General takes law into own hands to solve land dispute

 By Pyae Thet Phyo (Myanmar Times)

Farmers in Nay Pyi Taw say a former personal staff officer to Senior General Than Shwe allegedly pulled a gun on them and one of his staff assaulted a bystander as part of a long-running land dispute in the capital.

Ko Aung Than Oo said the incident occurred in Lewe township’s Pin Thaung village on July 5 when he was weeding land that Major General Soe Shein acquired in 2010-11 when he was then-Senior General Than Shwe’s PSO.

Eyewitnesses told The Myanmar Times that Maj Gen Soe Shein told Ko Aung Than Oo, “Stop your work and get out of this compound right now. Unless you do as you are told, I’ll shoot you.”

They said another member of Maj Gen Soe Shein’s group, Ko Hlaing Phyo Win, allegedly assaulted a bystander, Ma Khin Tint, by grabbing her blouse and saying, “What are you looking at? I’ll punch you.”

Ko Aung Than Oo said he was terrified when Maj Gen Soe Shein pulled a gun on him.

“Maj Gen Soe Shein levelled the pistol at my head and ordered me to stop my work. I was scared and ran away but he followed me and [five other members of his group] ran after me with knives in their hands,” he said on July 9.

Ko Zaw Min, who works as a casual labourer on Ko Aung Than Oo’s farm, said Maj Gen Soe Shein and his group arrived at the farm about 11am in two vehicles.

“They stopped the vehicles near a sesame farm and then they came into the garden and told us to stop our work. Maj Gen Soe Shein took out his gun and levelled it at him and told him to stop working. He was scared and ran away to the village but Maj Gen Soe Shein and his followers ran after him with knives,” Ko Zaw Min said.

Residents said it was the first time that weapons had been used in the dispute. However, they said a number of Maj Gen Soe Shein’s workers had verbally threatened them.

Maj Gen Soe Shein told The Myanmar Times on July 11 that he had repeatedly warned the villagers not to cultivate his land. He also confirmed that he had threatened them with a gun.

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

The farmers have accused Maj Gen Soe Shein of breaking farmland rules when he acquired 500 acres in Lewe township in 2010-11 because he did not specify that the land, which was incorrectly classified as vacant, was being cultivated when he applied for ownership. They also say he is illegally using the land to excavate limestone and produce lime instead of cultivating perennial plants.

The farmers have sent complaint letters to the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation’s Central Committee for the Management of Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Lands, the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry, and the Ministry of Mines but so far no action has been taken.

Similarly, local police appear reluctant to act on their complaints. After they reported the incident to the police station in nearby Aye Lar village, the head of the station told them to settle it instead at the township court because the accused is a high-ranking military officer, Ko Aung Than Oo said.

“Aye Lar police station didn’t accept our complaint. They told us to apply directly to the township court so we went and filed our complaint at Lewe township court on July 8 but they said there was not enough evidence to accept it.”

Police Officer Kyaw San Oo from Aye Lar confirmed that the station could not accept the case because of the accused’s rank.

Because of the inaction of law enforcement officers and the legal system, Nay Pyi Taw Pyithu Hluttaw representative Daw Sandar Min from the National League for Democracy has promised to raise the case in the hluttaw.

“It is unacceptable that people are being bullied with weapons,” said lawyer and National League for Democracy member U Khin Maung Zaw. “They should settle it within the law. That kind of incident shouldn’t happen.”

Translated by Thiri Min Htun
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