Villagers on trial for resisting relocation

A trial is underway for villagers who have refused a government order to relocate from their homes close to Burma’s capital.

Members of around 20 households now face up to three months in prison, having turned down offers of 200,000 kyat ($US235) per family to relocate after the order was given in October 2011.

The land is being eyed for a government project, although it is not clear what exactly – a resident of Meethwaypho Kone village in Lewe township, around five miles south of Naypyidaw, said it was rumoured to be some sort of gem project.

Around a third of the nearly 150 households in the village were offered a plot of land in addition to the financial compensation, but that left 100 or so with nowhere to go. “How can we survive on 200,000 kyat and where can we buy land with that amount? We refused to move because we really have nowhere to go,” said Chit Ko Ko.

“As we have nowhere to live or nothing to make a living with, we will just let ourselves be sued. We are living with the prospect of trial and imprisonment.”

The group also claims no lawyer has been willing to take on the case, and they have been forced to defend themselves. The families have already appeared in court four times and pleaded not guilty.

The issue of land rights in Burma is a sensitive one: existing laws do little to prevent confiscation by government-aligned figures, and that looks set to continue if a bill currently being debated in parliament comes into force. The Land Act will effectively allow powerful tycoons to monopolise arable land and force off small-scale farmers and landowners.

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