RANGOON — Burma’s ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) is being urged to return land in Rangoon that was seized from a popular public garden where children once played sports and communities held social events.
The USDP has set up on office on the grounds, which were confiscated by a pro-junta group just over 20 years ago in South Okkalapa Township, and the party is now proposing the construction of a condominium building there, despite complaints from rights activists and local residents who say the land seizure was illegal.
Phone Myint Aung, a lawmaker from the New National Democracy Party, joined activists on Friday in urging the Union Election Commission to require the USDP to return the land.
“It’s public land—they couldn’t take it legally,” he said in Rangoon on Friday. “I will work with other lawyers to take action and, if needed, I will send a letter to President Thein Sein.”
The land was seized from a public garden at Quarter 9 in South Okkalapa Township by a group of pro-junta supporters in 1992. That group was later part of the junta’s mass organization, the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), which formed in 1993 and became a political party, the USDP, in 2010.
“The garden was a place where we all gathered and held celebrations, such as [Buddhist] Dhamma talks, performances or other social movements,” said Aye Zwa, a resident from Quarter 9. “We want it back now.”
Phone Myint Aung helped activists organize residents from the township to hold a protest this week, but the demonstration was delayed after the lawmaker met USDP lawmaker Aung Thein Lin, who said the party would hold a press conference on June 29 to defend the legality of the land use.
Aung Thein Lin represents Rangoon’s South Okkalapa constituency in Parliament.
“He told me that his party has legal documents for the land,” Phone Myint Aung said. “I’ll wait and see from his press conference. If I find that it’s not appropriate from a legal perspective, I will not stop this case. I will bring it to the president.”
Dr. Saw Naing, a member of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, said he would join local protests against the land seizure. “We all know it’s public land. They should not build a condo on this land,” he said.
Residents are signing a petition, which they will send to Parliament and President Thein.
Burma’s Constitution prohibits political parties from using public property directly or indirectly.
“They cannot confiscate public land, since they’re a political party,” Phone Myint Aung said. “They are violating rule of law and it is unacceptable.”
The military-backed USDP was founded by former dictator Snr-Gen Than Shwe, who has kept a low public profile since Thein Sein began implementing a raft of political and economic reforms starting in 2011. The party won 883 of 1,154 parliamentary seats in the 2010 general election but took a beating in the 2012 by-election, losing 43 of 45 contested seats to the NLD.