Shan State villagers barred from farming land by military

A sign denotes "Army Land". (PHOTO: DVB)

The Burmese military on Thursday rejected a request from local farmers in southern Shan State to continue farming on more than 200 acres of land in Pekon Township.

The Burmese military’s 422nd Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) announced last week that farmers of Moe Byae village are barred from working on the land and if they continue to do so, they will face legal action.

Aung Myo Khant, one of the villagers, said the farmers had already grown crops on this land, and they appealed to the battalion’s commander on Thursday to finish out the season.

“He said he could not decide by himself,” Aung Myo Khant said, adding that the commander suggested a possible solution. “He told us that if we collect signatures from farmers confirming that the land is owned by the military and promising not to try and get it back, they [the military] might let us work on the land.”

The farmers say they are reluctant to do this as the land in question originally belonged to them and was seized by the military.

The 422nd LIB allegedly confiscated more than 1,500 acres of land in southern Shan State since 1992, though they returned more than 700 acres in 2003.

The 126 farmers of Moe Byae village have been campaigning for the return of roughly 200 acres since June 2003 by sending letters to various state and national agencies, including the Shan State chief minister, the army’s commander-in-chief, the President’s Office and the Farmland Investigation Commission. They have also staged two protests on this issue.

In previous years, the farmers were able to farm the land if they paid a “tax” to the military.

A representative of the Land Usage Administration Office of Pekon Township confirmed that the authorities have received the villagers’ letters, but a decision would depend on the military.

“According to the process, the answer must come from the military should they choose to abandon the land or not,” the official said. “If they give it back, we will hand it over to the respective farmers.”

There are three cases of land disputes covering more than 1,000 acres, according to Land Usage Administration Office in Pekon Township. So far, only two acres have been returned to farmers.

By NANG MYA NADI (DVB)

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