KYAUKPHYU, Rakhine State — Some 200 acres of land confiscated from several dozen farmers since 2013 were used for a security police unit compound in southern Rakhine State’s Kyaukphyu Township, villagers told The Irrawaddy on a recent visit.
Locals from Ohn Taw and Pyine Sae Kay villages allege that the Ministry of Home Affairs used the land for a security police unit compound without providing compensation.
The compound was constructed on Doe Dan mountain range behind a controversial water reservoir project, 12 kilometers from downtown Kyaukphyu. The Irrawaddy’s reporter visited the two villages as well as the police compound, where some 40 buildings have been constructed.
In 2012, ex-president Thein Sein enacted the Farmland Law. Article 26 of the law states that the Central Farmland Management Body must coordinate between parties to provide suitable compensation without any loss. But in practice, the law has enabled the seizure of “vacant” lands from small-scale farmers without proper compensation.
U San Thein, a former village administrator of Pyine Sae Kay village, said that the previous district police head had seized much of his farmland, citing that it was vacant.
“To be honest, we, villagers are not familiar with the laws,” he said.
Ohn Taw villager U Maung Aye Than said many farmers do not have proper ownership documents for land that they have farmed for generations. He said that regarding the land grab, a district police officer told him in 2013 that the police unit was protecting citizens and preparing for the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone.
“There is no thought of local citizens … this has only caused trouble for us,” said U Maung Aye Than.
Pyine Sae Kay and Ohn Taw villagers cultivate seasonal trees and crops on Doe Dan mountain range and farm paddy fields in the valley.
Current Pyine Sae Kay village administrator U Than Tun said five acres of the seized paddy lands were officially registered in the township’s Land Records Department and that annual taxes had been paid to the government.
“They did not even provide compensation for farmer’s who showed land ownership documents,” said U Than Tun.
He claimed that Kyaukphyu-based infantry unit 542 had grabbed some 180 acres of land in the area under the military government. Soldiers grew rubber, jackfruit and mango, but the fields were later abandoned.
During ex-president Thein Sein’s administration, the military transferred that land to the home affairs ministry and district authorities seized at least 20 additional acres. About 50 farmers from two villages sought compensation for the land, but authorities denied their request, according to village administrator U Than Tun.
The Irrawaddy spoke with several villagers who stated that they had “no money or power” to confront authorities, and were hesitant to go to the police.
Kyaukphyu Rural Development Association coordinator U Tun Kyi said villagers maintain a fear that has carried over from the military regime. He said his organization tried to assist with the land seizures but that disunity among the villagers halted the effort.
U Maung Aye Than said the situation has worsened since 2016, stating that many villagers now have to cross the police unit compound to reach their paddy fields.
Villagers said they used to be able to enter through a police fence but complained of more stringent restrictions in the last year.
A police officer from the unit confirmed that a wall is being built around the compound, which villagers fear will cut them off from their fields completely.
The Irrawaddy contacted several police officials from the unit but they declined to comment.
Lower House lawmaker U Ba Shein of the Arakan National Party has submitted the question of this land seizure to Parliament in recent years to no avail, villagers told The Irrawaddy.