4,000 Squatter Shanties Leveled in Rangoon Mass Eviction

By Sanay Lin 15 January 2014

RANGOON — More than 4,000 huts built by squatters on the outskirts of Burma’s former capital were demolished without explanation by the Rangoon Division government on Tuesday.

The rickety bamboo shacks, located on land beneath the Pan Hlaing Bridge, and other makeshift dwellings erected along the highway between the townships of Hlaing Thaya and Twan Tae were torn down with little warning by local police, and municipal and township administrative staff, according to squatters evicted in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

Asked about the reason for the evictions, the Rangoon Division government’s Deputy Director Aung Kyaw Soe told The Irrawaddy that senior officials from the divisional government were taking care of the case.

“Nothing bad will happen and we are trying our best to keep everything under control. We are going to release information very soon,” he said.

Though there were no clashes on Tuesday, the ongoing removal of the dwellings on Wednesday saw as many as 20 people arrested as some squatters wielding knives, sticks and slingshots resisted the mass eviction by authorities, a witness said.

Myint Aung, one of the squatters living on alluvial land under the Pan Hlaing Bridge, said his family members were evicted from their hut on short notice and were afforded no time to pack their belongings.

“They shouted ‘Get out! Get Out!’ and then tore down my hut,” he told The Irrawaddy.

“While they were tearing down huts, police were providing security for them,” he added.

Many of those affected this week had built huts in the area last month, after the government targeted another part of Hlaing Thaya, in western Rangoon, for clearance of illegal dwellings, informing inhabitants that they would be forced to leave by Jan. 27.

Than Soe, one of the squatters who were evicted on Tuesday, said he had built his hut in the area anticipating that he would be forced off the other plot as the Jan. 27 deadline approached.

“I can’t afford to rent a place so I ended up here. I have no idea what to do next,” he told The Irrawaddy.

Most of the squatters are laborers who survive on meager daily incomes of US$2.50 or less, while some have no regular income at all. With a hand-to-mouth existence that leaves them unable to buy or rent a residence, they end up as illegal tenants who settle in any free space they can find, said Nay Lin, an MP from Hlaing Thaya Township in the Rangoon divisional legislature. The lawmaker estimated that there were nearly 30,000 squatter families around Hlaing Thaya.

Nay Lin urged the government to handle any evictions with care, citing the potential volatility of the issue.

Another local parliamentarian, Nyan Win, admitted that the situation presented a difficult conundrum.

“If I stand for the squatters because they have nowhere to live, I am somewhat encouraging illegal activities. If I follow legal procedures, I feel I am against the people,” he said.