Police Arrest 9 of 21 Kayah Farmers Accused of Trespassing by Myanmar Military

By Htet Khaung Lin 29 August 2019

YANGON—Police have arrested nine of 21 local farmers whom the Myanmar military accuses of trespassing on a cantonment, according to the Karenni State Farmers’ Union.

Police have issued arrest warrants for the 21, and 12 remain at large. “The ninth one was arrested in Loikaw yesterday [Wednesday]. As arrest warrants have been issued for them, it appears that police have their photos and records. So, police will arrest them wherever they see them,” union member Khu Tu Reh told The Irrawaddy.

In July, the Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw) opened legal cases against the farmers, accusing them of destroying public property and trespassing during protests earlier that month on land confiscated by military units from at least five battalions in Loikaw and Demawso townships.

Kayah Earth Rights Action Network manager Saw El Se said the Tatmadaw’s confiscation of land from local farmers while also opening legal cases against them illustrates its power, as well as the current civilian government’s inability to control the military.

“It appears that nothing can be done in Kayah State without the approval of the military. The military can do as it pleases. It has gone further by filing lawsuits against farmers. The current government dismays us. It is not in a position to prevent the military from doing whatever it wants,” he said.

The Tatmadaw, government departments and private businessmen have seized around 50,000 acres of land in Kayah State since 2010. Most cases are attributed to the Tatmadaw, which is believed to be motivated by a desire to increase the territory under its control and ensure cantonment security.

On Aug. 20, the Kayah Earth Rights Action Network released a report urging that local residents’ rights to land and resources be acknowledged.

The report on the “Federal Land Governance Haze Still Shrouding the Land Sector in Myanmar” called for recognition of the customary land tenure system and the dropping of lawsuits filed against local people, saying that seizure of land from locals, along with their arrest and prosecution, negatively affect social security and the peace process.

The report also called for a moratorium on the enactment of laws, the inviting of investment and the issuance of land-use permits that negatively impact land and resources belonging to local ethnic people until a federal land law or a Union land law is promulgated that protects land and water sources and the territories of ethnic people.

The Tatmadaw also opened cases against nearly 50 local farmers and two local reporters at the Loikaw Township Court accusing them of disrupting the work of civil servants.