Meeting Between Military, Farmers Does Not Resolve Southern Shan State Land Grab

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Farmers say that they have yet to come to an agreement to resolve a land dispute with the Burma Army in southern Shan State’s Hsihseng Township even though they held discussions with the commander of the military’s eastern command.

Khun Oo, the chairperson of the Pa-O Youth Organization, said that the commander mainly explained to farmers in a meeting at the Hsihseng Township General Administration Department office on June 4 that the lands in question are owned by the army.

Farmers maintain that he military confiscated more than 2,000 acres of land in the township, comprising plots owned by more than 100 farmers in Pinsone and Nawng Kyaw village tracts.

The land dispute occurred when the farmers tried to plant crops on the seized land; they were subsequently charged with trespassing—violating Article 447 of the penal code—and are expected to face trial.

“They didn’t come to any agreement. The commander explained that these lands are the army’s lands. They have confiscated these lands under the land confiscation law. They also said that they would discuss this issue again. Those were the meeting results,” Khun Oo told NMG.

Cho Cho, a farmer who attended the meeting, said that she asserted that the lands are rightfully owned by the farmers.

“This is because we don’t know when the army confiscated this land. We haven’t gotten any information about land confiscation from the army,” she explained. “The army hasn’t paid compensation for this land. We used to grow crops on this farmland in the past before the army came to this area. We also grew our crops after the army came to our area. We are still growing crops on our farmland. We want to know why the army blocked us in 2019, 2020.”

Cho Cho said that the military representatives promised to provide the farmers with donated rice, cooking oil and salt, but the farmers rejected the offer.

“The farmers want to get their farmland back,” she said. “Now everybody knows about this land dispute case. The farmers said that they would continue to grow crops on their farmland. The commander pledged that they would negotiate about it. They haven’t withdrawn the charges against farmers. They haven’t allowed us to go to work on our farmland.”

What they did do, she added, was return tractors that they had seized.

“If we cannot grow our crops, what we are going to eat? How can we survive in the future if we cannot grow plants on our farmland?” farmer Cho Cho told NMG.

“If army continues to block farmers, they (farmers) will send petition letter to vice-president and land investigation committee,” Khun Oo told NMG.

According to Khun Oo, if the government cannot solve this dispute urgently, it will likely escalate.

“I think farmers will try to solve this dispute through the legal path. Farmers are now facing a lot of problems. If they don’t have any options, they will start a mass movement,” he told NMG. “Another possibility is that there will be tension between the army and people if the army doesn’t retreat. As a consequence, I think, there will be more negative impacts.”

On June 3, more than 190 CSOs released a joint statement demanding that the Burma Army return the unused land plots to farmers unconditionally, to respect traditional ethnic land management systems and land ownership, and to respect existing land laws.

“What we want to demand from the government is to look into this land. The government has a policy of returning unused land plots to the respective farmers. The government needs to investigate it. If the government does this, the farmers can expect to grow crops on their farmland again,” Khun Oo explained.

NMG tried to call military officials for comment on the land dispute but no one answered.

Locals say that the military—particularly LIB 423 and 424 and the Myanmar Economic Holding Company, Ltd.—are responsible for officially confiscating more than 100 acres and 1,900 acres unofficially.