Police Say They Cannot Investigate Company Thugs Attacking ‘Squatters’

By Bone Myat 18 December 2014

RANGOON — Rangoon police said they cannot launch an investigation into an alleged attack earlier this week by dozens of thugs on families living on land in Hlaing Tharyar Township that is being claimed by a construction company.

The families, who authorities have termed “squatters,” said they were attacked on Monday and Tuesday night by some 200 thugs who were allegedly paid by a company to drive them off the land. The firm is planning develop the area into the Emerald Green Housing Project.

“They came in two light trucks and on more than 70 motorbikes, and destroyed the houses around 11 pm on Monday with swords and sticks. There were more than 1,000 houses and some were occupied and some not,” said Aung Linn, whose home was attacked.

“The next day, we staged a protest in front of the [project] committee office, asking them to allow us stay. Around 7 pm that day, we were raided again,” he said.

Hlaing Tharyar Township Police Maj. Than Myint Oo said six “squatters” were injured during the unrest, while four homes and one motorbike were destroyed.

Than Myint Oo said police believed that the company had been involved in organizing the unrest, but said authorities were not taking action as no complaint had been filed.

“The company implementing the housing project paid people to destroy the squatters’ houses,” he said. “As neither side has reported the case, we have not taken action against anyone yet. No one was killed, but some were injured.”

A member of the project development committee, who was speaking on condition of anonymity, said the company would hold a press conference later to address the incident. She added that some 400 people had already bought housing plots in the Emerald Green Housing Project.

Rangoon Division parliament member Nay Lin, who represents Hlaing Tharyar Township constituency, said he was preparing to file a complaint with authorities over the attack. “I learnt that those who destroyed [the houses] were hired by the company. I am now collecting information and then I’ll send letters to the [Rangoon] Division chief minister and border affairs and security minister to ask for justice,” he said.

Tensions remain high in the area and some 30 policemen were deployed on Wednesday night to maintain order. Local resident Win Zaw Oo said he believed that some of the attackers were staying in the neighborhood and he feared another clash was imminent.

The company has been in a dispute with hundreds of families over the ownership of several acres of land on Rangoon’s western outskirts. Authorities have granted the firm the rights to develop the area into the Emerald Green Housing Project.

Local newspaper 7 Day Daily News reported that land prices in the area, like in many other parts of Rangoon, have sharply risen in recent years and prices in the area of the dispute range from about US$6 to $12 per square foot.

Poor families say they paid money to local landlords for use of the ramshackle homes and huts they live in. It is unclear what legal claim landlords would have to the land. Most families are from Irrawaddy Delta and moved to Rangoon in search of work after their communities and farms were destroyed during Cyclone Nargis in 2008.