Burma’s military has allegedly leased lands it confiscated in the Ngapali Beach area of Burma’s western Arakan State to five construction companies, contravening a promise to return the plots to their original owners if they were not used for defense purposes.
A number of area residents, whose lands were seized in 2000, told The Irrawaddy that their property was ostensibly taken more than a decade ago for the construction of army buildings and related purposes. If not used for these purposes, locals say they were told the land would be returned to its owners. However, private companies are currently building hotels on those lands instead, after receiving 30-year leases on the properties, they said.
“It seems that the army is pushing the companies to finish the construction of hotels as soon as possible, probably because they know they have to give the confiscated lands back to us if they remain unused,” said one victim. “Since the Ngapali area was granted township status, the price of an acre of land along the beach has risen to 2.5 to 3 billion kyats [US$2.5 to $3 million].”
The former landholder, who requested anonymity, listed Max Myanmar, Eden Group, Min Zar Ni, Amazing Hotels and Paw Kyun as the companies that were granted leases.
Attempts by The Irrawaddy to contact Eden Group and Max Myanmar to seek more information about the alleged hotel construction projects were not successful.
According to locals, nearly 36 acres of lands were confiscated in 2000, but none of the victims has yet received proper compensation.
“We also had to dismantle our guesthouses on our lands before they were taken by force,” recalled Mu Mu, one of the former guesthouse owners. “Lands belonging to 60 people like me were part of those plots that the army grabbed, but we were not given any compensation.”
Myint Hlaing, a Ngapali resident and member of the Upper House of Parliament, told The Irrawaddy that he had brought the issue before the legislature many times, proposing that the confiscated lands be returned if they were not in use.
Earlier this year, Defense Minister Lt-Gen Wai Lwin made a similar promise, saying in July that lands confiscated by the military that were not being used would be returned to the original owners.
“The defense minister [Lt-Gen Wai Lwin] said the army does not own the money it gains from land leases and has to hand it over to the State,” said Myint Hlaing. “But he didn’t answer clearly when I asked him how the army would take care of the victims.”
Meanwhile, villagers living around the beach say they are worried that they will be relocated elsewhere in the aftermath of an administrative reshuffle that saw the village of Ngapali upgraded to township status.
“Locals are worried that their houses will be removed because of news about the building of hotel zones,” Htun Oo, a Ngapali resident, told The Irrawaddy. “Government authorities here, however, haven’t explained anything to us openly.”
According to Htun Wai, the administrator of Thandwe District, which Ngapali falls within, President Thein Sein during his visit to Arakan State last month instructed local authorities to upgrade the administrative status of the village of Ngapali in order to promote tourism.
“As local authorities, we do not confiscate farmlands by force or relocate people,” said Htun Wai. “We just upgrade the status of our people here from villagers to townsmen.”
Ngapali Township will reportedly comprise 10 villages, including the village from which the new township derives its namesake.