Over 100 civil society representatives from across Mon State participated in a two-day land policy workshop in the state capital of Moulmein.
The attendees formed a new 15-member acting committee that will draft an updated land policy for Mon State, in the hope that it will influence future federal law.
The workshop, held from Sept. 4-5, was reportedly the first of its kind hosted by the New Mon State Party (NMSP) and various Mon State civil society organizations.
Nai Swor Mon, a civil society spokesperson from Mon State said, “We mainly will try to get voices from the ground first, and then we will draft a policy.” After local consultations, more workshops will be needed, he explained.
Nai Swor Mon added that the preparation of policies will help the Mon when the country has a truly federal system.
At that time, he envisions, “there will be different land policies for the people who stay in the mountains, and those who stay in the lowlands.”
Mon leaders at the recent workshop criticized the current government for using what they called “centralized democracy,” in which they said that farmers in ethnic states lacked control over their own land—control that they hope farmers would gain under a more federal system.
The members of the newly formed committee will collect data about land use throughout Mon State, document the concerns and experiences of local farmers, and allow this information to inform a policy draft.
“We believed that our Mon should have one land policy, so we decided to hold this two-day workshop,” said Zaw Min Oo, a member of both the new drafting committee and the NMSP.
Even the 2008 Constitution lacks protection for the land rights of ethnic minorities, he added. “Our ethnic groups need our own land policy because we need to protect our land. Their constitution does not protect our land.”
In the federal system, he said, “farmers should own the land. But, the current policy from the government states that our Mon are just farmers—they cannot own the land.”
Much land in Mon State is reported to have been confiscated by various authorities, including the Burma Army. Data on land collected by committee members will also apply to confiscated land, Zaw Min Oo said.