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Farmers in central Burma have filed a complaint to the UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) after troops there confiscated more than 30,000 acres of arable land.
The reasoning behind the seizure in May last year was that the land was needed to expand on an ordinance production factory, said Than Soe, one of the affected farmers. Now, however, those behind the confiscation are preparing the land to grow wet-season crops.
“Farmers from all 13 villages filed reports to the ILO,” he said, adding that the chief of the factory, Major Nyo Myint, was “preparing the land by force”.
Some 500 acres of land in the same area of Magwe division’s Aunglan district were seized in 1999 to make way for the early stages of the factory project. Back then, farmers were forced to help with the construction, Than Soe said, adding that the latest confiscation has left them with no land to till.
Than Soe was among a group farmers who in 2009 were sentenced to a minimum of four years in jail for filing complaints to the ILO, which is the only international body in Burma with a mandate to tackle issues of land confiscation and forced labour.
A lawyer representing the farmers, Pho Phyu, was also handed a four-year sentence after being charged under the Unlawful Associations Act, while one of the farmers was given five years in a remote hard labour camp.
They were given early release in 2010 however, following pressure from the ILO and international media, despite being warned by the government not to make contact with overseas press.
Government authorities in Aunglan are now said to be issuing threats against a group of around 50 residents who complained to the ILO that they were forced to work on a teak plantation owned by the son of Shwe Mann, one of the Burmese regime’s top officials and now a parliamentary speaker.
Kyaw Linn is one of those who was forced to work on the land. He told DVB that “not a penny” was paid to the men, who were threatened with eviction from their village by staff from the Zay Kabar company, headed by Toe Naing Mann, if they refused.
“[Toe Naing Mann] is accompanied by [Burmese army] soldiers and policemen when he comes here,” Kyaw Linn said.
After filing complaints in mid-January this year, the residents were summoned to a meeting with former army sergeant Tin Maung Swe, who is coordinating Zay Kabar’s teak project, where one man claims they were threatened with a gun.
Burmese authorities have a history of heavy-handedness towards complaintants of land confiscation and forced labour. In December last year a Rangoon man was threatened with jail after allegedly “trespassing” on land that had been seized from him by the army.
Additional reporting by Aye Nai