Lawyer slams junta's treatment of farmers

Mar 4, 2008 (DVB), Lawyer U Aye Myint, a lawyer and leader of the dissident Guiding Star legal aid group, has criticised the Burmese regime's poor treatment of farmers.

Aye Myint was responding to a message from junta leader senior general Than Shwe published in state media to mark Peasants' Day on 2 March.

The message outlined the efforts being made by the government to develop agriculture, and called on farmers to work hard to improve the sector.

But Aye Myint said that the government's claims of progress and support were undermined by the very different reality for farmers.

"Today, 2 March, is the day the military took power in 1962. In today’s newspaper, senior general Than Shwe, in the guise of showing respect towards the farmers, sent a message to them in the government newspapers," Aye Myint said.

"But I’ll tell you what’s really happening on the ground , in Taung Thar township, in Mandalay division’s Myin Chan district, authorities have just taken away land owned by a 91-year-old farmer who won a prize from the Food and Agricultural Organisation in 1982."

Aye Myint said the farmer's land had been divided into 80 x 60 plots which were given to the township education administration, the military documentation office, military intelligence, the Myanmar Maternal and Child Welfare Association and government corporations.

"If general Than Shwe really loves farmers, why did he ignore a poor and helpless old farmer like this?" Aye Myint said.

"If the government really wants to help farmers develop their livelihoods, then it should allow them to grow any crop they want without forcing them to grow other things."

There are regular reports of farmers across Burma being forced to grow particular crops, having their land seized by the authorities, and having to sell their produce cheaply to government officials.

Reporting by Htet Yazar

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