Myanmar Military Expands Trespassing Lawsuits to Target 41 Karenni Farmers

By Zaw Zaw Htwe 16 December 2019

YANGON—The Myanmar military has now sued 41 farmers in two Kayah State townships for allegedly trespassing and farming on land seized by the military.

The military filed additional suits on Friday against about 10 farmers including three staff of the Karenni State Farmer Union (KSFU).

A total of 41 farmers including three activists from the two townships have been sued under Articles 447 and 427 of the Penal Code for trespassing and causing damage and also for breaking military fences under the Public Property Protection Act. Anyone found guilty would be sentenced to between three months and seven years in prison.

Artillery and infantry battalions in Loikaw and Demoso townships started building fences in May on land that had sat unused since the military seized it from the farmers in 1990, according to the KSFU.

The land had been farmed for about 50 years and the communities had Form 7 land-registration certificates, the KSFU told The Irrawaddy last week.

”These farmlands are a security matter for the military. They are also fundamental to the lives of farmers,” said Khu Tu Reh, chair of the KSFU, on Monday.

He said that families of farmers sued by the military are now dealing with both physical and mental hardship due to the lawsuits and farmland confiscations.

The military has filed around 60 lawsuits against farmers in Kayah State since July.

According to the records of the KSFU, some farmers have been sued several times under the same legal statutes in lawsuits filed by different military officers of the same battalion.

Currently, 11 of the 41 farmers facing suits, including one woman, have been detained and the other 30 farmers, including three farmer union members, have been granted bail.

The Irrawaddy was unable to obtain comment from the military on Monday.

Maung Saung Kha from Athan, a group advocating for freedom of expression in Myanmar, recently told The Irrawaddy that illegal seizure of farmland is a violation of land rights and that the government should not neglect these issues. He said that the government should handle land disputes involving the military responsibly and address the grievances of the farmers.

The Federation of Ethnic Farmers Network (FEFN) issued a statement on Monday asking the military to withdraw its lawsuits against farmers. The statement said that since the civilian government came to power in Myanmar, there have been blatant rights violations in ethnic areas due to government projects.

The FEFN statement also said that the military is suing large numbers of ethnic farmers in order to destroy their lives, both physically and mentally.

The FEFN also said that the government and members of Parliament are failing to prevent organizations and businesses from committing human rights violations in ethnic areas.

The statement also asked that the government establish a judicial body to take action against those who have been violating human rights for many years.