MPs Form Committee to Probe Land Grabs

By Lawi Weng 25 July 2012

The problem of illegal land confiscations will be investigated by a special new committee of MPs after a discussion of the issue in Parliament on Thursday.

Countless cases of farmers and other landowners having property seized by the military, private companies or used for national projects over the last half-century have made parliamentarians treat the issue as a priority.

Burma’s Lower House set aside four days to debate the matter on July 23-26 with 45 MPs bringing up cases of land confiscations from their constituencies.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Wednesday, Pe Than, an MP for the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party, said, “The [army] told the victims they would take their land to build barracks. But the barracks only needed a little space and they auctioned the rest to a company.”

Ever since the 1963 Land Acquisition Act, which nationalized ownership of all land across the country, confiscation practices have be widespread for various reasons—including project construction, expansion of urban areas, establishment of industrial zones and building army bases.

Pe Than said that the problem was exacerbated by bribery and collusion between private companies, the military and the land measurement departments of local townships.

No one has had the right to protest land seizures during the last five decades of military rule in Burma, but the country’s recent political reforms mean that many victims have begun speaking up in an effort to get confiscated land returned.

Tin Htut, an MP from Zalun Constituency in Irrawaddy division, urged local authorities to probe farmland confiscation cases and consider legal reform to guarantee no losses to farmers.

Earlier this year, MPs formed a committee to evaluate the development of ethnic areas of the country. However, members said that progress was impossible without first solving the problem of land confiscations, according to Lower House MP Nai Banyar Aung Moe of the All Mon Regions Democracy Party (AMDP).

No one among the military representatives at Parliament discussed the issue during this week’s debate. However, Pe Than said that some army appointees described how the subject tarnished the reputation of the armed forces while speaking on the sidelines.

Mi Myint Than, an MP for the AMDP, proposed discussing land confiscations as it remains a serious concern in her constituency of Ye Township, Mon State, where around 2,000 acres are currently being disputed. She added that around 20,000 acres have been confiscated by the army in the whole of Mon State, most of which contain valuable rubber plants.

Burma is an agricultural country where the majority of people are farmers. After recent political reforms, many farmers from all over the country have begun protesting in order to get their land returned.

Lower House MP Khin Shwe, chairman of Zay Kabar Company which has been accused of large land confiscations in Rangoon Division, also discussed the land issue.

The ruling military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party representative said that his company did not force people from their land but confiscated it legally. Zay Kabar Company recently launched a defamation lawsuit against Peace and Diversity Party Chairman Nay Myo Wai after he helped protesting farmers.

“We are very sorry for innocent farmers,” said Pe Than. “They are people who are innocent and they did not dare to complain about anything when the army took their land. This land belonged to their parents and it must be a bad feeling after their land was confiscated.”

A final decision on the formation of the land confiscation investigation committee is due on Thursday.