Residents in southern Shan State’s Pai Khun Township on Friday staged two rallies to demand the return of lands seized more than 20 years ago by the Burmese armed forces.
Ko Kyaw Tin Aung, a protester from the nearby town of Moe Pyae, said that a multi-ethnic mix of demonstrators–Kayan (Karenni), Inn and Shan local residents–had turned out at two separate locations in Moe Pyae to voice their demands on the morning of September 23. One rally was held in front of Moe Pyae administration office, while the other took place outside the Burmese army’s Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) 422 base.
“The military confiscated our land a long time ago,” he said. “This is the third time we have protested. The villagers who lost their lands have faced considerable difficulties over the years.”
He said that in 2015 they had demanded the return of seized lands from the Ministry of Defence; however LIB 422 officials had counterclaimed that the land belonged to them.
“To date, no resolution has been found, and no further action taken,” Ko Kyaw Tin Aung added.
In 1993, government troops were sent in to the Pai Khun area as reinforcements to protect the Moe Pyae hydropower project. Locals claim the army confiscated some 1,500 acres (6 km²) of villagers’ farmland. Later, they extended the land grab to 2,000 acres, which also included the local cemetery.
Villagers in Moe Pyae also petitioned the previous government headed by President Thein Sein, but say that no action was taken. They claim they must now take their case to the newly elected administration led by the National League for Democracy.
“Under this new democratic government, these plots of land should be returned to the rightful owners,” said Khun Bi Htoo, the chairman of Kayan National Party. “They can do this because a lot of the seized land is still unused.”
During the dark era of Burma’s military dictatorship, especially in the 1990s, land confiscations such as in Moe Pyae were commonplace across the country. The seizures by the military were often arbitrary, with the army flexing its muscles in local regions. In many cases, the lands were leased to agribusiness firms or other businesses close to military coffers.
Last month, Shan Herald reported that about130 villagers in Taunggyi, who claimed their lands were seized by the Burmese army, were subsequently sued by the military for trespassing.
By Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN)
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