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Four farmers in central Burma’s Madaya have been charged with trespassing and vandalism, after staging a ploughing protest on 1 March, on land that had been confiscated by the government.
Over 100 farmers from Kyauksarit-North village in Mandalay division’s Madaya began to till the land with 15 ox-pulled ploughs to signify their original ownership of the land.
Ye Yint Aung, a resident in the village who participated in the protest, said the next morning police told him and three other farmers that they were being charged with Articles 447 and 427 of the Penal Code, which are trespassing and vandalism, respectively.
“So far, authorities are not stopping the protest but this morning I was told by police that myself, Nay Win, Zaw Win and Ko Ko Aung have been charged for joining the ploughing,” he said.
Despite the charges the farmers continued their plough protest into Sunday, which also happened to be Burma’s Peasant Day.
Whether they stop us or not – we are ploughing our own land,” said Ye Yint Aung. “We are not stealing from anyone, we are just reclaiming what belongs to us.”
The farmers said they have been trying to negotiate with authorities for their land for the past 28 years.
They began their protest on Saturday, after inquiries carried out by various government and parliamentary committees to look into land confiscation across the country, came to nothing.
Daw Swar, a farmer from Kyauksarit-North village in Madaya, said they had owned the land for generations but now they are forced to live in makeshift huts.
“We went through hard labour turning the barren land into workable soil,” she said. “Now we are living in poverty and hardship, in a hut on the side of the road. Recently, we were given an eviction order from there and have been forced to take our huts down, we are now living rough in makeshift tents.”
In 1986 the Cooperatives Ministry confiscated over 600 acres of land from 95 farmers in the area.
The four charged for ploughing in Madaya are among dozens of people who have been arrested for plough protests over land grabs throughout the country.