Two dozen people in Karen State’s Hpa-an District are facing charges under the Forest Law after being arrested for squatting in a protected forest.
Pol-Col Sein Lwin said squatters began illegally settling in Hpa-an’s protected Myaingkale forest about six months ago, and since then the number of unlawful homes has increased to around 130.
The official said that police initially detained 31 squatters, including leaders of the informal community, but later released seven.
“The police, acting on behalf of the Forestry Department, are filing charges under articles 43(a) and 40 of the Forest Law against the 24 people mainly responsible for the illegal settlement,” said Pol-Col Sein Lwin.
He added that a member of the Karen National Union/Karen National Liberation Army-Peace Council (KNU/KNLA-PC) had also been charged. The member in question was allegedly involved in the founding of the illegal settlement, and had sold plots of land in the protected forest.
“The KNU/KNLA-PC member Saw Michael formed a village committee and appointed himself as village administrator before he started selling land plots to unsuspecting locals in the areas. He charged them an advance of 50,000-100,000 kyat which entitled them to pick a plot of their choice to settle in, upon which they have to pay another 500,000 kyat,” said the official.
“We cannot let this slide just because he is a KNU/KNLA-PC member – he is the mastermind in this case, and will face legal action after arrest,” he added.
The Myaingkale forest is located approximately 24 kilometres away from Hpa-an, alongside the Hpa-an-Thahton highway.
Squatters have been warned by local police to move out of their homes soon, else face legal action.
This time last year, the government pledged to provide housing across more than 50 towns and cities in Burma to solve the problem of homelessness and squatter communities.