Farmers Work to Win Back Seized Land

By Zarni Mann 12 July 2012

Farmers from four townships of Meiktila District in Mandalay Division whose land has been confiscated say they will go and work their old fields for three days this week in a bid to win them back.

Around 300 acres in Meiktila, Mahlaing, Wundwin and Thazi townships have reportedly been grabbed by either private companies or the Burmese state.

“We do it as an attempt to get our lands back. We are not afraid of being charged. We think we are right to do so to get what we own. We have also written to the president for the return of our lands,” Kyaw Win, one of the victims from Wundwin Township, told The Irrawaddy.

He said over 70 acres of land belonging to 18 farmers in his township were confiscated by Kaungkin (Sky) company in November last year without any compensation, and some parts have already been replanted with mango and thanakha (Limonia Acidissima) trees.

Kyaw Win added that similar protest action is being taken across the three other townships.

Supporters of the farmers told The Irrawaddy that officials from the respective township administration offices and local police have been documenting the actions of aggrieved farmers by taking photos and video.

“They do not interfere with the farmers. They seem to be mediating between the company and the victims in order to prevent further problems. The district administrator said he will resolve this case,” said Myint Myit Aye, who runs the Public Affairs Network in Meiktila.

She said farmland in Mahlaing Township was temporarily grabbed when the Rangoon-Mandalay highway was constructed many years ago, but has still not been returned to its rightful owners after the completion of the project.

“The Department of Construction [DoC], which is under Burma’s Ministry of Construction, confiscated those lands saying that they would be temporarily seized for the highway construction,” said Myint Myit Aye.

“To date, the DoC hasn’t returned those lands to owners. We sent a letter to the president claiming that farmers have the right to own these lands again. In Thazi Township, some farmlands have been taken for more than 20 years.”

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.

Members of the 88 Generation Students group and other civil society organizations with legal expertise have also been offering assistance to those affected.

Tin Htut, a member of parliament for Zalun Township in Irrawaddy Division, has submitted a proposal to the current parliamentary session which requests an investigation of confiscated farmlands and a fair solution for victims.