Farmers Across Burma Ask Thein Sein for Help

By Zarni Mann 27 June 2013

MANDALAY—A movement among farmers to win back confiscated land has spread widely across the country, with protesters in Burma’s biggest city and several other divisions urging President Thein Sein to step in and help.

In downtown Rangoon, more than 200 landowners gathered at Sule Pagoda on Thursday and called on Thein Sein to give back land that was confiscated by the government more than two decades ago. The protesters, mostly from Thingangyun and Mayangone townships, outside the city, said they were displaced by a housing project undertaken by the government in 1991.

“The government said they would build housing as upgrades for people living in small huts, that they would provide modern housing,” a protester told The Irrawaddy. “But in reality, we were forcibly moved to the Pegu mountain region. We want justice, we want our homes and our land back.”

Protesters also came from farther north in Mandalay, Burma’s second-biggest city, after homes in the city’s Myayeenandar Quarter were bulldozed by the municipal committee and land in the Shwe Kyat Yat area was seized by the government’s department of construction.

On Wednesday in Mingalardon Township, north of Rangoon, more than 100 farmers staged a protest urging a land investigation commission in Naypyidaw to probe the seizure of 800 acres of land since 2010 for an industrial zone. They say they did not receive enough notice or proper compensation when the land was taken by Zaykabar Company, a major Burmese conglomerate.

“The company said they gave compensation, but only a few people have received it,” a farmer from Shwe Nan Thar village, where the land was seized, told The Irrawaddy.

In Mandalay Division, nearly 30 farmers have submitted an appeal to the president and the government’s land investigation commission after their land was seized for one of the army’s science and technology bases.

“One hundred and twenty five acres of land have been confiscated since 2006,” said Soe Naing, a farming leader. “At the time, the army allowed us to work with a loan, but now we’ve been ordered to leave our land forever. They said we’ll be shot if we enter the land.

“If we can’t work on the land, how can we survive? We haven’t received any compensation or substitute land. That’s why we want the president to take action.”

Farmers from the area were once allowed to work on the land if they paid seven baskets of rice per acre to the army. That arrangement changed later, with the farmers paying the monetary equivalent of seven baskets of rice. But starting this month, farmers were ordered not to work on the land at all.

Meanwhile, 60 farmers from Minhla Township, Magway Division submitted a report to Naypyidaw urging an investigation of land grabs. More than 300 acres of land in the division were confiscated by an army arms factory.

In east Burma’s Shan State, about 200 farmers and locals gathered outside a police station in Naung Cho Township on Wednesday, urging the release of farmers who were detained for trying to clear bushes on confiscated land. The detained farmers were released with bail after negotiations between the crowd and local authorities.

According to the farmers, more than 40,000 acres of land in Naung Cho have been confiscated by various departments of the government and army.

“It’s very hard for a farmer to survive if he loses his land without compensation or substitute land,” said a farmer from the area. “It’s very unfair to detain a farmer working on his land. We want the president and the responsible authorities to know our situation.”

About 40 farmers in Pegu Division’s Nattalin Township who plowed on confiscated land were also threatened by local authorities.

“The police and authorities watch and disturb us, saying we’ll be arrested if we don’t leave the land,” Yin Kyi, a farmer leader, told The Irrawaddy. “Since we didn’t listen and continued working until all the land had been plowed, they told me to come to the police station alone.”

Over 100 acres of lands owned by more than 57 farmers were confiscated 16 years ago separately by a local army base and Nattalin police station. Farmers started plowing the land in the first week of this month. Three outside activists who went to the plowing area to show their support were detained afterward, for allegedly participating in illegal associations.

“We are the landowners, so we believe we have a right to work on our land,” said a farmer who participated in the plowing. “If they want to arrest us, let them. But we can’t give our land.”

“Calling Ko Yin Kyi alone to the police station is nonsense,” he added. “If they want to call, call all 57 of us.”

In Sagaing Division, farmers from Kantbalu area also submitted a report to the president regarding 14,000 acres that have been confiscated by Myanma Economic Cooperation (MEC) since 1999.

“Only 260 acres were given back after we submitted a form some years ago,” said Thein Maung, from Nyat Pyaw Daw village, where some of the land was taken. “We complained to MEC but they said the case was handed over to the township’s land commission. When we asked the township land commission, we were told the actual amount of land areas had not reached them yet, so who can we rely on? We just want our land back.”

Earlier in June, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said at a public meeting in Pyin Oo Lwin, a hilltown in Mandalay Division, that her party had received many complaint letters from farmers and landowners who had lost their land. She said poor rule of law had encouraged land grabs in the country.

“Without rule of law, land is seized from farmers and families are displaced,” she told the crowd, which include many farmers and displaced land owners who carried placards reading, “Mother Suu, please help people who have lost their land.”