions from MPs.

Daw Sandar Min, regional MP from Seikkyi Kanaungto township had asked if people living near the factory premises had built dwellings in the area with the intention of getting ‘compensation’ from the owners or was the dispute a genuine land dispute matter.

She also asked why authorities could not prevent and act against the alleged extortionists, adding that factory owners themselves had to settle the matter as authorities failed to act.

Col Tin Aung Tun, in his reply, said “Concerning this problem, we’ve already taken legal action against those who had trespassed on the factory land in accordance with procedures shortly after factory officials filed a complaint at a police station. And we’ve already forwarded the matter for court action.”

He also said civil suits are not criminal offences and it was up to the courts to act on such matters. On the criminal aspects of this case, he said the police have already taken appropriate action which was timely.

“We are not allowed to investigate until those involved make a complaint. The matter requires parties affected to file a complaint at the township court if they have deemed themselves to have been insulted or treated unjustly,” said Col Tin Aung Tun.

Besides, regarding another question by the Hluttaw representative, he replied that people have the responsibility to maintain their own properties themselves not to be used by others.

Col Tin Aung Tun said that although the Ministry of Construction has given the green light allowing the construction of buildings on the industrial land within three months after receiving permission, many industrial plots of land remain vacant.

He said that there were cases where entrepreneurs who have been allowed to do business on the land, were actually trying to sell off the plots allotted to them in a bid to make quick profits.

Col Tin Aung Tun said that is why investigations on the ground are being conducted.

Daw Sandar Min told the Hluttaw that investigations revealed that since 2015, a group of people had blocked off and set up illegal tents in front of the factories within the industrial zones.

These individuals then tried to extort money and behaved in a threatening manner, she added.

She said that investigations had shown that the extortionists were not real farmers but the factory owners could not provide any evidence as well.

However, investigations showed that ward chairs were supporting the extortionists, said Daw Sandar Min.

In a statement, she said the self-proclaimed farmers were saying that the lands were originally owned by them and had been extorting money from factory owners.

Daw Sandar Min added that the extorters had been going about their nefarious activities since 2015 and factory owners were asked to give up to K100 million.

“The situation has become really bad because we do know if their claims are legal or not. Surprisingly, a well-known lawyer is siding with these people and has sent a notice demanding money from the factory owners,” said Daw Sandar Min.

It has been reported by residents that in the land ownership dispute between local farmers and factory owners, there were occasions when gangsters have taken money to resolve matters illegally between the two parties.

U Myint Thein, former chair of the National Democratic Force Party in Hlaing Tharyar, told The Myanmar Times, “They are groups, consisting of fake farmers and gangsters. From my experience in settling the issue, I found them to be exploiting the situation. I don’t know what really happened.

“But in one case, the factory even gave them K60 million. But those so-called farmers didn’t take it and they wanted more,” he said.

There have been three cases of trespassing and building illegal huts by certain groups in private, public and garden lands in Hlaing Tharyar.

A group of people trespassed into a big plot belonging to a public project on P Monin Street in 5th ward, Hlaing Tharyar in early 2013.

The people built thousands of huts. That matter has not been settled yet and the huts are still firmly planted there. The original squatters on the land have been selling or renting these illegally built huts.

Moreover, in early 2014, thousands of people, led by a township political party official, armed with swords and other weapons, invaded the garden lands and other areas at the junction of Hlaing Tharyar and Twante townships and along Yangon-Twante Road to build huts.

A fracas broke out between trespassers and local residents and the police had to intervene.

One month later, over 5000 huts built along the garden lands were destroyed by the government.

In late 2014, a group of people trespassed by force into a factory land owned by a company near the Dagon Ayeyar highway bus compound in Hlaing Tharyar township. The company had to remove the trespassers by force.

Translation by Zar Zar Soe, Win Thaw Tar, Kyaw Soe Htet and Zaw Nyunt