Myanmar Crony Raises Millions of Dollars For Country’s Peace Process

myanmar-cronies-khin-shwe-business-conference-oct22-2016.jpg Khin Shwe (L), chairman of Zaykabar Company Ltd., and Ne Win Tun (C), chief executive officer of Ruby Dragon Jade & Gems Company Ltd., attend a business conference hosted by Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi in Naypyidaw, Oct. 22, 2016.

Top Myanmar businessmen have pledged millions of dollars to the country’s ongoing efforts to forge peace by ending civil wars between the government military and various ethnic armed groups, a well-known entrepreneur who is considered one of Myanmar’s “cronies” said today.

The businessmen are ponying up about 15 billion kyats (U.S. $10.9 million) because they believe that Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de factor leader, who is spearheading the peace process, will be able to end the civil wars and forge national reconciliation in the near future, Khin Shwe, chairman of Zaykabar Company Ltd., told RFA’s Myanmar Service during a television interview.

“I was recently told [by Aung San Suu Kyi] to see if I could organize something to get some funding for this,” he said. “She said international donors had contributed a lot of money towards our country’s peace efforts, but didn’t see any from local donors, and that it’d be nice to have such donations from our own nationals.”

Zaykabar Company is a Myanmar conglomerate that has interests in construction and telecommunications and is known at home for land grabs—the illegal or unfair seizure of land by the state, firms, or individuals.

Khin Shwe, a former lawmaker in the country’s upper house of parliament was barred in the past 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.

A second meeting

Khin Shwe also told RFA that he met Aung San Suu Kyi again at the Nobel laureate’s house one evening, and she repeated her request that he generate some donations from local entrepreneurs for the peace process.

“She called me again the other day and asked how it was going,” he said.

The group has already raised 11 billion kyats (U.S. $8 million), although his own company and Shwe Than Lwin Company Ltd., a diversified conglomerate that imports vehicles, construction materials, and heavy machinery, have yet to make any contributions, he said.

“So with pledges from others, I think we’ll get about 15 billion kyats (U.S. $10.9 million),” Khin Shwe said.

“It’s a good idea to show that local nationals themselves are contributing towards national peace,” he said.

Aung San Suu Kyi will likely accept the donations by mid-February, but publicly announce the details to show transparency, he said.

Khin Shwe went on to say that this amount is not much, and that Aung San Suu Kyi can easily use it up.

But he also expressed skepticism about the contributions Aung San Suu Kyi received for foreign governments and what her true intentions for the funds are.

“She can request funds from foreign governments and get 20, 50, or 100 million dollars,” he said. “I think she must have some agenda in mind that we cannot fathom to think of. There has been fighting for over 60 years, and [the funds] haven’t solved the problem.”

Aung San Suu Kyi is leading the country’s efforts to efforts to bring ethnic militias to the negotiating table and have them sign a nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) that eight rebel groups signed with the previous government in October 2015.

Cozying up to the government

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.

Khin Shwe enjoyed close ties to former president Thein Sein of the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), but started cozying up to Aung San Suu Kyi after November 2015 when her National League of Democracy (NLD) party won general elections.

Last April, workers from Zaykabar destroyed a building on the grounds of a Buddhist monastery in Yangon region, claiming that the religious site was on land requisitioned for a development project, monastery officials said at the time.

In a February 2010 incident, Zaykabar was involved in another land dispute when it acquired nearly 850 acres (344 hectares) of land from farmers in the township’s Shwenantha village. The farmers claimed the company had tricked them into handing over their land tenure rights in exchange for little or no compensation.

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.

Reported by Thant Zin Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.


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