Sunday, October 12, 2014

Military ‘turning farmers into land slaves’

Farmers tilling land near Thayagone village tract in Bago Region say they have been turned into slaves since the military seized their land more than a decade ago, and that since they started protesting in 2012 soldiers have fenced off the land to keep them out.

Local students climb the fence to go to and from school. (Photo-Thet Min/EMG)
“We were forced to change from landowners into land slaves,” Khaing Shwe, one of the farmers told a press conference at the Myanmar Journalists Network yesterday.

About 5,800 acres (2,350 hectares) of seized farmland has been fenced off, and this affects seven villages in total, the farmers said. They said it was seized by the Air Force Ordnance Depot in 1997 and 1998.

Afterwards, the farmers were each allocated a plot measuring 70 by 90 feet (21 x 27 metres) in a new village called Naingthaya.   However, they were not given new land to farm and had to return to the land seized by the military to feed themselves. They were allowed to farm it in exchange for giving soldiers a share of their rice and other crops.

The military banned the construction of houses and the planting of trees on the land it had seized, farmers said.After the farmers refused in late 2012 to provide rice in return for the right to farm the land seized from them the military fenced it off, they said.

Farmers said they were protesting because the military had not even used most of the land it had seized, only erecting a few buildings on it. “It’s not fair that we have to pay to earn a living on what was our land,” one farmer said.

The fencing has made it difficult for farmers to get from their homes to their fields, herd their cattle and send their children to school, they said.

A bamboo ladder was erected to climb over the fence, but it was destroyed by soldiers, they said.They also said they had met with military officers four times to resolve the dispute. The officers, however, refused to return the land, claiming it had been taken because the military needed it.

“After our land was grabbed, we were forced to pay to farm it with a share of our crops, but we received no agricultural loans. When the farmland law was enacted in 2012, we started demanding our land back. Then, the military set up a fence to prevent us from farming it,” said farmer San Shwe.

The fences started going up last year. Min Thaw, the commandant of No1 Ordnance Depot, could not be reached for comment.