Friday, August 18, 2017

General fires back over gun allegations

Associates of Major General Soe Shein have refuted allegations that he pointed a gun at farmers over a land dispute in Nay Pyi Taw and have accused them of making the story up in an attempt to extort money from him.

Ko Nay Win Soe, who works on Maj Gen Soe Shein’s Lewe township plantation, said the allegations made by farmer Ko Aung Than Oo were motivated by greed.

“Maj Gen [Soe Shein] has negotiated this issue with locals fairly but Ko Aung Than Oo’s side has spread the lie that Maj Gen Soe Shein pointed a gun at his head because he wants money from us,” Ko Nay Win Soe said.

“On July 5 [Ko Aung Than Oo] claimed that he was on his land but he ran away when the major general asked him to show his ownership documents. Then he went to Aye Lar police station the following day and gave a false statement, saying the major general threatened to shoot him,” he said.

“Actually, Maj Gen [Soe Shein] didn’t have gun at that time – he had a pair of binoculars … I was there and can guarantee what I have just said is true.”

A number of Maj Gen Soe Shein’s workers also accused Ko Aung Than Oo of damaging trees on his land and threatening workers with a knife.

As The Myanmar Times has previously reported, farmers in Lewe’s Htone Pho village allege that Maj Gen Soe Shein, who was previously a personal staff officer of former Senior General Than Shwe, threatened to shoot them during a confrontation on July 5. Township police are investigating the allegations but have not filed any charges over the incident, in which one of Maj Gen Soe Shein’s associates was also accused of assault.

Immediately after the incident Maj Gen Soe Shein admitted to The Myanmar Times that he had pulled a gun on the farmers.

“I’m always warning them not to [cultivate that land],” he said. “I own that land officially. But they kept doing it so we wanted to intimidate them a little bit.”

However, sources close to Maj Gen Soe Shein – who could not be contacted directly for comment last week – maintain that he “never said that … He did not intimidate them [even] a little bit.”

Ko Aung Min, a labourer on Maj Gen Soe Shein’s plum and tamarind plantation, also disputed the farmers’ version of events.

“When it happened I was planting plum trees. I didn’t see Maj Gen Soe Shein make any threatening gestures. I saw him questioning [Ko Aung Than Oo],” he said.

The dispute dates back to 2010, when the general was awarded 160 acres of vacant land in Lewe for 30 years by Mandalay’s Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Lands Management Committee. Local farmers say he acquired the land illegally because he did not declare they were already cultivating it.

Since then he has planted plum and tamarind trees on about 100 acres of the land.

To defuse the prospect of further disputes, the general has already negotiated compensation with eight farmers for about 60 of the 160 acres. Most recently, Ko Nay Win Soe said, he paid K250,000 an acre to Ko Kyaw San in July for 14 acres.

“We can make deals for that land without any problems. The farmers have even offered to sell their lands,” he said.

It is unclear, however, whether the farmers were cultivating the land that they are now claiming ownership of, said Ko Htay Zaw Oo, assistant head of Lewe’s Settlements and Land Records Department.

“The farmer said his lands are within the area granted to Maj Gen Soe Shein. On the other side, Maj Gen Soe Shein has applied to work vacant land. If the farmers never used the land before they can’t claim ownership – it would instead be state land,” Ko Htay Zaw Oo said.

Ko Hlaing Phyo Win, a retired major who was accused of assaulting Ma Khin Tint during the July 5 confrontation, said he was not even present when the alleged incident took place.

“I was in Nay Pyi Taw at the time,” he said. “I am not Maj Gen Soe Shein’s subordinate but I help him sometimes because we both run agriculture businesses.

“In this case, Ko Aung Than Oo cut down trees that were being grown on land that was formerly vacant and is now owned by Maj Gen Soe Shein. I think he accused Maj Gen Soe Shein because he wants money from him. His accusations have caused political damage to Maj Gen Soe Shein.”

But Ko Aung Than Oo said last week his version of events was accurate. He said the comments from Maj Gen Soe Shein’s associates come after talks to settle the dispute amicably failed.

“Maj Gen Soe Shein’s workers negotiated with me on September 6 but we could not agree so now I am waiting for the police to open a case against him,” he said.

A police spokesperson said an investigation into the incident is ongoing.

Translated by Thiri Min Htun