Military land grabs leave farmers in despair

In Khanaung Chaung Wa Village, in Dalla township just south of Rangoon, 44 people have been driven from their homes since August this year.

Five hundred acres of the land they have farmed for generations have been confiscated by the military to make way for a naval storage base.

Farmers who resisted were forced to relocate.

“I refused to obey the government request to move from my house. They told me they would return in three days. Then a couple of days later they came and destroyed my home. I got a camera and took photos of what happened. Ten soldiers tried to stop me,” said Soe Soe Myint.

Despite praise for recent reforms in Burma, for farmers who happen to be in the way of military plans, rights haven’t improved. Land grabs are widespread and continuing, and ownership of land in is dictated by the rich and well connected.

Regardless of the fact they have cultivated this land for generations, the farmers of Khanaung Chaung Wa don’t officially own the land. Three months ago the area was declared a restrictive zone under Burma’s notorious Section 144 curfew law and the villagers were told they had to go. The 144 curfew is a provision that gives authorities emergency powers to control public order.

Village spokesperson Kyi Soe says the provision is being misused and is not supposed to be used in peaceful areas.

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“If the farmers don’t move, they [security personnel] will come at night and destroy everything. According to Section 144, they have the authority to shoot farmers.”

The villagers lodged a complaint with parliament, but despite their attempt to reach out to the authorities, their homes have now all been destroyed.

Some have moved to the nearest town to work as street vendors while others have built temporary shelters just outside the restricted zone. Farmer Htun Ko Ko Oo says without their crops the families are struggling to get food.

“No business is allowed – as we are all farmers around here, that’s all we know,” he said.

“Without farms we face uncertainty with food and despair for our futures. We know great hardships are coming. We don’t even have access to our own water – we don’t own even an inch of land.”

Their paddy fields have now been destroyed by chemicals to stop them from entering the area. They have no way to earn a living.

The farmers are still waiting for a response to their case from the parliament. For now they struggle to survive, just yards away from the land they use to own.

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