RANGOON—About 300 poor farmers in Rangoon Division’s Helgu Township are embroiled in a dispute with the USDP over a loan that they took from the party, local villagers said on Friday.
Rangoon Division Parliament USDP member Hla Than has allegedly threatened to sue farmers in Ma U village unless they repay their loans by Jan. 27.
“They ordered us to sell everything we own, even our cattle, paddy fields or other properties,” said farmer Myo Myint, adding that he had an outstanding loan of about US $400.
The farmers had asked reprieve from payment until after the dry season rice harvest, which is due in a few months’ time, but the USDP refused.
According to villagers, their total outstanding debt is about $230,000 and most farmers owe a few hundred dollars each.
MP Hla Than had offered loans to the poor rice farmers in March last 2011, telling them that it was a USDP poverty reduction scheme that was personally funded by Energy Minister Khin Maung Soe.
Khin Maung Soe and Hla Than both hold USDP seats in the local constituency, which they won during the 2010 elections.
Interest rates were set at 2.5 percent per month, which is significantly lower than those charged by most village money lenders.
The ruling USDP party is affiliated with the former military regime. It regularly doles out loans and gifts to poor communities in Rangoon Division in the hope of gaining their support.
But recently, after the villagers elected a member of the opposition National League for Democracy as their village leader, the USDP demanded back the cash.
The sudden demands now put farmers in a difficult situation. Many lost their crops last year due to bad weather and they have little surplus cash or paddy stocks left.
“There are farmers here who do not even have enough food as the unusual rains destroyed their paddy and beans. Now, they have to sell what [rice stocks] they have to pay back the loan,” said one farmer, who preferred not be named.