Military Accuses Magwe Chief Minister of Unfair Criticism over Disputed Land

By Htet Naing Zaw 28 May 2019

NAYPYITAW—The permanent secretary of the Defense Ministry, Brigadier-General Aung Kyaw Hoe, has accused Magwe Region Chief Minister U Aung Moe Nyo of inciting enmity between the Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw) and the public.

“What he said appears to be aimed at instigating enmity toward the Tatmadaw,” the brigadier general said in response to a question from The Irrawaddy about land grabbing by the military at a press conference at the ministry in Naypyitaw on Monday.

Magwe Region Chief Minister U Aung Moe Nyo, speaking at a press conference on May 14, said Defense Minister Lieutenant-General Sein Win had ruled out the return of land appropriated by the military near Pathein-Monywa Motor Road and Minbu-An Road, despite earlier statements to the contrary.

“The defense minister is not appointed by us, but by the commander-in-chief of defense services,” said the chief minister, implying that the government was only able to hold elected ministers accountable, and not military appointees.

“If those lands are not used, they should be returned,” U Aung Moe Nyo said at the press conference.

The chief minister said he raised the issue at a meeting of the Central Committee for Reviewing Confiscated Farmlands and Other Lands in August 2017 in Naypyitaw. While the other chief ministers supported his claim, the defense minister refused to return the land, he said.

According to the chief minister, the defense minister told him the military could not return the land because it had built an outdoor firing range—the biggest of its kind in Southeast Asia—on the site.

Brig-Gen. Aung Kyaw Hoe disputed the chief minister’s account of the conversation, however.

He said the defense minister told the chief minister that local military units farm the land and use the produce to feed themselves and their families.

“What is produced on those farms is supplied to the military. If those lands are returned to the original owners, and if supplies have to be bought from outside sources, it will cause inflation,” the brigadier general quoted the defense minister as saying at the meeting.

In his visits to local military units across the country, military commander-in-chief Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing is often reported by military broadcasters and newspapers as encouraging soldiers to practice subsistence farming to ensure food security.

While the government provides a daily meal allowance of 1,800 kyats per head to police officers under the Home Affairs Ministry, soldiers only receive 1,300 kyats per person, which is not enough to meet the cost of their daily food intake, the defense minister said.

Giving up the land and requesting a funding increase is not an option, he said, because food prices rise in situations where demand increases while supply decreases. He added that in order to raise the payment for each soldier to 1,800 kyats, the government would have to find an additional 72 billion kyats a year.

Thanks to the military’s farming, local units have sufficient food supplies for soldiers and their families, said the minister, who reportedly requested that they be allowed to continue using the land for the time being.

“Therefore, the claim of the Magwe Region chief minister deviates from the national reconciliation policy adopted by the government. It appears to be a one-sided criticism of the Tatmadaw that ignores the reasonable explanation of our Defense Ministry,” Brig-Gen. Aung Kyaw Hoe said.

The Irrawaddy was unable to obtain a response from the chief minister.

Since 2013, the Tatmadaw has returned over 275,610 acres of land. The Tatmadaw will systematically review and return lands in response to the demands of land owners, Brig-Gen. Aung Kyaw Hoe said.

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