Land Dispute Thwarts Plans for Monastic College in Mandalay

By Zarni Mann 6 May 2015

RANGOON — An ambitious expansion plan for a monastic school in Mandalay has been suspended due to a land dispute, with local authorities claiming the land used for the project was unlawfully transferred.

Phaung Daw Oo Monastery, which also operates well-respected primary, middle and high schools offering free education to underprivileged youths in Aungmyaytharzan Township, had already begun building a college on the 400-acre property donated by local patron Mya Mya Aye.

The patron and four farmers from whom she claimed to purchase the disputed land are currently being detained in Patheingyi Township and are due to face trial later this week, according to Mya Mya Aye’s husband, San Nyunt Wai.

“Police said we misused public property, but we bought those lands from local farmers and we have all the documents to prove it,” said San Nyunt Wai. “We don’t understand why the police want to sue us for doing a good thing by donating to a monastery that gives free education to the poor.”

The five detainees, who are being held in Mandalay’s Oh-Bo prison, face charges under article 6 (1) of the Public Property Protection Act, which carries penalties of up to seven years in prison, “whipping” or both. Police in Patheingyi declined to comment on the case.

Mya Mya Aye’s son and two daughters may face the same charges, her family and lawyer said.

Several monks who were living on the property were also forced to leave following pressure from authorities, according to the school’s principle, Sayadaw U Nayaka, who told The Irrawaddy that police warned them they “would get in trouble” if they stayed on the premises.

First founded in 1993, Phaung Daw Oo monastic schools are known throughout the region for offering education to thousands of students that cannot afford to attend government schools.

The planned college was intended to serve graduating students and others who had little access to higher education. The future of the institution is unclear at present.

“I’m afraid my dream of giving better education, which is absolutely free, will not happen,” said Sayadaw U Nayaka. “I also feel terribly sorry for the donor, who is in jail for donating her land for us. I just want to request the higher authorities to help us to make this end for the sake of our children’s future.”