RANGOON — A discussion about military land confiscations was halted on Thursday in Burma’s Parliament, after a representative from the army interrupted the proceedings and urged other lawmakers to move onto another topic.
Brig-Gen Kyaw Oo Lwin, who was appointed to the legislature and not elected by the people, interrupted a member of Parliament’s Farmland Investigation Commission during a presentation of the commission’s findings.
The military has forcibly seized about 250,000 acres of farmland in the country, according to a report by the commission in March. The report was divided into three parts, to be discussed separately in Parliament.
“The discussion has reached Part 3,” Kyaw Oo Lwin told lawmakers, as quoted by the Daily Eleven newspaper. “I have been very tolerant, listening the past two times. But this part is not related to the issue of land confiscations. It is only about the issue of land settlement for development projects in the country.”
“If there are any complaint letters about land confiscations by the Army, it would have been better to discuss them in the earlier two parts,” he added. “Repeatedly saying that the Army confiscated land is creating a divide between the Army and the people.”
Twenty-five percent of seats in Parliament are reserved for the military, according to Burma’s 2008 Constitution.
Ba Shein, from the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP), said the Army had much influence in the legislature.
“I stopped discussing the issue after he requested out of respect for the discipline of Parliament,” he told The Irrawaddy by phone on Friday.
“He is wrong if he thinks I joined Parliament to fight his army. Being an MP is about serving for the benefit of the people. We should cooperate with each other to work for the people.”
During the former military regime, the government allowed the Army to confiscate land to build barracks. However, the commission found that the Army abused its power by confiscating land and selling it back to others for a profit.
“The people are suffering a lot,” Ba Shein said. “They should think about this. Actually, they are only permitted to take a little space of land to build barracks.”
Shwe Mann, a former army general and the current Union House speaker, reportedly said during the session on Thursday that he understood why the former regime allowed land confiscations for development projects. However, he said the government’s orders were not followed properly when the Army seized large plots of land from the people.
Shwe Mann, who has expressed ambitions to be Burma’s next president, was the third-ranking general of the former regime.
Parliament on Thursday discussed ways of working to help farmers in the country. But during the session, Shwe Mann reportedly said it was also important to consider the authorities who currently control the land.
“We should also think about benefiting people who are taking responsibility for the land,” he said, as quoted by the Daily Eleven. He added that lawmakers were investigating the issue of land confiscations in accordance with the law. “All of us need to be brave in working to benefit the people,” he was quoted as saying.
The Farmland Investigation Commission’s report said farmland had been confiscated to expand urban areas, industrial zones and military barracks, to construct state-owned factories, to implement state-run agricultural and animal husbandry projects and to allocate land to private companies with links to the military.
The commission recommended that underdeveloped land be returned to its owners or handed over to the state. In cases where land had been developed, it recommended that farmers receive adequate compensation from the military.