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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Irrawaddy: Farmers take land seizure cases to parliament

Irrawaddy: Farmers take land seizure cases to parliament – Ko Htwe
Tue 30 Aug 2011
Filed under: Business / Trade

“I feel sad when our fields have been changed into a lake for the purpose of breeding fish. Since that happened, I became a worker in another field,” said Aye Thein. The 64-year-old was forced to abandon his eight acres of land in 1999 after it was confiscated by the Myanmar Billion Group company in Audsu village of Nyaungdon Township, Irrawaddy Division.Aye Thein is one of many victims in Burma where land seizures take place commonly through three different ways: seizures by the military commander-in-chief of the region, by private companies or by financiers who are allegedly backed by the Burmese Army.

Aye Thein, and others in the area who lost nearly 63 acres of land between them, fruitlessly complained to the township and district authorities three times about their land confiscation.

Confiscated land taken by the Burmese authorities and distributed to private companies includes approximately 10,000 acres in Rangoon Division, nearly 5,000 acres in Irrawaddy Division, 1,338 acres in Kachin State, 600 acres in Mon State and 500 acres in Maymyo in Mandalay Division. The affected farmers have filed lawsuits but no action has been taken.

The Human Rights Foundation of Monland (HURFOM) recently released a report that claimed around 20,000 acres have been seized over the past 10 years by the Burmese military in Mon and Karen states as well as Tenasserim Division.

The Yuzana Company was granted 200,000 acres in the Hugawng Valley Tiger Reserve in 2006 to establish tapioca and sugarcane plantations, and some 600 farmers were evicted from their lands  without full compensation. They were eventually displaced to areas far from their original homes.

After cultivating the area for nearly two years, the company left the land and had it transferred back to a financier backed by the Burmese authorities. The area is now being changed into a lake for producing fish.

According to the local-based Activity for Free Developing Society Community organization, the rightful owners of 63 out of a total of 200 acres in Nyaungdon Township sent letters on Thursday to the chief minister of Irrawaddy Division and President Thein Sein demanding the end of land confiscation.

“Tax receipts and sending [rice crops] to the government are our evidence that proves that we are the rightful owners of the land. Now the government has announced that we can complain about unfair cases so I brought up our land seizure case with the help of the group,” said Aye Thein.

In his inaugural address to the Union Parliament, President Thein Sein said they are determined to improve the living conditions of farmers and workers and would update laws to safeguard the rights of peasants.

“By changing the law, the lives of farmers will be secure and they will have the chance to cultivate their own land. Farmers are not currently covered by peasant law. The 1963 Safeguarding Peasants’ Rights Law is not up-to-date with the current time,” said Pho Phyu, a lawyer who has previously represented Rangoon and Irrawaddy farmers in land seizure cases.

On Monday, accompanied with 22 farmers from Rangoon, Pho Phyu went to the Naypidaw offices of Burma’s president and Parliament with letters that drew attention to land confiscation cases, fishermen affairs and social issues. They urged the government to amend laws that can secure the livelihoods of farmers and workers.

“The [president and Parliament office] accepted out letters and will send our proposals to the respective officials,” said Phyo Phyu. He added that they were representing farmers from seven villages who have been lost 10,000 acres around Rangoon.

Due to corruption of the judiciary and slow management practices, much farmland has fallen into the hands of financiers, and village authorities have forced farmers to change their names which were written on proposals, added Phyo Phyu.

“I can’t stand these confiscation cases and we are hoping that the government will reply. President Thein Sein once instructed a company to cooperate with farmers, but on the ground these companies give very little compensation and just ‘shoo’ the farmer away,” said Myint Aung from Naypyidaw, whose land has been confiscated in Dagon Seikkan Township of Rangoon.

Even today, farmers in Burma have no right to form a peasants’ union to protect against government land confiscation and other intrusions on their rights.

“Our lives depend on the field so I became a porter after my land was seized. When I saw our paddy fields being happily worked by others it made me feel sad because we have no place to earn,” said San Win, who lost eight acres in Nyaungdon Township.

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