Burma’s parliamentary Land Investigation Committee started visiting different parts of the country this week including Arakan, Mon and Karen states plus Tenasserim (Tanintharyi) Division to probe alleged illegal confiscations.
MPs recently visited three townships in Arakan State while other committee members arrived in Karen State on Tuesday where they met Chief Minister Zaw Min. MPs representing different areas of Burma tend to form working groups near their home constituencies.
“We have 13 cases from complaints that we need to investigate,” Ba Shein, a Lower House MP for the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party investigating confiscations in Arakan State, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday. “We are in Myebon Township today while we have already visited Ponnagyun and Mingya townships.
“Our investigation intends to help victims who have suffered a lot when their land was confiscated. We are working according to the order from the Union Parliament,” he added.
The Arakan working group investigated five cases at the three townships and found that more than 1,000 acres had been confiscated by people of different positions. While some cases involved land seized by the army, other incidents involved commercial companies and even individual officials from government departments.
“For example, the land in Ponnagyun Township confiscated by the local authorities was around 18 acres, according to the complaint,” explained Ba Shein, who is also a lawyer, adding that there were many complicated cases where it was difficult to determine what belongs to whom.
“When we are in the field, we found different situations compared with land on the map. According to the map, it might be wild land, but then we found on the ground that this land belonged to people and they are conducting business on it,” said Ba Shein.
Other members of the investigation committee arrived in the Karen State capital Pa-an on Wednesday and will then proceed to other nearby townships, according to committee member Mi Myint Than, a Lower House MP. She explained that her team will travel to different parts of Karen State including Thandaung Township on the trip which is due to end on Oct. 3.
The All Mon Regions Democracy Party MP said that most land confiscations in Karen State were performed by the township authorities via different government departments. The majority of seized land in Karen State contained rice paddy with rubber plantations more prevalent in neighboring Mon State, she added.
Around 14,000 acres of land has been confiscated by the armed forces in Mon State while the committee does not yet have figures for the total number of seized acres in Karen State, said Mi Myint Than, adding that her team will soon travel south to Dawei (Tavoy) where land grab allegations are rife.
“I want to tell people not to be afraid so come and complain to us,” she said. “The political situation has changed and people should not be afraid. We will be the first persons who go to prison if the authorities make problems so do not be afraid to complain.”
Countless cases of farmers and other landowners having property seized by the military, private companies or used for national projects over the last half-century have made parliamentarians treat the issue of land grabs as a priority.
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.
Burma is an agricultural country where the majority of people grow crops. After recent political reforms, many farmers from all over the country have begun protesting in order to get confiscated land returned.