Farmers’ Efforts to File Case against Ex-Aide of Military Strongman Denied

By Htet Naing Zaw, Land Rights 30 July 2013

Local authorities in Naypyidaw’s Lewe Township have yet to open a legal case against a general who allegedly threatened a group of farmers at gunpoint early this month, according to the would-be plaintiffs.

Maj-Gen Soe Shein—once the personal assistant to Burma’s former military supremo Snr-Gen Than Shwe and currently serving at the Ministry of Defense—arrived at farmland in the village of Intaingtha in Lewe on July 5 and demanded that farmers there leave immediately.

“He aimed his pistol at us and said he would shoot if we didn’t leave the farmland right away,” Aung Than Oo, a farmer working at the time the general made the threat, told The Irrawaddy. “So, two of my workers and I got scared and ran. We even forgot to grab our rice packs.”

The farmers later went to the local police station in Intaingtha but were denied the opportunity to file a case and were told to instead submit it directly to the township court, according to another farmer who accompanied them. The court also refused to take the complaint and asked the men to go to the township police station, where they faced another rejection, he said.

“We tried to file the case at the local police station for two days but were not successful,” the farmer said. “We went to the court but were not allowed to do so because we didn’t have any authorized letter. We even went to the office of the national police chief located in Naypyidaw, which didn’t do anything and [authorities] only recommended that we go back to the Lewe police station.”

Sandar Min, a member of the Lower House of Parliament from Naypyidaw’s Zabuthiri Township, told The Irrawaddy that the farmers had come to see her after their attempt to file a case against Soe Shein had failed. The parliamentarian said she drafted a complaint letter and suggested that the accusers send it to Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, the commander-in-chief of Burma’s armed forces.

“Since they were denied by police stations, I asked them to submit a complaint letter to Min Aung Hlaing for further action,” said Sandar Min, adding that if no action was taken within two weeks, she would continue to work on the case.

On July 11, Soe Shein told the Myanmar Times newspaper that he had repeatedly warned farmers not to cultivate his land.

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

Aung Than Oo contends that the land in dispute, where the farmers have worked for about 20 years, belongs to him and others. Personal aides of Soe Shein came and marked the land months ago and told the farmers cultivating it that the general would buy it, he said.

“They said they would give 150,000 kyat [US$150] per acre for my land and 300,000 [kyat] per acre for the land next to mine,” recalled Aung Than Oo. “They also said we can ask for more when Soe Shein comes. So, we agreed and a date was set in June for selling our land but they never showed up on that day. Instead, they came later and planted plum trees on it without our knowledge.”

He added that although farmers have worked the land for generations, they did not have any evidence to prove their ownership.