Neither Return nor More Compensation: Myanmar Military Stands Firmly on Farmers’ Confiscated Land

By Kyaw Myo 15 July 2020

NAYPYITAW—The Defense Ministry says it has no plan to return the farmland it confiscated for a sugar mill project in Sagaing Region’s Kantbalu Township or give additional compensation to the land’s original owners.

“As compensation was given according to the market rates, since lands were confiscated for the mill, [the Defense Ministry] has no plan to give additional compensation or return the land,” Deputy Minister Major General Myint Nwe told the Upper House on Tuesday.

According to local residents, in 1999, the Myanmar military took around 1,000 acres of land owned by over 180 farmers from several villages including Htantabin, Chaungkan and Thalel-U in Kantbalu Township for a sugar mill project to be operated by the military-owned Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC).

The land was worth around 80,000 kyats per acre on the market at the time (equal to US$58.47 today), but the Myanmar military only gave 20,000 kyats per acre, according to Upper House lawmaker U Win Aung of Sagaing Region.

“Farmers neither received appropriate compensation nor were they given land elsewhere. They also lost their crops and plants along with the land. We have the responsibility to remedy the sufferings of farmers who are in grinding poverty,” said U Win Aung.

According to field surveys in May 2017 by the district’s Committee for Scrutinizing Confiscated Farmlands and Other Lands and its Farmland Management and Statistics Department, there are 100 acres of spare land on the compound of the MEC-run sugar mill and that land was leased out to tenants and for fishing.

The district-level Committee for Scrutinizing Confiscated Farmlands and Other Lands then asked that the unused land be returned to the farmers and that additional compensation be paid to dispossessed farmers according to the market rates at the time. U Win Aung said that the MEC did not return the land and so he had to raise the issue.

Maj-Gen Myint Nwe said a team comprised of the Kantbalu Township Peace and Development Council—which was the township-level administrative body during the military regime—and the township Land Records Department gave compensation to over 180 farmers in accordance with the law.

“We found that compensation was given to each farmer according to the recommendations of relevant civil departments,” said Maj-Gen Myint Nwe.

He said the sugar mill is still operating and there is no spare land because an ethanol plant, staff quarters, roads, sugarcane plantations and beans and pluses plantations are taking up land in the compound.

He insisted that compensation was given according to the market rate at the time, citing a policy that, in cases where land owners were compensated according to market rates at the time of confiscation, dispossessed farmers cannot ask for further compensation at later time.

U Thein Tun Aung, one of the farmers demanding the return of land grabbed by the military, said the deputy defense minister’s statements ignored the suggestion of the Committee for Scrutinizing Confiscated Farmlands and Other Lands that the unused land be returned and that appropriate compensation be given to owners.

“We will continue to do what we can within the legal framework unless and until we get our legal rights,” said U Thein Tun Aung.

Disputes over land remain one a central challenge in Myanmar. The Central Committee for Scrutinizing Confiscated Farmlands and Other Lands was established in May 2016. The committee, chaired by Vice President Henry Van Thio, falls under the executive branch and is distinct from parliamentary committees with similar responsibilities.

Tasked with monitoring state and divisional governments’ handling of land disputes, the committee can enable the return of land to dispossessed farmers from government ministries, state-owned enterprises and private companies.

The committee has adopted a policy that adequate compensation should be provided to dispossessed farmers, many of whom have received only nominal sums or nothing at all, for the confiscation of their land, and that government ministries, state-owned enterprises and private companies should relinquish confiscated lands which they no longer use.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.

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