CHIANG MAI, Thailand — A Catholic church is accusing Karenni State Chief Minister L Phaung Sho of stealing a piece of its land in Mese Township and of preparing to fence it off.
At a press conference in Yangon on Thursday, Father Richard Thura Tun said the chief minister had stolen the land — less than half an acre — in 2014, when he was a Mese Township assistant education officer, and secured a lease for it last year.
He said he decided to finally come forward with the claim after the chief minister started clearing the land for his home and, as of last month, was preparing to build a fence in front of the church’s entrance to mark it off.
The chief minister could not be reached for comment.
Father Richard Thura Tun said the 14-acres church compound was recognized as a religious site by township authorities in 1994 and obtained a license for the property from the Department of Land Registration in 2006.
He said the church has asked the President’s Office and the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) for help settle the dispute but so far to no avail.
“We also met with him [L Phaung Sho] twice before we sent our first letter in July 2017, but he refused to give the land back,” he told The Irrawaddy.
“The chief minister seized the land to use to build his home,” he added. “It is a misuse of his power.”
Father Richard Thura Tun said the secretary of Karenni State’s General Administration Department, U Tin Maung Soe, had tried to broker a compromise that would see the church regain two-thirds of the disputed land and let the chief minister keep the rest. But he refused because he thought the offer was not fair.
He said church authorities met with NLD spokesman U Myo Nyunt in September but were told to wait until after the by-elections, which took place on Saturday.
On Friday, U Myo Nyunt told The Irrawaddy that NLD leaders have since met with Father Richard Thura Tun in Yangon and that an investigation was “ongoing.”
“We cannot say when we will be able to go there, but it is a priority case for us to follow up on,” he said.
Before being appointed chief minister, L Phaung Sho was elected to the state legislature in 2015 to represent Mese’s Constituency No. 2.