Protesters Call for Resignation of Arakan State’s Regional House Speaker

By Moe Myint 27 December 2016

RANGOON – Around 100 Sittwe residents called for the resignation of the Arakan State parliament speaker in a Tuesday protest over unresolved cases of land confiscation, rally participants told The Irrawaddy.

The land grabs in question date as far back as the early 1990s, when Burma was governed by a military junta. Seizures of land were reportedly carried out to develop an industrial ward in the area.

Before handing administrative power to the newly elected National League for Democracy government (NLD) earlier this year, previous Arakan State Chief Minister U Mya Aung, Border and Security Affairs Minister U Htein Lin, and other cabinet members and high-ranking bureaucrats were reportedly named as owners of 515 acres of the land in question.

U Hla Htun Maung, a demonstrator in Tuesday’s protest, said that locals who also claim ownership of the land have never been paid any compensation from the authorities. He also speculated that current members of government had been “directly involved” in the land seizure, including regional parliamentary speaker U San Kyaw Hla.

“We voted for them in last election but now they ignore the loss of the civilians. We are really dissatisfied with that and that’s why we demand that [U San Kyaw Hla] resign from the post,” he said.

U San Kyaw Hla spoke with The Irrawaddy over the phone on Tuesday to respond to the allegations. He said that the previous government had seized land now allocated for the construction of ministerial residences, including his own, and that was why he had been named by the demonstrators. He pointed out that a parliamentary commission of seven lawmakers had been investigating the case in recent months.

“If that land was unjustly seized from the farmers, I will release the land to the real owners,” he said, also promising that the Arakan State government would provide compensation if the land could not be returned.

Current Arakan State Chief Minister, the NLD’s U Nyi Pu, wrote a Facebook post in August calling for an investigation into allegations that government officials had claimed confiscated land. He said that since 2001, the Industrial Land Committee designed 466 estates and sold just over 400 yards of land for 250,000 kyats (US$210) in 2015. Another 65 estates were used as camps to house displaced communities in the region.

Also in early August, U Nyi Pu ordered a halt to the construction of a fence around an industrial ward on disputed land near Set Yoe Kya village outside of Sittwe, as locals marched toward the area to confront the builders.