Three farmers from Mandalay Division, whose land has been confiscated, lay in front of a tractor belonging to the accused company on Wednesday in order to halt work and highlight their claims.
The farmers, from Oh Pyun Kan Village of Wundwin Township, Meikhtila District, accuse Kaungkin Company of illegally seizing land that has been in their families for generations and pledged to fight until death to win back what was stolen.
“As they saw the tractor start working on their lands, Kyaw Win, Thein Aung and U Toke Kyee ran to it and suddenly lay down in front of the tractor, saying, ‘This is our lands, If you want to continue, go over us and kill us first,’” an eyewitness told The Irrawaddy.
According to those present, the tractor drivers stopped their engines and left the scene despite telephone orders from the company’s management to continue work and ignore the farmers.
The protestors said they took action as Kaungkin Company started to work on the confiscated land despite time being set aside by the local authorities for negotiations between the farmers and the company.
“As the authorities requested that no action be taken during negotiation time, we are staying in place, waiting for the result. But [the company] started fencing the lands and harrowed the fields with tractors,” said a farmer.
According to the farmers, Kaungkin Company broke a promise which was given during prior negotiations that they would leave the lands vacant for the time being.
“We cannot accept this kind of action,” added the farmer. “That’s why we proceeded with work on those lands, planting cotton, sesame and sunflower seeds, as they left the area.”
Farmers from four townships—Meikhtila, Hajlaing, Wundwin and Tazi—who had a total of around 300 acres of land confiscated between them, worked their old fields for three days earlier this month to raise awareness of their complaints.
“We do not know how to do anything but farm work. Since we lost our land which was inherited from our grandparents, how can we survive? We would like to request the president to help us,” said Htay Htay Myint, a farmer from Wundwin.
Ever since the 1963 Land Acquisition Act, which nationalized ownership of all land across the country, confiscation practices have be widespread for various reasons—including project construction, expansion of urban areas, establishment of industrial zones and building army bases.
The current administration under reformist President Thein Sein, which appears to allow citizens greater freedom to express grievances, has repeatedly met with farmers demanding the return of confiscated land.
However, some protesting farmers and those who help them are currently facing legal action for trespassing and defamation, while others have been threatened by the local authorities during their protests.
“Due to neglect from both authorities and confiscator companies on compensation, farmers across the country are suffering. Suing or threatening the farmers is not a good way to solve the problem but will worsen the situation,” said Myint Myint Aye, of the Public Affairs Network in Meiktila, who helps the farmers.
Meanwhile, a discussion of the issue took place in Burma’s Lower House of Parliament this week after Tin Htut, the MP for Zalun Township in Irrawaddy Division, requested an investigation of confiscated farmlands and a fair solution for victims.
A special new committee of MPs to investigate illegal land confiscation is expected to be agreed by MPs on Thursday.