Court Acquits 8 Farmers Sued by Owner of Unused Land in Irrawaddy Region

By Salai Thant Zin 7 January 2019

PATHEIN—A court in Irrawaddy Region’s Nyaungdon Township on Jan. 3 acquitted eight farmers involved in a land dispute case.

In 2006, the Irrawaddy Region Peace and Development Council, the regional branch of the then-military government, granted 999 acres of land in Byaw Tha Lan village tract in Nyaungdon Township to a businessman. The businessman failed to develop the land for industrial purposes, however, and the original owners began farming it again in 2014.

In 2016 the businessman sued eight farmers under the Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Land Management Law. After a trial lasting more than two years, the court acquitted the farmers.

“The businessmen hadn’t used the land for [the four years stipulated under the law]. So, according to the Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Land Management Law, the land automatically reverts to state ownership. The farmers’ use of the land was intended to support their livelihoods. Considering these points, the court acquitted them,” defense lawyer U Nyein Chan Myo told The Irrawaddy.

According to the Myanmar Legal Aid Network, the case marks the first acquittal of farmers sued by a businessman in a land dispute in Nyaungdon Township. In most such cases, farmers are either sentenced to prison or fined, it said.

“During the two-year trial, there were many days we had to skip lunch to cover transportation costs to go to court. This is the truth. We are very happy that the Nyaungdon Township judge delivered a fair verdict,” said Ko Khin Maung Lwin, one of the eight farmers.

However, another 20 farmers have been sued by the businessman and his managers for farming on the land, he said.

“I welcome the verdict of Nyaungdon Township court. Since the new government threatened to take back unused land, businessmen have started growing things on such land; they had neglected it for many years, while suing those who tried to farm it,” lawmaker U Kyaw Hsan, who represents Nyaungdon Township in the Irrawaddy Region Parliament, told The Irrawaddy.

“Farmers incur heavy costs when they face trial. There are many similar cases in Maubin District. It seems that farmers are at the mercy of the courts,” the lawmaker said.

Meanwhile, 38 farmers from Pa Long village in Maubin Township are facing trial at the township court on similar charges under the Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Land Management Law for farming on land owned by a private company.

In the 2000s, the military regime granted over 170,000 acres of land in Nyaungdon, Maubin, Danubyu and Pantanaw townships in Maubin District to over 270 private companies.

After coming to power in 2016, the National League for Democracy-led government reviewed those lands and found that over 6,700 acres had been developed by the companies, with the remaining 130,000 acres lying idle.