A company with ties to Myanmar’s powerful military destroyed a building on the grounds of a Buddhist monastery in Yangon region on Tuesday, claiming that the religious site was on land requisitioned for a development project, monastery officials said.
A group of people from Zaykabar Company Ltd. said the monastery in Mingaladon township on the outskirts of the commercial capital Yangon was situated on land in a project development area, even though other monasteries surround the one in question, said Abbot Ashin Nithagra.
“There is a monastery in the front, back and on the sides of mine,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “How could it be in their project area? The land was donated to me 10 years ago by a farmer who was the owner of this land.”
“I have offered to solve this problem legally with the company, but they didn’t listen to my offer, and now they have destroyed my monastery in a violent manner,” he said.
The monastery’s location is disputed by the company and local farmers.
Zaykabar Company, a Myanmar conglomerate, was founded 26 years ago by Khin Shwe, who is its president. The former lawmaker in the country’s upper house of parliament is also chairman of Zaykabar Engineering & Construction Co., Ltd., and other firms.
Khin Shwe has been barred from doing business with U.S. nationals because of his ties to the former military junta that ruled Myanmar for a half-century until 2011.
About 20 people wearing Zaykabar Company uniforms entered the monastery’s grounds at about 10 a.m., said Chit Oo Maung, the monastery’s organizer.
“They came into the monastery area after destroying the fence, and a leader named Myo Khine ordered them to destroy a small building,” he said.
The group left after Chit Oo Maung and others at the monastery asked them not to damage the building.
“We went to the police station around 8 p.m. to file a complaint, but the police officer didn’t file it; instead, he just took down a record,” he said.
About 30 people returned to the monastery at about 9 p.m., and this time they destroyed the building, he said.
RFA could not reach Zaykabar for comment.
History of land disputes
Zaykabar is no stranger to land grabs, and the land on which the Mingaladon monastery sits has been disputed by the company and local farmers.
In a February 2010 incident, Zaykabar became embroiled in another land dispute when it acquired nearly 850 acres (344 hectares) of land from farmers in the township’s Shwenantha village.
The acreage was needed to supplement previous land acquired on which the company was building a residential, commercial, and industrial park complex called Mingaladon Garden City.
The farmers claimed that Zaykabar, with the help of local government officials, had tricked them into handing over their land tenure rights in exchange for little or no compensation and led them to believe that the property was being acquired for a government project, according to a May 2012 report in the Myanmar Times.
The company began bulldozing land in the area that same month, defying government orders not to do so, the report said.
The move prompted the farmers to apply with the Ministry of National Planning and Economic Development to establish their own farming collective to retain their right to farm their lands, it said.
Zaykabar was also involved in confiscating land from farmers in Mon state’s Kyaikmayaw township beginning in 2009 for a cement manufacturing plant, sparking charges of unfair compensation.
Khin Shwe’s Zaykabar conglomerate reported profit of about U.S. $20 million in 2014, according to a November 2015 Reuters report.
Khin Shwe is considered one of Myanmar’s “cronies”—wealthy and well-connected business scions with ties to military-backed enterprises—who have contributed to Myanmar’s reputation as a poor investment destination.
He is related by marriage to former general Shwe Mann, the ex-speaker of the lower house of parliament, with whom he has close business ties.
Zaykabar also owns prime real estate holdings, including an office tower in Yangon that opened last year and Karaweik Palace, a gold-painted barge with a restaurant that was frequented by Myanmar’s generals during the junta years, according to Reuters.
After the National League of Democracy (NLD) party swept general elections last November, Khin Shwe began distancing himself from outgoing President Thein Sein and sought to connect with NLD chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi, who is state counselor and minister of foreign affairs and the President’s Office under the new government, the report said.
Reported by Thiri Min Zin for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.