Irrawaddy Farmers Demand Return of Confiscated Land

By Salai Thant Zin 14 June 2017

IRRAWADDY DIVISION — Farmers in Irrawaddy Division’s Myaungmya Township demanded the divisional government return more than 200 acres of land confiscated, and subsequently abandoned, by Myanmar’s military to its original owners, at a press conference on Tuesday.

Light Infantry Battalion No. 93 of Myanmar’s Tatmadaw confiscated 249 acres of cashew plantations from 32 local farmers in Myaungmya Township’s Thazingongyi village in 1996 due to “security concerns” but declared it abandoned in 2016, farmer U Ko Aye told The Irrawaddy.

“The general administration department and land records department still will not take action to return land to local farmers,” he said. “We would like to ask the Irrawaddy divisional government to take effective action to return land to owners.

Local farmers paid rent to the military and continued farming the land until 2009, when the military forbade them from accessing the cashew trees. They continued farming, rent free, in 2013.

After failing to develop the land, the army in 2016 declared 209 acres, belonging to 20 individuals, abandoned, according to farmers. The battalion kept hold of the remaining 40 acres claimed by 12 farmers without giving an explanation.

“Officials of the land records department said a 500-foot strip of land parallel to the airport would not be returned,” said farmer U Aye Myint. “We asked government officials for which department that land was confiscated, but no one answered.”

“Government officials said my house needed to be demolished as it was in the area which would be confiscated. I will have no place to live,” he said.

The Irrawaddy was unable to obtain comment from the Myaungmya Township farmland management and land records department.

“[The military] grabbed cropland unlawfully, and leased it out to farmers without any construction projects being implemented,” said U Kyi Lwin, chairman of a local farmers’ rights network.

“But the so-called scrutiny process to return the land has taken a long time, which harms the farmers. So, we would like to question why the Irrawaddy divisional government cannot give the abandoned land back to the original owners,” he said.

More than 200,000 acres of land were confiscated by the military, administrative officials, government departments, and private companies for so-called “projects” in the division with the previous government returning more than 90,000 acres to original owners, according to the Land Confiscation Review Central Committee led by Vice President Henry Van Thio.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.