Burma Protest Camp Defiant in Face of Ultimatums

By Soe Sandar Oo 11 December 2013

RANGOON — More than 50 people are continuing a sit-down protest in Rangoon’s Thingangyun Township, after defiantly resisting an alleged attack by thugs and repeated ultimatums from authorities to vacate their protest camp.

The demonstrators in Michaungkan village, made up of mainly female residents, some of them elderly, have called for the return of lands forcibly seized by the Burma Army in the early 1990s. By Wednesday, they had been occupying an area outside the gate of a fenced-off military compound for 16 days.

But the demands of the well-organized demonstrators have reduced slightly over more than two weeks of protests. Short of demanding the return of all confiscated lands, they are now calling for a legal solution and the formation of a commission to review the issue, according to protester Nay New Than.

“If the authorities sign [an agreement] for the issue to be handled by a land investigation committee, or for the formation of an investigating commission, this will be accepted,” she told The Irrawaddy.

The protest camp remained in place Wednesday, despite efforts to dislodge the villagers.

Over the weekend, government security forces were deployed nearby, and villagers have claimed the government-aligned Swan Arshin group launched an attack on the camp, injuring some protesters.

On Monday night, an order to leave by 6 pm, from Rangoon Division Chief Myint Swe, was distributed among the protesters, raising fears a crackdown was imminent.

With hundreds of observers and journalists present, the protesters stayed put. They again refused to vacate when given a new deadline of 10 am Tuesday.

“Until now, they haven’t cracked down, as they had warned, but they request us to move for the sake of the protesters’ health and so as not to disgrace the SEA Games,” Nay New Than said, referring to the Southeast Asian Games currently being held in Burma. Football matches in Rangoon are being played at Thuwanna Stadium, a short distance from the protest sight.

The villagers have held numerous protests this year to underline their demands over the long-confiscated land. Two Michaungkan village protesters have already been prosecuted and sentenced to several months’ imprisonment for holding protests without government permission, under Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Processions Law.