Karenni Farmers Face New Charges From Burma Army

Saturday, December 14, 2019

The Burma Army is prosecuting 10 more Karenni farmers including staff members of the Karenni State Farmers Union (KSFU) with charges of trespassing in their attempt to tend to land seized by the military.

According to Tu Reh, the KSFU chairperson, Maj Moe Win Htet from the Tatmadaw’s Artillery Battalion 356 filed the charges on Friday.

“He is prosecuting three staff from KSFU, six Karenni farmers from Dawmukalar village, and one Karenni farmer from Myae Ni Kon village with charges of [violating] Article 447 of the Encroachment Act,” he told NMG. “They have prosecuted farmers with charges of trespassing because they want to say that they won this land,” Tu Reh added.

The charges stem back to June 21, when farmers helped one another reclaim fenced-off farmland that villagers say was grabbed by the military, after being denied permission to cultivate the land.

Tu Reh said he would work on behalf of the members of his organization, and said they had not done anything wrong.

“We want justice. Our three staff didn’t go to work on the seized land. They went to share knowledge with the farmers. They didn’t plant any crops on the seized land. From a legal perspective, it’s not a trespassing case. We have to seek a way to countersue the Burma Army in accordance with the law,” he explained.”

A total off 41 Karenni farmers are being prosecuted by the Burma Army, and 11 have been detained in prison, according to KSFU.

State parliamentarian Thae Reh, who represents Hpruso Township’s Constituency 1, said that land disputes in Karenni State and across Burma are presenting a major political challenge.

“The land problem is getting bigger in Kayah State. It can impact the peace process. In my opinion, if the government and army really want to build peace in the country, they need to consider this kind of issue that people at the grassroots are facing,” he told NMG.

This could start by withdrawing the existing 2012 land law and the 2018 Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Land Management Law, as the statutes undermine customary land management systems, Thae Reh said.

“In my opinion, they are a barrier to building a federal system in our country,” he added.

Land rights activists have demanded that the government urgently resolve the existing land disputes in Karenni State, because farmers are suffering from mental and emotional trauma and experiencing difficulties in pursuing their livelihoods as a result.