Farmers in Kawthaung Fear Loss of Land

By Lawi Weng 28 June 2012

A group of farmers in Kawthaung Township, Tenasserim Division, say they are worried they will be evicted from their land after a local army installation put up a signboard last week announcing that it was the owner of the property.

The 50-acre parcel of land, located between the Shwe Pyi Soe and Shwe Pyi Thar quarters, was claimed by the Burmese army’s Light Infantry Battalion 342, and is valued at 100 million kyat (US $115,000), according to the farmers.

The signboard suddenly appeared on June 21 and gave no indication of what the army intended to do with the property. However, local people said that a mining company had recently visited the area, fueling speculation that the land would soon be sold to the company.

Seeking help in asserting their claim to the land, 16 farmers have appealed to the Democratic Party (Myanmar) to petition President Thein Sein on their behalf.

“They feel hopeless after being told that the land does not belong to them. They didn’t know what to do, so they came to our office to ask for help,” said party organizer Than Tun, adding that many of the farmers had produced government-issued documents to back up their claims of ownership.

Most of the farmers said that they inherited the land from their parents, and that they have cultivated it for decades. One farmer who said he owned seven acres told The Irrawaddy: “I planted 1,500 rubber plants last year and was planning to plant another 1,000 this year.”

Some accused local land survey officers of cooperating with the army to transfer ownership of the land.

Land confiscation has become an increasingly contentious issue in Burma in recent years, as the government and cronies of the country’s former military rulers force owners off their property to make way for mega-projects and commercial enterprises.

Most land was nationalized in the 1960s following a coup by Gen Ne Win. After the collapse of his socialist regime in 1988, successive military rules failed to address the issue, allowing anyone with sufficient political influence or money to supersede claims based on historic right.

Burma’s military-dominated Parliament is drafting a new land law, but it has been subject to very little public debate. Some observers say it will merely strengthen the ability of military-linked businesses to lay legal claim to land with commercial value.