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Farmers from Thegon, Pegu Division, announced on Monday that a local authority grossly under reported the amount of land confiscated in Aungon village, the site of an on-going and occasionally violent property dispute.
The farmers claimed that Thegon’s elected lower house parliamentarian,Soe Aung,a member of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), only reported 200 acres of confiscated land to parliament’s Farmland Investigation Commission. Villagers claim that the actual area stands around 1,100 acres.
“MP Soe Aung of Thegon, when reporting to the Farmland Investigation Commission last week, cited the acres of land confiscated around Thegon as 200, but the real number is more than 1,100 acres,” said Min Thwe Thit, secretary of the All-Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU), which co-hosted a press event with the villagers in Rangoon.
He added that, “the villagers gave him [Soe Aung] paperwork with details about the confiscated land and he pledged to give it to the commission. As it turned out, he didn’t take the papers to Naypyidaw, he left them in the local USDP office”.
Min Thwe Thit said that when villagers asked for an explanation, SoeAung said that it was not feasible to ask the commission to handle so much land at once, so he decided to begin with just 200 acres.
According to locals, more than 1,100 acres of land were confiscated by the Burmese military in 1997.
Villagers have staged several sit-ins and protests to demand that the land be returned. In February of this year, their initial protest site was raided by about 60 police and 100 plain-clothed accomplices thought to have been hired thugs.
Four farmers were subsequently charged under Burma’s controversial assembly law.
In response to the charges, a group of villagers invoked a curse upon the government, prompting authorities to then charge five people with defamation of the state under article 505(b) the country’s penal code.
The defamation charges sparked further demonstrations on 6 May, when at least one villager was injured in a scuffle with police outside the local prison.
Less than two weeks later, about 20 protestors were allegedly beaten by police as they marched to commemorate the three-month anniversary of the February crackdown and renew their demands to have the lands returned.