Farmers in Htoo Trading face off

A controversial trial has begun in central Burma where six farmers are accused of vandalising and trespassing on property confiscated from them by Burmese authorities and the powerful Htoo Trading Company.

More than 120 fellow farmers travelled to the courtroom on Wednesday in Magwe division’s Minhla township court. In March they had put their names to a letter of complaint directed to President Thein Sein in which they called for action on instances of abuses and land confiscation.

The case goes back to January, when the military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings (UMEH) and Htoo Trading seized farmland to build a caustic soda factory.

Despite a separate Magwe court rejecting a lawsuit filed by the farmers, a counter-lawsuit from the UMEH and Htoo Trading is now being heard. The prosecution accuses the six farmers, some of whom were beaten by factory security, of damaging private property and trespassing.

Such reversals of accusations are common in Burma, where farmers have few legal aids to resort to and often become the victim land grabs as the government looks to aggressively expand infrastructural projects.

Rampant corruption also allows state-backed enterprises such as the UMEH, a parastatal company, and Htoo Trading to ignore flimsy laws surrounding land confiscation. Both entities hold significant clout in a country where close links to the government guarantee a large degree of impunity.

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