Court rejects ‘evicted’ villagers appeal

Court rejects ‘evicted’ villagers appeal

An appeal on behalf of six residents, who were sentenced to three months hard labour in Naypyidaw’s Lewe township, was rejected by a district court last Friday.

Residents in Lewe township’s Meethwaybogon village were given notice by Naypyidaw’s Development Committee to relocate last October because the community was located within a government project zone, which is rumoured to be a gemstone enterprise in the future.

Municipal authorities promised the community land and 200,000 Kyat to assist in relocation. However, only 50 residents were provided with compensation, which resulted in the community rejecting the order.

After being threatened with a lawsuit, a majority of the residents vacated the land, while about 20 households stood their ground. The Naypyidaw Development Committee then filed suit against the remaining residents on 10 February.

On 14 and 16 March, six residents were sentenced to three months in prison and hard labour for trespassing. Three more were given six-month sentences on 6 April.

Khin Maung Kyi, a lawyer in Lewe who is assisting the villagers with their case, said Naypyidaw District Court rejected an appeal for the six villagers sentenced in March.

“Initially, 21 people were sued and four were sentenced on [March] 14th and then two more two days later. This scared the rest of them so they brought down their houses and moved out. [In April], three more landed in prison,” said Khin Maung Kyi.

“I submitted an appeal for the six [sentenced in March] at the Naypyidaw district court, but the court reasoned that it had a lot of legal matters to handle [and they] suggested we to go to a higher-level court and summarily dismissed the appeal,” said Khin Maung Kyi. “Now we will have to submit another appeal for the six at Mandalay division’s court.”

He said the residents who moved out of their homes without compensation are now living in poor conditions.

“So it’s either they live without a shelter or go to prison – it’s almost like there is no relief for them [legally]… they invested everything they had to come settle in Meethwaybogon village only to be kicked out later and [they’ve been] left with no place and food,” said Khin Maung Kyi.

The issue of land rights in Burma is a sensitive one: existing laws do little to prevent confiscation by government-aligned figures, and that looks set to continue if a bill currently being debated in parliament comes into force. The Land Act will effectively allow powerful tycoons to monopolise arable land and force off small-scale farmers and landowners.

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