MPs Urge Prompt Return of Confiscated Land

By Nyein Nyein & Zarni Mann 26 September 2014

Lawmakers in Burma’s Parliament have urged relevant government ministries to swiftly facilitate the return of unused land that had been confiscated from farmers, or to compensate them fairly.

The parliamentary Farmlands Investigation Committee presented a report to MPs in Naypyidaw on Monday which outlined concerns over delays in returning confiscated land and urged the government to address the issue.

The commission said that only 583 complaints out of 2,689 sent to the Defense Ministry had been addressed, while only 299 complaints out of 6,559 submitted to state and regional governments were settled.

Upper House MP Phone Myint Aung told The Irrawaddy that government ministers cannot adequately explain delays in resolving cases, which are hampered by bureaucratic red tape. “They said more time is needed to work on scrutinizing the complaints, despite saying the original date [of resolution would] be at the end of this month,” he said.

Nang Say Awa, an ethnic Karen MP from the Phalon Sawaw Democratic Party and also a member of the committee, said the unused lands must be returned to their owners in accordance with the Farmlands Act. The MP said that in her constituency—Hpa-an—no cases of land confiscation, perpetrated by either the military or businesses, had yet been resolved.

“In some cases in my state, the farmers claim that the land they received back was not the land which was seized,” said Nang Say Awa, adding that farmers were still waiting to claim back land confiscated from them by the military in Karen State’s Kyaikdo, Kawkareik, and Hlaing Bwe.

Explanations from officials in the Defense, Home Affairs, Farmland and Irrigation, Construction, Forestry, Transport and Industry ministries to parliament have failed to alleviate concerns.

“We could only urge the ministries to do their jobs,” said Khin San Hlaing, a National League for Democracy MP representing Pale Township in Sagaing Division. She added that land issues would not be settled until the government ensured that its land records matched the reality of land use on the ground.

Meanwhile, around 5,000 farmers staged a protest on Thursday demanding the return of land confiscated from them for a forest sanctuary in Magwe Division. Farmers from 11 villages of Sinbaungwe Township, Thayet District, gathered in front of Magwe’s Forestry Department office; shouting slogans and holding placards, urging the department to return their lands.

The farmers claim that more than 30,000 acres of land had been confiscated since 2005, as the Forestry Department set boundaries for the new Ba Yone forest sanctuary, near Thayet District.

“We want our farmlands back which were fenced inside the Ba Yone forest sanctuary,” Htin Kyaw, a farmer, told The Irrawaddy. He said residents used to grow bean, corn, sesame and cotton on these lands, but now faced hardship as they are no longer allowed to plant crops—their only source of income.

The farmers protested for the first time in July, but no positive development was seen, said another farmer, Aung Kyaw. He said authorities did not allow them to stage the protest on Thursday, but only agreed to one on Sept. 28.

Protests against land confiscation have occurred across the country in the past three years, with many protest leaders facing prosecution under Article 18 of Burma’s controversial Peaceful Assembly Law for demonstrating without permission.