Michaungkan’s Displaced Level Ultimatum, Vow to ‘Escalate’ Protest

By Yen Saning 3 December 2014

RANGOON — Protestors who have set up camp in downtown Rangoon for the better part of a year have issued an ultimatum, demanding that the government come to the negotiating table within seven days to address claims that the Burma Army forcibly displaced them from their homes in Michaungkan quarter more than two decades ago.

The protestors have been camping beside Maha Bandoola Garden for 255 days, but so far their demands for compensation or alternative land have not been met. At the peak of the movement numbering some 300 people, the ranks of those camping out at the site near City Hall had dwindled to less than 100 by Wednesday.

If the government fails to respond within a week, however, “we will escalate our movement by demonstrating in front of respective government offices. For example, police stations and courts,” said Maung Maung, one of the protestors camped near the park.

The campers say they have already contacted and listed 281 families out of the 390 families who had formerly lived in Michaungkan quarter, part of Thingangyun Township, which is centered about two miles east of Rangoon’s Inya Lake.

“We will wait five days for them to come and register,” said Khin Maung Myint, one of the leading protesters, referring to an effort to collect the names of all those displaced by the military in the Michaungkan eviction, which took place in the early 1990s.

The campers say they have waited long enough and have run out of patience, with the health of some protestors deteriorating due to a physically taxing campaign that has involved sleeping on concrete sidewalks and weathering several months of relentless monsoon rains. Some have abandoned their jobs to stay at the camp, while others have left behind sick spouses or parents, sometimes leaving their children to step in as caregivers.

Tun Tun, 37, stopped renting a room for his tailoring shop to support the movement by joining the camping ranks. He left behind his parents, who were dependent on him and are now being cared for by his relatives.

Protestors affected by the Michaungkan land seizure have staged three camp-in protests over the issue, the first one taking place for five days in September 2012. Both previous protests were called off after a pair of local lawmakers promised to resolve the issue through parliamentary means. In January of this year, however, the Ministry of Defense announced that it would not yield the confiscated land, and instead had plans to turn it into housing for veterans. The current protest began on March 24.

Despite hardships in the more than nine months since, the protestors say they are not backing down. Asked what they will do if their demands are not negotiated, 64-year-old Tin Htwe said: “We will keep protesting.”