Saturday, August 19, 2017

Land grab has links to President U Thein Sein

President U Thein Sein, then the commander of Triangle Region Command, with U Ko Oo. (Supplied)President U Thein Sein, then the commander of Triangle Region Command, with U Ko Oo. (Supplied)

The head of a former people’s militia, or pyithu sit, is embroiled in a dispute with villagers in eastern Shan State’s Tachileik township over 325 acres of land with links to President U Thein Sein’s tenure as commander of Triangle Region Command.

U Chit Win, a Yangon resident who is representing 28 people involved in the land dispute, said authorities in Lwelsatone village and the Shan State Peace and Development Council divided and sold the land to the villagers in 2005.

“Many villagers bought land there. But in 2010 a man called U Ko Oo said that he is the owner of the land. In October 2012 he broke the fences down, built a house and also built a road across the land,” U Chit Win said.

When The Myanmar Times contacted U Ko Oo in Tachileik, he refused to comment and said he did not believe he was speaking to a journalist.

U Chit Win said U Ko Oo had built the house against the orders of Tachileik township General Administrative Office.

“When the villagers reported about this to the township authorities, they issued an order not to do anything on the land. But U Ko Oo didn’t obey it,” he said.

U Chit Win said U Ko Oo and U Ar Hee, who was also a member of the pyithu sit, applied for and were given permission to cultivate 25 acres and 300 acres respectively on the land in 1999. Permission was granted when President U Thein Sein served as commander of Triangle Region Command, U Chit Win said.

After U Ar Hee, the leader of the Tachileik pyithu sit, passed away and U Ko Oo left the area, leaving the land empty, the village authorities, township General Administration Department and township surveying department formed a commission and surveyed the land. The Shan State Peace and Development Council divided and sold the land to villagers under the instruction of the Ministry of Home Affairs in 2005, U Chit Win said.

“There was no objection at that time. But in 2010, U Ko Oo came with the photo of himself, U Thein Sein and three other people and said that he owned the land and that [U Thein Sein] gave the land to him. And he also showed a letter giving him permission to cultivate from 1999. Earlier this year he built a house and a road on the land, ignoring the objections of villagers and township authorities,” he said.

“Now he is acting like he got all 325 acres in 1999. We reported the dispute to the president. All of the villagers are waiting for a response,” he added.

U Zaw Htay, a director in the President’s Office, declined to comment on the dispute.

But Lawyer U Hla Myint told The Myanmar Times that if the Lwelsatone villagers’ version of events is correct, U Ko Oo will have trouble retaining ownership of the land.

“Under the law, if the [State Peace and Development Council] divided and sold the land to villagers on the instruction of the Ministry of Home Affairs, the ownership of former owners is automatically rescinded,” he said.