Kayah Farmers Continue Military Protest, Now in Silence

By Lawi Weng 4 July 2019

Farmers in Demoso Township, Kayah State staged protests in two locations within the township Thursday against what they say are illegal seizures of their land by the Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw).

The farmers asked the Tatmadaw to return their land and to release other farmers that have recently been detained.

“We do not have any more land to grow food on now that the army has seized all our land. We wanted to show the army how we have been suffering, so we held a protest,” Ka Kar, a leader of one of the protests, told The Irrawaddy Thursday.

Dozens joined in silence at the protests, holding handwritten signs demanding their land, a solution to the land use issues that plague the area and the release of previously detained farmers.

Explaining the silent tactic the protesters have taken, Ka Kar said “We feel it is undemocratic when the government and the army do not listen to our voice.”

One protest was held at the town’s central traffic circle while the other was held at the Ngwe Taung Dam.

Ka Kar said he sought approval from the police before organizing the protest and creating the posters, and that police told him the Tatmadaw would not allow the protesters to use the military’s name on the posters.

“I asked them, so who took our land if not the army,” he said.

In the end, the protest signs on Thursday ultimately did not name the army.

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. Locals say all three were seized by the military without compensation between 1989 and 1991.

Despite the seizures, they continued farming the land until 2014, when the military disallowed it. Still, some continued or tried to continue growing on the land after that.

Protests intensified recently when the military erected a fence blocking a trail leading to local farmland. According to the Tatmadaw, farmers trespassed into a battalion compound, destroying the fence and hundreds of trees grown as a winbreak.

Captain Aung Myo Tun of No. 360 Artillery Battalion opened a case against 12 individuals, including reporters, on June 19, causing several farmers to flee into hiding.

Three farmers were arrested on July 2 by the military, and another two were arrested in June. The military has asked police to take action against nine farmers in total.

“We asked [the military] to release our farmers. It is not fair to take our land and arrest our farmers,” said Ka Kar.

“When we see the army, we do not see a people defending the country anymore. We just see people who’ve come to destroy our rice pot,” he said.

A military spokesperson was not available for comment Thursday evening.

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