Rangoon Land Protesters Go Home After Lawmaker Promises Investigation

By Soe Sandar Oo 12 December 2013

RANGOON — Demonstrators who for more than two weeks have held a sit-in protest in Michaungkan village, in eastern Rangoon’s Thingangyun Township, have agreed to go home after lawmakers promised to investigate their case.

A well-organized camp of mainly female protesters was set up outside land seized and occupied in the early 1990s by the Burma Army. The former residents had remained in place for 17 days, defying arrests, demands from Rangoon Division Chief Myint Swe that they leave, and an alleged attack by pro-government thugs.

At about 11 am Thursday morning, Aung Thein Lin, a ruling-party lawmaker and a member of Parliament’s Land Investigation Committee, signed a letter pledging that the committee will urgently look into the Michaungkan villagers’ case, according to protester Sein Than.

The letter said the committee agreed with the villagers’ claims that they were legal residents of the land, under a 1984 land law, before its confiscation. The committee said that since Michaungkan village had a government school and clinic, it was a permanent settlement, and therefore the land grab was illegal, according to Sein Than.

“Aung Thein Lin said the case will be proposed as an urgent report to Parliament,” said Sein Than. “He read the signed letter in front of the public and media, but we will take the official letter from him tomorrow with other detailed information because the current one they gave us had no official seal and was just handwritten.”

Sein Than is one of two Michaungkan protesters jailed last month under the controversial Section 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Law, which outlaws protesting without prior permission from authorities. He was released Wednesday, one of 41 prisoners of conscience granted amnesty by the government.

He said the villagers had temporarily packed up the protest camp as of lunchtime Thursday, but would return if nothing was done about their case.

“We can give them only three months. Within that period they have to give us a clear answer about giving back our land,” Sein Than. “If not, we will go back to the protest camp again with a larger number of people. So this return can be called temporary.”

The protesters are pushing for charges to be dropped against 25 women who visited a pagoda inside the military-restricted area, he said.

Sein Than added that the demonstrators would also be filing a legal complaint against thugs they say attacked them at the protest camp over the weekend. Some protesters were injured when men, allegedly from the government-aligned group known as Swan Arshin, attacked the camp.

“We are happy, but we still need to fight until we get back our land back, and we will sue the Swan Arshin who attacked protesters during the protest,” said Sein Than.