No Quick Fix for Rangoon Land-Grab Victims: Govt

By Yen Saning 29 August 2014

RANGOON — Rangoon’s divisional government has said hundreds of land-grab cases brought to its attention will not be resolved by the end of its current term in early 2016, an admission that may position the issue prominently in next year’s elections.

Soe Min, the divisional government’s minister of agriculture and livestock, said during a parliamentary session on Wednesday that victims of land confiscation, many of them farmers, would not likely see their cases addressed before the end of its term. The minister said the fact that many land confiscations dated back to Burma’s former military regime was partly to blame for the lack of resolution.

His comments came following a proposal submitted this week by regional parliamentarian Win Htein from a Tamwe Township constituency, who urged the Rangoon Division government to address more than 300 cases of alleged land grabbing before its term in office concluded.

“We have lots of difficulties in resolving [land-grab issues],” Soe Min said. “We will try to solve them during our government’s term with the help of different levels of land management committees.

“But it will not be possible to finish solving all issues, so the parliament should note the MP’s proposal for the record,” he said at a parliamentary session on Wednesday.

With hundreds of cases and thousands of people affected in Rangoon alone, the issue is likely to be a factor in elections expected in late 2015. Union Parliament lawmakers early this year said the government was vastly underestimating the problem by acknowledging only a fraction of more than 6,000 complaints submitted nationwide.

Nan Khin Htwe Myint, a member of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party’s central executive committee, expressed disappointment at the government’s efforts to tackle the issue.

“They don’t want to solve it,” she told The Irrawaddy on Friday. “They don’t address the thorny tasks that might earn the people’s ire and leave it to the next government.”

“They said they can’t solve it, but when it came to confiscating it, they had no problem,” Nan Khin Htwe Myint added, though when asked by The Irrawaddy, she said the NLD had no specific policy to tackle the problem itself.

There were 330 land-grab cases in Rangoon Division alone, according to Soe Win, another member of the divisional parliament, who was citing a July report from a Union-level committee tasked with investigating land-grabs nationwide.

Several high-profile cases have made headlines in recent months, including in Michaungkan and Hlegu townships, the latter of which saw squatters uprooted in a bizarre odyssey that ended with their resettlement in distant Karen State.

“For those who have been forced off their lands and have protested or sought proper compensation, the land committee recommended that they be given the same area of land and compensation should be negotiated and given,” Soe Win said.

But speaking before parliament on Wednesday, Soe Min went on to imply that many land-grab victims would likely never see justice served, with the minister saying even the Union Parliament’s land investigation commission has stated that confiscations dating back further than 1988 were essentially beyond redress.