RANGOON — More than 6,000 acres of land confiscated over the past decades were returned to their rightful owners on Saturday in Irrawaddy Division, marking the first attempt to do so by the new government after forming a national-level land dispute committee in early May.
During a ceremony, 3,166 acres seized by Yuzana Company in Pantanaw Township were returned to 252 farmers while 3,268 acres taken by the Ministry of Industry in Pyapon Township were returned to 72 owners.
Yuzana, run by Htay Myint, is a Burmese conglomerate blacklisted by the United States, and has also seized 270,000 acres of farmland in the remote Hukawng region of Kachin State for agriculture ventures, including cassava and sugarcane plantations. In early May, more than 8,000 villagers from the area sent an open letter to the new government calling on it to resolve a massive land confiscation dispute with the company.
On Saturday, Vice President Henry Van Thio, who is also the chairman of the Central Review Committee on Confiscated Farm Lands and Other Lands, said during the ceremony that the government was making systematic efforts to ensure transparency in returning confiscated lands to farmers.
“However, in some cases, farmers should wait a certain amount of time as the work needs to be carried out in conformity with the existing rules and regulations of the land laws,” he said.
Van Thio added that private companies and government departments had been granted permission to confiscate land, including farmland, under the pretext of urbanization and industrialization.
According to findings of the Farmers Affairs Committee in the Upper House of Parliament, as many as 2 million acres of land across Burma could be considered “confiscated.”
In May, Burma’s President Htin Kyaw formed the Central Review Committee on Confiscated Farmlands and Other Lands, chaired by Henry Van Thio, an ethnic Chin who is one of Burma’s two vice presidents. The committee is couched within the executive branch and is distinct from existing parliamentary committees with similar portfolios. It is tasked with monitoring state and divisional governments’ handling of land disputes and enabling the return of land to dispossessed farmers from government ministries, state-owned enterprises and private companies.
At the time this new executive committee was announced, the President’s Office urged that further land acquisition be postponed until disputes were settled in accordance with the law.
Additional reporting by Salai Thant Zin in Pantanaw.