Demoso Farmers Plow Fields in Defiance of Army

The move marks an escalation of a standoff over the use of land confiscated by the Burma Army more than a decade ago.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Dozens of farmers in Karenni State’s Demoso Township took to their plows on Wednesday in an effort to reclaim their right to cultivate land confiscated from them by the Burma Army more than a decade ago.

Nearly 40 farmers from Dawsoshay, a village in Demoso Township, took part in the “harrow strike” in defiance of legal efforts by the army to force them to vacate the fields. More than 100 acres of farmland was seized by Burma Army Artillery Battalion 360 when it came to the area in 2002.

“As farmers, our life is nothing without these farmlands. If they [soldiers] want to kill us, they can go ahead and kill us. We are ready to die,” said Khu Thomas, one of the farmers who took part in the protest.

Until this year, farmers were allowed to use the confiscated land if they sought the army’s permission first. This year, however, that permission was withheld, leaving the farmers in a difficult position.

Earlier this month, the army pressed charges against farmers who attempted to cultivate the land. They are now facing prosecution under sections 427 and 447 of Burma’s Penal Code, which deal with destruction of public property and trespassing on public lands.

The affected farmers say they have no choice but to press ahead with their plans to grow crops on the land, as they have no other way of making a living.

“We want to get our land back. If we don’t get it back, what we should eat? If we don’t get our land back, we will die,” said Persaquar Leh, another protester who spoke to NMG.

“If they come to shoot at us, we are ready to die. This is our ancestors’ land. We have always worked this land. I hear they will come to arrest us. Well, we are ready for it. They can arrest everyone in our village. But we won’t lose our farmland,” he added defiantly.

According to the farmers, the dispute has already greatly affected them. Not only has it made it more difficult for them to meet their daily needs, it has also caused social problems and negatively impacted on their children’s education.

Farmers from other villages in the area, including 6-mile San Pya and Zayap Phyu, also took part in the protest, reflecting growing concern about the issue of land grabs by the army.

“The army has confiscated a lot of land in our state, and they have expanded their forces in our area since the start of the peace process, forcing some people to leave. It’s like the owners of a house having to move out just to make room for visitors. The land dispute issue is getting worse in Kayah [Karenni] State,” said Khu Tuu Reh, the chairman of the local farmers’ association.

“What are we supposed to do if we can’t work on our land? Should we take up arms? The army shouldn’t threaten us. To face these threats, we need unity. That’s why we farmers are gathered here today,” he added.

The protest didn’t go unnoticed by local authorities. Besides soldiers who recorded the farmers as they plowed the fields, police and officials from the land-management department and other government offices were also present to observe the proceedings.

According to land-rights activists, land disputes, particularly those involving confiscation by the army, could be resolved more equitably under a system of genuine democratic federalism.