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Dozens of farmers in Natmauk Township, Magwe Division, rallied on Wednesday to demand return of lands lost in three separate land grabs over the past seven years.
The demonstration was held with official permission from local authorities and no arrests have been reported in relation to the event.
The protest was led by Zaw Min Htike, a local farmer who told DVB that people from 19 villages around Natmauk had been forced to give up their farmland by the Magwe Division government in 2007 to make way for a gas pipeline.
Zaw Min Htike estimated that thousands of acres of land had been lost.
In 2010, local farmers were again displaced by the construction of a railroad linking Natmauk to Magwe, the division’s capital. The Magwe Air Force Command later removed villagers from farms on the pretext of building an airfield.
“The Air Force took over the land and offered as little as 5,000 kyat [US$5] compensation per acre, then they walled off the confiscated plots,” said Zaw Min Htike.
Phoe Phyu, a rights lawyer specialising in labour and land confiscation issues, has been assisting the Natmauk farmers. He said that in this case the majority of the land was confiscated by government officials and companies for their own personal financial gain.
“Most of the projects used as pretense for the seizures never materialised. In the end, the locals have just lost land,” Phoe Phyu said. “The gas pipe was constructed across farmland, destroying many toddy trees in the process, and no compensation whatsoever was paid.
“Procedures for land acquisition in upper-central Burma are not in conformity with the law.”
In 2012, Burma’s parliament passed a land reform package that included the Farmland Law and the Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Lands Management Law, which some analysts have criticised for leaving farmers particularly vulnerable. The legislation allows the government to acquire lands “in the national interest”, but also stipulates that they must be returned if projects aren’t completed.
Land rights have become a defining issue of Burma’s reform period, which began in 2011. Farmers in particular have come forth for demonstrations nationwide, demanding the right to work and retain their lands.