Two farmers handed 7-year sentence

Dec 11, 2009 (DVB), Two farmers involved in a land dispute in Burma which was taken up by the International Labour Organisation were yesterday given seven-year prison sentences.

A relative of Nyan Myint and Thura Aung, father and son from Aunglan in central Burma's Magwe division, said the two were sentenced on charges of misappropriation and damages to public property.

Their case had been taken up by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Rangoon, which has a mandate to deal with land dispute cases in Burma.

The Burmese army in 2007 confiscated farmland belonging to the two farmers, but following intervention from the ILO, it was returned earlier this year.

In August, however, the two were accused of cutting down a eucalyptus tree on the land, and subsequently arrested. According to the relative, who spoke to DVB on condition of anonymity, the trees had however already been damaged.

He said that it was likely the sentencing stemmed from complaints the two filed to the ILO. The ILO has acknowledged that, despite having an agreement with the Burmese government that complainants will not be harassed, there is a risk of retribution.

In October, 12 farmers who filed complaints to the ILO regarding land confiscation were sentenced to up to five years with hard labour.

"The government leaders made an agreement with the ILO not to jail and subject people to forced labour," said the relative. "But now the lower level authorities are framing cases against them and sending them to prison."

An ILO report released last month said that "there is a serious 'disconnect' between the desire of the central government authorities to stop the use of forced labour and the behaviour of the local [civilian and military] authorities".

According to the relative, the family of Nyan Myint and Thura Aung will not appeal the sentencing.

"This is the ILO's job to deal with and we believe they will carry on with what they need to do , we are not filing the appeal," he said.

Reporting by Naw Noreen

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