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Preparations are underway to return about 50 acres of land confiscated by the crony-connected Max Myanmar Group to local residents, according to Irrawaddy division’s Land Records Department.
Max Myanmar Group representatives notified the parliament-backed Land Grab Investigation Commission in April that it would return about 54 acres of property that had been confiscated and used to develop a shrimp farm near Chaungthar beach resort village in Irrawaddy division.
Win Myint, the parliament’s Lower House member in Irrawaddy capital Bassein, said the division’s Land Record Department had not handed the property back to the farmers after the company submitted official paperwork to the Land Grab Investigation Commission and the local government’s Chief Minister early last month.
“The Max Myanmar company had already returned over 50 acres of land belonging to 21 locals –the Land Grab Investigation Commission’s chairperson U Tin Htut handed the letter to the Regional Chief Minister before me on the [6 May] and also gave copies to the farmers – but they have still not acquired the land,” said Win Myint.
“I don’t know what is going on, but I would like to suggest handing the land back to the farmers immediately before the rains start, while they still have time to prepare for farming this year.”
According to chairperson of the Irrawaddy division’s Land Records Department Kyaw Htay, the process has been delayed because squatters who had settled on the disputed land had not been relocated.
“We are working to hand over all of the land within a week to 10 days – we just need to follow up on some official procedures,” said Kyaw Htay.
Max Myanmar Group’s notorious owner Zaw Zaw holds substantial investments in several of Burma’s most lucrative economic sectors, including jade, construction, banking and the hospitality industry, and is frequently cited as one of the country’s wealthiest and savviest tycoons.
While Zaw Zaw is still under targeted sanctions by the US government for fostering close relations with the country’s military rulers, the tycoon has used the reform period to revamp his image. The crony started his own non-profit foundation in 2010 and has openly lauded opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was once the enemy of the Zaw Zaw’s patrons in the former military government.
But as the quasi-civilian government enters its third year in power, officials have struggled to address mounting tensions surrounding land rights in Burma.
In the Irrawaddy’s Pathein district, the local government has also delayed returning land to locals seized by another business conglomerate.
According to an earlier ruling by the Land Grab Investigation Commission, local farmers were set to receive approximately 2,000 acres confiscated by the Aya Shwe Wah company, but residents in the area claim divisional officials have yet to return their property.
“The company has already returned the land but the township’s administrator, instead of handing it back to the farmers, decided to allow tenant farmers who were previously working the land, under an agreement with the company, to continue using it,” said 88 Generation Peace and Open Society member Soe Hlaing Oo.
But according to the Irrawaddy division government’s Secretary Aye Kyaw, authorities have not given the land back to the farmers because officials claim the property is still under dispute.
“There have been disputes between those who claimed to be original owners of the land and those who have been working there after acquisition by the company in 1991,” said Aye Kyaw.
“There are a lot of issues surrounding land ownership in Irrawaddy division – [with] these plough wars and disputes between ‘original’ and ‘current’ owners of the land – and they are rather complicated to solve. We are trying to negotiate between the parties to prevent larger disputes.”
Aya Shwe Wah reportedly confiscated more than 40,000 acres of land in Irrawaddy division during military rule. In May, the division’s Chief Minister pledged to return all the land confiscated by the military and businesses to their original owners.