RANGOON — Rubber tappers in Southern Burma’s Mon State say a battalion in the Burma Army is blocking them from their plantations after they attempted to raise in Parliament the issue of their land being seized by the military.
Residents of Ye township said the colonel of Light Infantry Battalion No. 586, Kaung Kyaw, told them earlier this month that they could not tap the rubber from trees on more than 300 acres of land that they have tapped toward the end of the each rainy season for years.
Battalion No. 586, which is under Military Operations and Management Command No. 19, seized control of the plantations in 2000 without compensation, but has for some time allowed the tappers to access the rubber trees on the land, according to the Human Rights Foundation of Monland (HURFOM).
Mi Ngwe Pin, an ethnic Mon rubber tapper who says 36.6 acres of land has been confiscated from her, said Col Kaung Kyaw had stopped 36 rubber tappers from accessing in total 341 acres of land. The stoppage came after residents raised the issue of the military taxing them on their rubber trees through Mon member of Parliament Nai Banyar Aung Moe.
“[Kaung Kyaw] called all of us recently and told us that we could not work in our plantation anymore because he was disappointed we proposed our cause to Parliament,” said Mi Ngwe Pin, explaining that although the land was seized by the military, until now the owners could still access it.
“Five years after they confiscated land from us, the army allowed us to tap rubber again, but they collect taxes from us. The set tax for one tree was between 1,000 and 1,500 kyat [or about $1 to $1.50]. “
Mi Ngwe Pin said the military had asked for payment for access to the rubber two or three times per year, but had asked for a one-off payment last year, which caused problems for the tappers.
“I had to pay 1,500 kyat for each plant. I paid them in total 6 million kyat [about $6,250],” said Mi Ngwe Pin.
During Burma’s military regime, the government allowed military units to confiscate land to build barracks, but critics say this power was abused by corrupt officials.
The Land Investigation Commission formed by Burma’s Parliament found that the army had taken some 250,000 acres of farmland from its owners, and proposed in December last year that confiscated land should be returned its original owners .The military has not complied, however.
“We’ve found the land investigation Commission has no power in Parliament. They are just a group who communicate between the land victims and the government,” said Nai Aue Mon, a coordinator at the HURFOM.
“The Ministry of Defense has the influence. We wanted the commission to have power for solve these problems.”
HURFOM has recorded that about 12,000 acres of rubber plantation was confiscated by Burmese government troops along the highway from Moulmein to Ye Township in Mon state between the years 2000 and 2010.