NAYPYITAW — An investigation into the ownership of some 900 acres (364 hectares) of land allegedly acquired illegally by former President U Thein Sein and his cabinet members in administrative capital Naypyitaw has been suspended due to legal barriers.
A task force was formed by the Naypyitaw Council to launch an investigation after 169 local farmers filed a complaint that 16 individuals including former President U Thein Sein and ex-ministers acquired lands near the village of Za Laung in Ottarathiri Township without going through the proper channels.
Under the Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Lands Management Law, the government can inspect if lands are being used or remain inactive four years after land use permits are issued. If inactive, the government can confiscate unused lands four years after permits are issued.
According to the documents seen by the task force, those lands were applied for in 2016. So, it has only been two years and it is impossible to investigate, said Upper House lawmaker U Maung Maung Swe, who is leading the task force.
The task force has therefore suggested to the Naypyitaw Council that the government’s confiscated land review committee could launch an investigation, he told The Irrawaddy.
The land, located near milepost 211 on the Yangon-Mandalay Expressway, was previously owned by the Forest Department and had been used by local farmers for decades.
Ex-ministers acquired those lands in 2010, and the previous government created the Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Lands Management Law in 2012 to legitimize their acquisition of those lands, claimed U Tin Min Naing, a representative of local farmers.
“We asked the Naypyitaw Council chairman on August 21 to assign the Naypyitaw confiscated land review committee to inspect those lands,” U Maung Maung Swe told The Irrawaddy.
President U Thein Sein applied for and got land-use permits, known as Form-7, said U Tin Min Naing. According to the procedure, the former president should also have applied for other forms at the concerned ward administration office to make sure there was no objection to his acquisition of those lands. But U Thein Sein got Form-7 without following the procedure, said U Tin Min Naing.
In June 2010, people living on those lands, now a mango plantation zone, were asked to leave from, apparently ordered by the former president.
Local farmers claimed that parts of their farmland along with crops and water wells were bulldozed when U Thein Sein fenced off his would-be mango plantation.
“Our farms were destroyed for no reason. About 15 acres of my land were confiscated. I had 0.5 acres of paddy fields and got a compensation of 250,000 kyats. But I didn’t get compensation for land used for growing crops,” said local farmer U Min Tun.
The land was permitted for growing mangos, agarwood and rubber, and a minimum 50 acres of land had to be bought at a price of 50,000 kyats ($33.25) per acre at that time, said a source close to the accused ex-ministers.
He claimed that the farmers had been compensated twice — once by the Forest Department and again by the former ministers.
“Farmers now want to get more as land prices near the expressway have increased with time,” he said.
“My 20 acres of land were confiscated. I got compensation for three acres of paddy fields—1.5 million kyats. But, I didn’t receive compensation for lands used for growing other crops,” said U Zaw Lin.
According to locals, military officials from the ranks of captain to general as well as former government officials transferred from the military own those lands.
According to U Tin Min Naing, others who have acquired those lands are ex-ministers U Hla Tun, U Kyaw Kyaw Win, U Tin Naing Thein, U Thein Tun, U Kyaw Has, Major General Aung Than Htut, Attorney General U Aye Maung, Major General Ye Aung, Major General Ko Ko, Major General Kyaw Swe, Major General Kyaw Htay Win, Major General Htay Oo and current Labor Minister U Thein Swe.
“Farmers have not received compensation from U Soe Naing, U Maung Maung Swe, Major General Kyaw Htay Win, Major general Htay Oo, Captain Pyae Sone, Major General Ko Ko, Major General Kyaw Swe, former Home Affairs minister U Maung Oo and Major General Aung Than Htut,” he said.
“Farmers want the land returned. They will only take compensation if they can’t get the land back,” he added.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.