PATHEIN, Irrawaddy Division — Hundreds of farmers in the Irrawaddy delta on Wednesday petitioned President Thein Sein to work for a solution to a land seizure, which they said led to forced displacement and inadequate compensation.
Almost 250 farmers in Pathein Township, Irrawaddy Division, said the project to turn their farmlands into a luxury hotel complex abutting the picturesque Ngwe Saung beach was a “land grab.”
The State Peace and Development Council seized the 101-hectare plot of land in 2000, but the farmers said the former regime’s land records department only paid them enough compensation to buy new plants and they got nothing for the land lost.
“We were forced from our lands, they said that everything—earth, water, air—belongs to the state so we have to move out,” Tin Htoo, one of the farmers, told The Irrawaddy. “When the incident took place, the authorities said they would provide us with replacement land, a place to live and also compensation for our plants. We haven’t received any thing for our lands; that’s why we have asked the president to address our grievances.”
Tin Htoo said even though their lands were taken more than 12 years ago they are still paying tax on the appropriated land.
A resident of Ngwe Saung, who is close to hotel owners there, told The Irrawaddy that hoteliers rented lands from Union of Myanmar Economics Holdings Ltd. (UMEHL).
“They have rented the lands from UMEHL under 30-year contracts and some are currently trying to get ownership rights,” said the resident, who asked to remain anonymous.
Myo Myint, another Ngwe Saung resident whose land was confiscated, however, said he does not know how their lands have been handed over to the UMEHL.
He said if the hotel owners are granted land deeds the farmers will protest the deal “by any means possible.”
“Give us compensation for our lands or return them,” Myo Myint said, addressing the local authorities. “Otherwise, if our lands are exploited and the owner’s name is changed without our knowledge, we won’t accept that at all.”
Land confiscation victims also pointed out that although their lands were taken for a development project, they have become poorer. Many of their children also had to drop out of school before graduating as their parents could no longer afford to pay for their education, they said.
“Our area is not developed and has become poorer as many people have been made unemployed,” said Zaw Naing, a resident of Zee Taw village in Ngwe Saung. “Some even have to work on daily wages at the hotels built on their lands. Some also have to go to the sea for fishing while some others have to sell barbecue frogs and fishes along the beach to survive.”
He added that their current living conditions are very poor. The authorities relocated them to housing in a flood zone where there is no electricity, according to Zaw Taw.
There are 17 hotels by the beach and another five are under construction. Many are thought to be owned by cronies of the military junta that ruled Burma since 1962 until elections in 2010.
Tay Za, a close associate of the former head of state Than Shwe, and Than Shwe’s daughter have stakes in hotels in Ngwe Saung.