Burma Defense Ministry Says Contested Land to Become Homes for Veterans

By Yen Saning 28 January 2014

RANGOON — Burma’s Ministry of Defense has said it will not return land in eastern Rangoon’s Thingangyun Township that was forcibly seized during military rule, since it plans to build new homes for veterans on the land.

Hundreds of former occupiers of land in Michaungkan village, evicted in the early 1990s, say they were not properly compensated for their land, which would now be highly valuable.

Another group of one-time occupiers, 179 families of vegetable farmers to whom the army rented the land after the initial evictions, were themselves moved off the land in June 2013.

In a private letter to lawmaker Thein Nyunt, who has taken up the displaced vegetable farmers’ cause in Parliament, the Defense Ministry said the 33.855 acres of the land would not be returned to anyone, since it would soon be used to build homes for former army employees.

The letter insisted that the land was military property, and that under the law, rented land can be taken back at any time.

The ministry said it had provided temporary plots of land in East Dagon, on the outskirts of Rangoon, for 56 vegetable farming families to live on for six months. But that period has already expired, and the farmers say they have nowhere else to go.

Thein Nyunt told The Irrawaddy that the ministry appeared to be conflating the two groups of former occupiers in its response, as it did not distinguish between the claims of the vegetable farmers and the pre-1990s owners.

He said the vegetable growers simply wanted to be allowed to continue renting the land.

“We are not encouraging them to violate the law by keep sticking in the area,” he said.

“They have been growing crops there for 20 years and paying taxes. We are not asking [the army] to give the land back to them as their own possession, but to rent them the land so that they can grow and keep their livelihoods,” Thein Nyunt said, adding that the military should also compensate the original owners of the land properly.

As for the claim the seized land will be turned into homes for veterans, Thein Nyunt said he was not certain this plan would ever come to fruition.

U Kyaw, another lawmaker for Rangoon Division, said the new temporary land given to the vegetable farmers is very small—with plots measuring only 20 by 30 feet—and that much of the land was flooded and unusable.

“The place is no bigger than cowshed,” he said of the small temporary plots.

Soe Mi Mi Thu, one of the vegetable growers who has campaigned against the eviction and is better known as Ma Tar, said she wanted to hold a press conference to clear up the confusion about the two different groups and their different demands.

She also said the vegetable farmers had no security in their “temporary” land plots. “We don’t know what the relevant department will arrange for us after the six months of temporary stay,” Ma Tar said.

Hundreds of the pre-1990s occupiers repeatedly protested last year, and set up a protest camp on the land in November. That camp was finally abandoned in December after Aung Thein Lin, a ruling-party lawmaker and a member of Parliament’s Land Investigation Committee, promised to investigate the case urgently.