Conflict arises over land ownership of Dr.Cynthia’s Clinic

Public concern has arisen after the land donated to Dr. Cynthia Maung for her charitable Mae Tao Clinic in Tak Province near the Thai-Burmese border was reportedly transferred to a high-ranking police officer, with the monk who oversaw the transfer claiming it was for reasons of national security.

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The Metta Thammarak Foundation, headed by Phra Kittisak Kittisobhano, became the legal owner of the land in 2004 after a group of Americans raised funds to buy the land and donate it to Dr. Cynthia, a Ramon Magsaysay award recipient. This allowed her to expand the clinic and build a school for Burmese migrants’ children. Under Thai law, because of her citizenship status, she was not allowed to register the land under her own name.

Phra Kittisak recently transferred the land to a high- ranking police officer, claiming that the clinic had been used for the wrong purposes, thus violating the mutual agreement between the foundation and the clinic. The clinic was used to form some Burmese gangs and donated money was used to support political movements, the monk was reported as saying on Nation TV on Thursday.

Dr. Cynthia told Prachatai that the land transfer was true but she could not yet make any comment since she has to consult colleagues about the legal situation. The clinic is still running properly since it is on a separate plot of land on a five-year contract, she said.

With plans to expand the clinic, Dr. Cynthia last year requested Phra Kittisak Kittisobhano to transfer the land ownership to the Suwannimit Foundation to reduce the responsibility and legal liability of the Metta Thammarak Foundation, which are the reasons that Phra Kittsak used to justify the land transfer to the police officer. But the monk said he was not aware of the request.

The land is worth around 2.5 million baht, and the transfer may make it difficult for the clinic to make use of the land as intended by its donors, said Pipob Udomittipong, a freelance translator who helped coordinate the donation to the Mae Tao clinic.

The Karen-Burmese doctor founded Mae Tao Clinic in 1989 after fleeing from political violence in Burma. Situated in the border town Mae Sot, it provides health care and social services to a population of about 150,000 Burmese migrant workers and refugees. It gained wide recognition and international acclaim especially after then American President George Bush and his wife visited the clinic in 2008.

Phra Kittisak, in an interview on Nation TV, said the controversy is merely an attempt to undermine his credibility “due to personal conflicts over a law suit with someone close to the government side.”

Earlier this year, the monk filed a lawsuit for defamation against Phansak Srithep, former social activist and father of Samaphan Srithep, his son, who was killed by the military during the political violence in May 2010. The two men got into a heated debate on Facebook and in February 2012, the monk sued Phansak for defamation at a police station in Chiang Mai.