RANGOON — Farmers in Mandalay protested on Monday to demand fair land compensation and the release of 10 detained activists, in the second large-scale demonstration against the Myotha Industrial Zone since construction began in 2012.
Farmers said that while they support the development and would accept fair payment, they have been pressured by village administrators to accept compensation schemes far below market value.
Villagers said that the Burmese government seized the land several years ago to make way for the 10,000-acre industrial development, which will be built by Royal Hi-Tech Group and its subsidiary Myanmar Myotha Industrial Zone Private Co. Company representatives were unavailable for comment and little data about the development is publicly available.
Demonstrators said that 10 villagers have been detained since staging the first public demonstration against the development in November, 2014. All ten are awaiting trial on charges of incitement under several articles of Burma’s Penal Code, including the notorious Article 505(b), which has been repeatedly used in cases against activists.
Shwe Wyne, who owned about 45 acres of farmland, told The Irrawaddy that while the company has reimbursed some farmers for lost or damaged crops, they have yet to make payment for land. Many farmers, she said, “cannot buy one acre with the compensation fees” that they have received.
Others complained that the company deliberately tried to confuse farmers while deals were being struck, dividing land into two types—pasture and farm—which have different values. Those who didn’t understand the distinction claimed to have been swindled into accepting an undervalued compensation package, while those who were closely associated with village administrators got a better deal.
One farmer, Than Lwin, said he was “forced” to accept an undervalued estimate under threat of losing his property and facing a prison sentence. He and other demonstrators said they will continue protesting against the development until their claims are fairly dealt with and their peers released from custody, vowing to establish a protest camp at the Mandalay Division Government offices.
Mandalay Myotha Industrial Zone is located about 50km (31 miles) from downtown Mandalay, and is expected to connect to a port on the Irrawaddy River operated by the same ownership. Project developers told The Irrawaddy in October 2013 that the plan could create about 200,000 local jobs.