Farmers in Myanmar’s Bago Region Protest Land Grabs by Army

Farmers in south-central Myanmar’s Bago region began a protest on Wednesday demanding that the army return more than 4,000 acres of land it confiscated from them 25 years ago.

Nearly 30 farmers from Pyinbongyi village told RFA’s Myanmar Service that they decided to stage a protest after hearing that the new government is returning some confiscated land to farmers in other areas of the country.

“At that time [when the acres were confiscated], the army said it needed to expand its battalion headquarters and was bringing in more troops to the region, and the farmers moved out because  they were afraid of the military,” said Nyein Tin, a woman who was participating in the protest.

But later, the farmers discovered that the army had leased their land to other farmers to cultivate at a cost of about 500,000 kyats (U.S. $430) per acre, she said.

In a related development, the Shan state government said on Tuesday that it would return more than 40,000 acres of land confiscated by the Myanmar military to residents next week, an official said.

“The army already had abandoned more than 40,000 acres of unused land in 2015 during the previous government’s tenure, but most of the farmers have not yet received the land,” said Soe Nyunt Lwin, Shan state minister for planning and finance.

“So we are looking at the matter together with the Land Records Department and trying to make sure the original rightful owners get their land back as soon as possible,” he said.

The minister also said the military will return more land to its original owners in the near future.

Long list of appeals

Former landowners in other parts of the country have long appealed to government leaders to return property seized decades ago under Myanmar’s previous military junta which ruled the country for 50 years.

RFA’s Myanmar Service reported in May that Myanmar’s government would return 2,500 acres of confiscated land to farmers in Tant-Se township in the country’s northwestern Sagaing region, more than 35 years after it was taken.

The Burma Socialist Programme Party, formed by the regime led by military commander Ne Win that seized power in 1962, confiscated nearly 4,000 acres of the township’s land in Shwebo district for a government farm project named “Wet Toe” in 1980.

Myanmar’s parliament has been inundated with thousands of new complaints about the seizure of farmland, but can start working on them only after the Central Review Committee on Confiscated Farm Lands and Other Lands sets up policies and guidelines to handle land disputes, the online journal The Irrawaddy reported Wednesday, citing committee chairman Ba Myo Thein.

The committee puts pressure on relevant government ministries to return appropriated land or compensate the rightful owners, the report said.

Ba Myo Thein told The Irrawaddy in late April that most of the reported land confiscations had occurred in Mandalay region and Karen state, purportedly to develop infrastructure and industrial zones, according to the complaints received.

Last week, the national-level land dispute committee returned more than 6,000 acres of land taken during the past decades to its owners in Maubin township in Ayeyarwady region, The Irrawaddy reported.

Reported by Zarni Tun and Thiri Min Zin for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin