The European Union (EU) has stopped renting its official ambassador’s residence from the family of late Myanmar dictator General Ne Win after eight years, according to sources from diplomatic missions to Myanmar.
In 2013, the EU began renting the residence for its first ambassador to Myanmar, Roland Kobia, following its establishment of a diplomatic presence in the country.
The residence is located at 19 May Kha Road, previously known as Ady Road, in Yangon’s Mayangone Township, an exclusive neighborhood whose former residents included Ne Win, his relatives, trusted ministers and aides. The grand residences [numbers 19 to 30], which line Yangon’s famous Inya Lake, are all owned by relatives of Ne Win.
The house next to the EU Ambassador’s residence was where Ne Win received state visitors, held numerous parties and from where he ordered the Myanmar military to crackdown on the 1988 pro-democracy uprising.
Despite the EU’s commitment to aid and development in Myanmar, renting the exclusive residence drew criticism from international and local agencies for giving millions of dollars in rent to the relatives of Ne Win, the first of Myanmar’s military dictators.
An official at the EU diplomatic mission in Yangon confirmed to The Irrawaddy that the EU stopped renting the Ady Road residence on November 30 and that the ambassador has moved out. The official told The Irrawaddy to contact them in month for more details as the ambassador is currently on leave.
“He is moving out of that residence,” said the official.
The first resident of the house was the Belgian Roland Kobia, who came with the mission to advance Myanmar-EU relations and to establish a lasting relationship between the EU and Myanmar, which was a pariah nation until democratic reforms started in 2011.
Mr. Kobia was followed as EU ambassador to Myanmar by the Dane Kristian Schmidt. The current ambassador, Ranieri Sabatucci, is from Italy.
A source told The Irrawaddy that the new EU ambassador’s residence will be on University Avenue Road in Bahan Township near the Embassy of South Korea. It reportedly took the EU diplomatic mission over a year to find a residence that is neither owned by generals or their cronies.
Following the coup and the military’s subsequent brutal crackdowns on peaceful anti-coup protesters, the EU in March imposed sanctions on 11 individuals, including coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, imposing travel bans and asset freezes on them.
Among those sanctioned are former Lieutenant General Myint Swe, vice Senior General Soe Win, the junta-appointed Union Election Commission chairman U Thein Soe, General Mya Tun Oo, Lieutenant General Aung Lin Dwe, Lieutenant General Gen Ye Win Oo, General Maung Maung Kyaw, Lieutenant General Moe Myint Tun and Lieutenant General Than Hlaing.
However, The Irrawaddy has learned that the EU has no plans to move out of its office in the Hledan Center, which is owned by Asia World, a conglomerate founded with drug money by Lo Hsing Han, an ethnic Kokang Chinese warlord who once controlled one of Southeast Asia’s largest heroin trafficking operations.
After Myanmar opened up in 2010, international agencies and western governments rushed to establish offices and diplomatic missions in the country. Searching for suitable offices and residences, most ended up renting properties owned by family members of senior military officers and business tycoons, including the cronies of previous military regimes.
In 2014, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) rented a property from U Nyunt Tin, a retired general, one-time agriculture minister and former senior figure in Myanmar’s previous dictatorship, for the “very competitive” [in UNICEF’s words] rent of US$87,000 a month, for a period of seven years. The property sits in Yangon’s most affluent neighborhood, Golden Valley, in Bahan Township.
The World Health Organization (WHO) rented a residence owned by a relative of coup leader Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing at Seven Mile on Pyay Road. The rent plus household salaries cost the WHO more than US$9 million annually, before the WHO moved to a new location in Golden Valley a few years ago.
(Source: The Irrawaddy)
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