Some 300 farmers from nine villages in Rangoon’s Dagon Seik Kam Township protested on Friday in front of the Pinle Koe Thwe company building—owned by Rangoon Division parliamentarian Aung Than Oo—demanding the return of their confiscated farmlands.
Pho Phyu, a lawyer representing many of the farmers, said that more than 10,000 acres of farmland were arbitrarily seized by 16 individual companies in 2008.
He said that MPs should focus on working to develop the laws relating to farming, such as the farmland redistribution act, and ensuring farmers’ rights.
Maung Nyo, a farmer from Thaepinchaung village, who alleges that 7.33 acres of his farmland were confiscated four years ago by the Myanmar National Prosperity Public Company, told The Irrawaddy that the firms were now growing paddy and employing the landowners’ laborers who had become unemployed when the land was seized.
“Many of us have become laborers on our own land,” he said. “It belonged to us before. But now we have lost everything. We cannot bear it any longer. We demand our lands back. It is a matter of survival!”
The 16 firms include Pinle Koe Thwe, Myanmar National Prosperity Public Company and the Shwe Nagar Min company.
Pho Phyu and representatives of the protesting farmers said that the companies seized their lands citing verbal orders. They then compensated the farmers with less amount than the actual value of the land. They told The Irrawaddy they were paid between 30,000 and 50,000 kyat [US $34 to $57) per acre while the actual price should have been around 500,000 kyat [$570] per acre.
The protest in Dagon marks the second public display of discontent by farmers in Rangoon Division since the “right to protest” and “right to gather” laws were passed by Parliament two weeks ago. The first was in Mingaladon Township.
The local authorities, including the police and local township administrator, on Tuesday gave permission to the organizers to exercise their right to gather in front of the Pinle Koe Thwe company. However, Phoe Phyu said they were restricted in numbers.
“We applied to conduct a protest with 900 people, but the authorities only gave permission for 300 farmers to participate,” he said.
In October last year, many of the Dagon farmers were charged after conducting a demonstration in front of the housing department in Rangoon. Their trials, being held in Botataung Township Court, are ongoing, said the lawyer.