Rangoon Activists Send President Petition Against Property Project in Former Park

By Nobel Zaw 7 January 2015

RANGOON — Activists from Rangoon’s South Okkalar Township said they have sent a signed petition to President Thein Sein urging him to restore a public park area that was seized by the ruling party and is being developed into a condominium complex.

Saw Naing, who is a member of the Public Park Restoration Committee, said some 200 signatures from community leaders and elders had been collected in support of a letter that asked to halt the construction of a condominium in South Okkalar Township’s Ward 9.

The letter was sent on Monday to Thein Sein, Union Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann, Rangoon Division Chief Minister Myint Swe and Rangoon Mayor Hla Myint, Saw Naing said, adding that the activists also planned to lodge a formal complaint with the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC).

The real estate project had been suspended in 2013 after the committee campaigned for restoration of the park, but resumed last November. “So we sent the petition again and hope to stop it again,” he said.

In the 1960s, the area in Ward 9 on the corner of Waizayanthar Road and Thit Sar Street was turned into a public park and playground. In the early 2000s, the then-military government forcibly seized the public property and gave it to the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), the political mass movement of the junta and predecessor of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

The party built a township office and a number of shop houses in the area, but recently planned a joint development project with Yan Naing Construction Company to construct a condominium complex on the site. Workers have begun putting down the foundation for the building.

Aung Thein Lin, the USDP chairman for Rangoon and a Lower House lawmaker, could not be reached for comment about the party’s property development.

The activists, joined by prominent 88 Generation Peace and Open Society activist Ko Ko Gyi, held an unauthorized protest march through Ward 9 against the project in December, even though police had only allowed for protests at Kyaikkasan, an old horse-racing track in Tamwe Township.

Saw Naing and three other activists were subsequently charged under Article 19 of the Peace Assembly Law, which stipulates punishment of three months’ imprisonment for violating a provision requiring protestors to remain within the area police have designated.

Ko Ko Gyi said he expected to be charged as well but added, “The police still haven’t informed me directly. I heard the other people who cooperated with me have officially been charged under Article 19.”

Ko Ko Gyi said the residents of Ward 9 were determined to stop the USDP from developing valuable, high-rise real estate on the former public area as they want it restored to its original function so that local families could have a recreational area.

“The older people remember how there used to be playgrounds where children could play on seesaws and slides, and people played badminton. They want to have this park back for the young generation,” he said.