Paltry payout for mass land grab

Less than one percent of the estimated cost of farmland confiscated by the Burmese army in 2006 has been repaid to the farmers as compensation, a report submitted yesterday to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Rangoon claims.

Some 4,000 acres of farmland in Burma’s central Magwe division were confiscated to grow physic nuts, which can be used in the production of biodiesel. One acre is valued at around 500,000 kyat ($US500).

But a report by the former chair of a Rangoon township’s National League for Democracy (NLD) wing, Thet Wei, found that farmers had been paid only 12 kyat [$US0.012] compensation per acre. The report was submitted to the ILO to coincide with its Geneva conference today.

The findings were based on facts compiled during a field study earlier this month when Thu Wei met with the affected farmers from Natmauk township’s Ywarmon village tract, which includes Myatyekan, Kyaungywarlay and Taungzauk villages, all in Magwe division.

One farmer, Than Soe, who accompanied Thet Wei on his field study said: “On arrival at Myatyekan village, we heard the local authorities summoning [farmers] to a meeting with the army at the village’s monastery regarding the matter of the 12 kyat compensation. One acre of the land has a current value of around 500,000 kyat.”

Police then reportedly summoned Thet Wei and Than Soe to the police station without a warrant. Thet Wei said the harassment showed that local authorities were not abiding by an agreement made between the ILO and the government that authorities will not harass people who complain to the ILO.

He added that the summoning was also “a hindrance and obstruction to our work to bring an end to force labour and child soldier recruitments”.

The report also touched on the issue of five farmers in Aunglan township in Magwe division whose land remains under a confiscation order first enacted by a local army-owned sugar factory in 2007.

After being found guilty of ‘trespassing’ on the land in 2008, the farmers were imprisoned and released a year later, with the Burmese government and the ILO ostensibly coming to agreement that would grant the land back to the farmers.

But the factory continues to claim ownership, and the ILO is likely to raise the issue at the conference.

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