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Local farmers in the Tenasserim division coastal town of Tavoy staged a protest on Monday morning demanding a return of farmlands confiscated by the military and associate companies in 1990, allegedly without the landowners’ knowledge in many cases.
More than 100 farmers, supported by hundreds of other residents of Tavoy, officially known as Dawei, marched around the town chanting for the return of their lands, and demanding that they be allowed to register as landholders and that construction projects currently in progress on said lands are suspended.
“We are protesting because we want our land back,” said Tavoy farmer Tun Tun Win. “I had about 14 acres of land confiscated, and altogether in Tavoy, there are around 300 acres of farmland confiscated from some 60 farmers.”
Yi Yi Htay, another farmer, said she was joining the rally after an application to register her farmland had been rejected.
“For decades we had been working on our land every day and had paid tax up to year 2011,” she told DVB. “But when I applied to register the land under the nationwide land registration scheme in 2012, my application was rejected under the claim that the land in question was confiscated back in 1990.
“We never even knew about this land seizure back in 1990,” she said.
Than Win, a spokesperson for the farmers, urged the authorities to negotiate.
“The concerned authorities should suspend construction projects on the land in dispute,” he said. “They must also provide compensation to the landowners if buildings have already been completed, and allow them to register as the genuine holders of the land that has been left unused.”
Than Win added that the farmers will continue protesting until their demands are met.
However, according to Kyaw Swe, the Tavoy district government administrative director, the government authorities have already provided compensation for the confiscated plots of land.
“The authorities already paid compensation,” he said. “A 40 x 60ft plot was valued at 10 million kyat [US$10,000] when the land was confiscated, and this money was paid to about 30 farmers. Now there are just 24 remaining to be accept the offer. We can compensate them in accordance with the new Land Law adopted in August 2012.”
He added that when the land was seized in 1990, none of the framers made any complaint.
Monday’s protest originated from a confrontation at the end of October when officials ordered fences built around several farms in Tavoy’s Sanche ward and started dumping soil on the farmers’ rice fields which at the time were waiting to be harvested.
There are around 40,000 acres of farmland and more than 3,000 farmers in Tavoy township.
Land prices in the area have greatly escalated as plans continue for the construction of a special economic zone (SEZ) featuring factories, power stations and a sea-port in Tavoy, backed by the Thai and Burmese governments. The SEZ will include a highway linking Tavoy to Bangkok.