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More than 130 farmers in central Burma have filed a complaint directly to President Thein Sein in which they call for action on cases of abuses and land confiscation.
The group of farmers, from Sisayan village in Magwe division, claim that five of them had their land confiscated in January by the military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings (UMEH). One farmer, Than Oo, also recounted an incident on 21 March in which he was beaten by a group of unknown men.
Now the UMEH is attempting to sue the five men, alleging they themselves are guilty of physical and verbal assault, and trespassing on the land confiscated from them.
The letter, which was also sent to Burma’s head attorney and chief justice, describes how their land was seized by the UMEH, as well as Htoo Trading Company, to build a caustic soda factory. One subsequent lawsuit filed by the farmers against the confiscation was rejected by a local Magwe court.
Furthermore, Rangoon-based legal consultant Aung Thein, who has been following the case, claims that after Than Oo’s beating he was dragged into a portable cabin on the factory construction site. The assailants then called authorities and claimed Than Oo had stoned the office building, injuring one person.
Such reversals of accusations are common in Burma, where farmers have few legal aids to resort to and often become the victim land grabs as the government looks to aggressively expand infrastructural projects. Rampant corruption also allows state-backed enterprises to ignore flimsy laws surrounding land confiscation.
A court session was held in Kanma township on Tuesday to hear the UMEH’s prosecution case, but judges have reportedly referred it to a more senior-level court Upper Minhla township for “security reasons”, although specific details are not known.
Aung Thein said that it is hard to predict how the new government will deal with cases such as these. Ironically, Thein Sein said in a speech last week that he would improve the livelihood of farmers in Burma, where around 60 percent of the population is reliant on agriculture as a chief source of income.