Situation Tense in East Rangoon, as Land Protestors Defy Govt Ultimatum

By Lawi Weng 9 December 2013

RANGOON — Tensions were high in Thingangyun Township, eastern Rangoon, on Monday as dozens of land protestors defied a government warning to leave the area by sundown or face a crackdown by security forces.

A public announcement distributed in Michaungkan village area over the weekend carried an order by Rangoon Division Chief Minister Myint Swe instructing protestors to vacate the area by Monday 6 pm.

Shortly after the ultimatum expired, more than 50 protestors continued a sit-down protest outside the gate of a fenced-off area controlled by the military. The protestors chanted slogans, while security forces stood nearby.

Protestors vowed to resist any attempt to end their demonstration, which has called for the return of lands confiscated by the Burma Army in the early 1990s.

Several lawmakers attempted to mediate negotiations between protestors and local authorities.

Phone Myint Aung, an Upper House MP with the Myanmar Democratic Force, told reporters, “I cannot guarantee that we can prevent a crackdown. But I would like to request authorities not to do so because older people are participating in this protest.”

“If they crackdown I will report it to Parliament and the president,” he added.

Zaw Tun, a protest leader, told The Irrawaddy earlier on Monday, “If they shoot us during the crackdown, we have not choice except to prepare to suffer.”

Democratic Voice of Burma reported that hundreds of local protestors received funeral rites from Buddhist monks last week, indicating their readiness to die for their demands.

Several hundred people from Michaungkan village have set up protest camps since last week. Angered protestors demand compensation or the return of land from which they were evicted in 1991, when the Burma Army confiscated the land and cleared hundreds of homes belonging to several thousand residents.

The villagers have held recurrent protests this year to underline their demand and several protest leaders have been prosecuted and sentenced to several months’ imprisonment for holding protests without government permission, which is punishable under Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Processions Law.

Over the weekend, tensions were further heightened as government security forces were deployed near protest camps and villagers said notorious government-backed thugs, known as the Swan Arshin, attacked protestors, some of whom were injured.

In the early 1990s, the Burma Army ruled the country with an iron fist and crushed any local dissent against land grabs.

Protestors at Michaungkan village said they felt emboldened by political reforms under President Thein Sein’s nominally-civilian government and were determined to now reclaim the land.

“They [the military] had power at that time, and they could take however much land they wanted,” said Zaw Tun.

“We are now calling for a commission to give us a clear message and to reach an agreement that will benefit all victims. After we got what we need, we will withdraw our camps,” he added.