NAYPYITAW—The Myanmar Army, also known as the Tatmadaw, has returned over 300 acres of land it previously confiscated on the grounds of the food security of Tatmadaw troops in Rakhine State’s Ann Township.
“The Tatmadaw has left 300.18 acres of land and handed it over to the government. The government gave temporary permits [for farming] to its original owners. So far, the Tatmadaw has returned over 500 acres of lands for which temporary permits were issued,” Ann Township lawmaker of Rakhine State Parliament U Khin Maung Htay told The Irrawaddy.
According to Myanmar’s farmland laws, when confiscated lands are returned, the original owners do not immediately get Form 7, which is the ownership certificate. Instead, they get Form 3, which is a temporary permit for farming. They get Form 7 only if they can present documents in support of their ownership.
The Tatmadaw’s handing back of land was marked by a ceremony held in Ann Township on Thursday which was attended by Vice-President Henry Van Thio, who is also the chairman of the Central Committee for Rescrutinizing Confiscated Farmlands and Other Lands, alongside permanent secretary of the defense ministry Brig-Gen Aung Kyaw Hoe.
Temporary farming permits for 300.18 acres of land were handed to 41 original owners. The lands had been confiscated by No. 373 Light Infantry Battalion of the Western Command.
The land cannot be used for farming immediately—embankments need to be repaired and farmland reestablished as the battalion used the land for breeding fish and prawns, said lawmaker U Khin Maung Htay.
“The confiscated lands are not close to the battalion. They are at the border of Ann and Kyaukphyu townships. It seems a lot has to be done to reestablish those lands for farming,” he said.
He declined to comment when asked if he thought the Tatmadaw returned those lands because they could no longer be used for farming.
Thursday’s event marks the first time the Tatmadaw has returned confiscated lands in a ceremony. However, there are many land-grab cases involving the Tatmadaw which have yet to be resolved, said Upper House lawmaker Daw Htoot May.
“The number of acres abandoned is very small [compared to the amount that has not yet been returned]. Lands were grabbed either by individuals or groups. I think the amount of land confiscated by the Tamadaw in Rakhine State is highest in Ann Township,” she said.
Since 2016, the Lower House Agriculture, Livestock and Rural Development Committee of Myanmar’s Parliament has received over 301 complaints regarding land grab issues in Rakhine State, said committee member Daw Ni Ni May Myint, who is also a Lower House lawmaker representing Rakhine State’s Taungup Township.
President U Win Myint has instructed state and regional chief ministers to wrap up land grab probes by the end of the year, according to Ayeyawady Region Chief Minister U Hla Moe Aung.
Committees at different levels will only investigate cases that arose after 1988, and will not handle cases already under investigation by farmland management committees, or disputes over land seized from farmers by lenders for failure to repay debts.