At least 1,000 people became homeless in Mandalay when around 400 small houses deemed to be built on illegally occupied land were demolished by bulldozers on Monday.
The houses were torn down from 7 am, according to former residents. The local authorities gave a deadline of Sept. 16 for everyone to vacate their homes along with their belongings.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Monday, Tin Tun Kyaw, an officer for the Municipal Ministry in Burma’s second largest city, said, “We had to destroy all the houses today and we will deploy security forces here in order to prevent others occupying the land again.”
Tin Tun Kyaw added that those affected could claim back their possessions as he did not want his team criticized for stealing things.
Local sources revealed that many residents did not remove their belongings as they believed that the authorities would then delay forcing them off the land or even stop the eviction entirely.
“We are already late taking our things from the houses. We thought the authorities would have sympathy for us and would not act like this,” said a female victim whose small house was destroyed.
She explained that her family could not afford the cost of moving things from their home.
The victims did not dare complain while their houses were destroyed despite some confronting the local authorities last month. Those evicted must now join the ranks of Burma’s poorest people without a roof over their heads despite reformist President Thein Sein vowing to reduce poverty during a speech in June.
Around 200 police initiated a controversial crackdown on the occupiers last month with some people reportedly beaten and injured by security forces and subsequently jailed. However, some claim that the recent evictees were themselves guilty of illegal land grabs.
Win Myint Tun, a land activist who works to reduce poverty in Mandalay, reportedly told residents to occupy the land, measuring around 15 acres, on July 23 as it previously belonged to the Kachin Border Guard Force (BGF).
Around 100 people then seized the land while carrying knives and other weapons and forced BGF members to allow local poor people to build houses there instead, claim Kachin sources.
A month after the land was occupied, the BGF urged the Mandalay authorities to take action against the new occupiers as they claimed to have legitimately purchased the land, according to BGF Dept-Col Nyunt Sein.
Nyunt Sein then accused Tin Tun Kyaw of encouraging local people to occupy the land as he suspected that the Kachin BGF planned to auction it to a Chinese company.
“It is a bit sad to see the situation on the ground when such power is abused while there is political change from the top,” said Nyunt Sein. “May be the township authority did not want to see our BGF in Mandalay.”