Farmer Dies in Irrawaddy Division Land Dispute

By Salai Thant Zin 5 September 2016

One farmer was killed and four injured when a farmland dispute turned violent in a forest reserve in the area of Shwe Kyun Tha in Labutta Township of Irrawaddy Division on Saturday.

The five farmers were rushed to Labutta Township Hospital, one dying the same day. The other four are still receiving medical treatment, U Than Naing of the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society activist group told The Irrawaddy on Monday.

The death followed what was only the latest confrontation between farmers who claim to have originally held the farmland in Shwe Kyun Tha, and farmers who now occupy it, in a dispute over land rights that has continued since 2013.

In 1992, the Labutta Township Forestry Department confiscated the land from the original farmers in order to plant a mangrove forest. The project was not implemented, and the department handed the land over to another group of farmers. In 2013, after the U Thein Sein administration established committees to resolve historic land disputes, the original Shwe Kyun Tha farmers began to demand their land back.

The deceased farmer belonged to the group of “new” farmers. Following the death, police detained four from the group of “original” farmers and three from the group of “new” farmers.

Police have since been guarding the houses of the “original” farmers, after a rumor circulated that the “new” farmers would mount a revenge attack, said Nyo Seint of the Human Rights Activist Network based in the Irrawaddy Division capital of Pathein.

Irrawaddy Division Chief of Police Col Tun Min confirmed that he had dispatched his deputy to supervise the Labutta District Police, to ensure against further clashes.

In other events, the Labutta Township Forestry Department in the second week of August sued 12 local farmers for illegally fishing, breeding prawns and felling wood in the same forest reserve.

U Chit Than Tun, who heads the department, said that local forest coverage was shrinking: he had sued the farmers as a “warning,” after receiving instructions from headquarters in Naypyidaw to step up forest conservation efforts.

U Tun Tun Oo, who heads the Pathein-based Human Rights Activist Network, said that three of the farmers, who were charged with trespassing in the forest resolve, had illegally been detained beyond the 12-hour limit mandated by the offence.

Labutta township court conducted an initial hearing for the farmers on Aug. 29. The second hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.

U Aung Moe Win, chairman of the Labutta Farmer’s Union, said tension is unavoidable if the forestry department continues to sue local farmers for trespassing on the forest reserve.

“The forestry department did not enforce forestry laws in the past, but now they are applying them without studying the situation on the ground. I would say it is wrong to conserve forests in this way,” he said.