Military seizes farmlands in Arakan and Magwe

Apr 11, 2008 (DVB), Increased incidences of forced land seizure in Arakan state and Magwe division have raised tensions between local residents and military troops, a local labour rights campaigner said.

A detachment of troops from Danyawaddi Naval Base 19 in Mhan Aung township, led by major Mya Win, seized 120 acres of farmlands and gardens near Myaw Daw Oo village at the end of February.

U Than Hlaing, a labour rights campaigner and secretary of the Arakan state National League for Democracy organising committee, has been helping farmers to report their cases to the International Labour Organisation.

He said the troops had told farmers they were acting on orders to expand their base territory.

"The military is seizing farmlands near Myaw Daw Oo village which has been owned by the farmers for generations," Than Hlaing said.

"They have all the proper documents proving their ownership of the farmland, but the military has seized their lands without any advance warning," he said.

"All the gardens and pastures have been destroyed, which creates huge problems for the farmers, as they didn't have a chance to grow rice during the rainy season, so this is their last chance to grow something."

The victims of the land seizures are preparing to file a complaint to the Western Division military command, government ministries in Naypyidaw and the ILO officer in Rangoon.

Than Hlaing said the situation for farmers has not improved despite the government's promises to the ILO to stop forced labour and land seizures.

In addition, Than Hlaing claimed the authorities have been restricting ILO officials from investigating complaints and arresting those who file complaints with the ILO, including members of Than Hlaing's own group, the ILO liaison network.

The network, which is an affiliation of human rights and labour rights activists from all over Burma, has so far reported about 80 cases of forced labour and land seizures to the ILO.

Than Hlaing said about 20 NLD members in Taunggok township, including Ko Min Aung, have been arrested for their involvement in the network's activities.

"About 40 people have been charged with offences by the government for liaising with the ILO, and about 20 are still in prison, including Ko Min Aung," he said.

"So they are putting all these ridiculous charges on all the people who make contact with the ILO, and if they can't charge them, they beat them up."

Than Hlaing said the problems were particularly prevalent in Arakan state, in Aung Lan township in Magwe division, and in Chin state.

Reporting by Htet Aung Kyaw

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