Family Still Homeless After Helping NLD 22 Years Ago

By Eric Randolph & Patrick Boehler 22 March 2013

RANGOON — After 22 years, a Rangoon family is still paying the price for the brief period when they rented an apartment to the National League for Democracy (NLD).

It was a fraught time for Burma, just a few months after the NLD’s victory in the 1990 elections that would later be annulled by the military junta. For six months, party workers operated out of a ground floor apartment on Brooking Street in downtown Rangoon, a large red NLD signpost hanging over the doorway.

It was the home of Ye Aung Kyaw Myint, a doctor who hoped to make a little extra cash from renting it to the NLD during the day. The decision proved ruinous when local authorities seized the property and left them homeless.

The shock proved too much for Dr Ye, who sank into depression and died just over a year later at the age of 51. For years, his wife and then 13-year-old daughter were forced to move from town to town, taking shelter with family members as far-flung as Chin state and the Chinese border.

“My husband explained to me that the NLD was a legal party and it was not a crime to host them,” Aye Aye Than, 61, told The Irrawaddy at the NLD’s headquarters in Rangoon.

“When we asked why we had to leave and what crime we had committed, the head of the township, Gen San Nyein, said: ‘No, you didn’t commit any crime, but you were too brave to rent your house to the NLD so we are taking your apartment. You should learn a lesson from this.’”

They were given only a few hours to clear out their belongings before the apartment was locked up and the family left on the street.

“For 22 years, we had no place of our own to sleep. We’d just go from one relative after another,” said Aye Aye Than in tears. “We had no food or property.”

Seven months after the eviction, the apartment was given to Khin Myint Myint, the widow of a senior official who died in combat. It has since passed on to several military families and for the last four years, it has been used as a teahouse.

The family has written countless letters and petitions to the local authorities, but never received a response. Now with Aung San Suu Kyi chairing Parliament’s rule of law commission, Aye Aye Than hopes that the time has finally come to restore what they have lost.

“Everything will change and we will get it back,” she said.

Their story is just one of thousands of cases in which the military regime stole property from civilians—whether in the form of land grabs or as punishment for helping the democracy movement.

Despite the reforms of recent years, it will be a long time before cases like that of Aye Aye Than can be resolved.

“Their life was destroyed, and I hope we can help,” said Nay Chi Win, a 32-year-old researcher with the NLD, who has agreed to pass their case on to the parliament’s rule of law commission. “But it’s very difficult, because we are very busy, and have little time and money to help.”

He added that he is personally aware of four similar cases in which families lost their homes for providing the NLD with office space.

“Of course I regret that we gave the NLD our office,” said Aye Aye Than. “But Aung San Suu Kyi sacrificed herself for freedom, so we are glad we helped.”