At a press conference in Loikaw on Wednesday, farmers in Kayah State appealed to the Union government for help solving ongoing land disputes between them and the Myanmar army.
The farmers held the press conference despite its being banned by the township government.
According to locals, there are three separate land disputes in the region—over 50 and 300 acres on two adjacent tracts in Loikaw and over one 100-acre tract in Demoso Township they say were seized by the military without compensation between 1989 and 1991. Despite the seizures, they continued farming the land until 2014.
More recently, they say, the military grabbed even more land, and on June 19—after the army erected fences that blocked routes to area farms—farmers protested.
That protest ended with No. 360 Artillery Battalion Captain Aung Myo Tun opening trespassing cases against 12 individuals under the Law Protecting the Privacy and Security of Citizens that day—including reporters covering the protest for Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), Eleven Media Group and Kantarawady Times, for aiding and abetting the alleged trespass.
On June 21 two farmers were accused of destroying military property and detained, prompting several other farmers to go into hiding.
According to the army, the farmers trespassed into the compound of the battalion and destroyed fencing and hundreds of trees grown as a windbreak.
“The government has a responsibility to issue proper documents for our land. The government has a duty to solve this problem as soon as possible, so we don’t have a problem with the army,” Khun Thomas, a local rights activist, said at the press conference. “We hate having problems with the army and their cronies all the time. We’re too tired of it.”
Five farmers spoke at the press conference on behalf of the 48 farmers in all affected by the three land disputes. That land, they said, had belonged to their grandparents.
“If we refuse to relocate, they threaten to burn down the whole village,” Khun Thomas said.
The army claims the land in question became theirs in 2014, after U Thein Sein became president and blocked locals from growing food there. They say the farmers do not have any documentation showing their ownership of the land.
Activists, in turn, say the government has never issued them the proper documentation.
Daw Su San Na, a farmer that also spoke at the press conference, said the army took advantage of their lack of legal education, and that farmers had always owned their land by rules governing customary land tenure.
“We used this land to survive for many generations. We felt a lack of hope when they told us they owned the land,” she said. “I feel our land was taken by thieves. If they [the army] have human dignity in mind, they would care about our lives.
“We want to request that they have consideration for our lives as farmers,” she said.