Twenty-three farmers who staged a “ploughing protest” in Rangoon’s Dagon-Seikkan township are being sued for trespassing by the Green Asia Company, an arm of Asia World, Burma’s largest and most diverse conglomerate which has stakes in everything from industrial construction to supermarket chains and bus companies.
In 2008, 16 companies headed by Asia World, launched an agricultural project which entailed buying up 10,000 acres of land from farmers in and around Nyaungbin village and eight nearby villages eat of Rangoon.
Initially, the farmers say, the companies agreed to end the project after three years – whether or not it turned out profitable – and return the land to the original owners.
However, in 2009, the companies evicted the farmers from the land and would not allow them to cultivate crops there. The farmers allege that despite the fact that the agricultural venture proved unprofitable, the companies would not return the land to the original owners. The farmers filed a lawsuit against the Green Asia joint-venture, but it was rejected by the local court.
In 2012, several farmers decided to defy the companies by returning to plough their fields as a mark of protest. The firms then filed a suit against 23 farmers alleging seven charges including trespassing under Article 447 of the penal code, according to lawyer Phoe Phyu who is defending the farmers.
“I believe that, from a legal point of view, the farmers are not in the wrong for cultivating the land because the three-year contract had expired,” Phoe Phyu told DVB.
“Moreover, both the police and the court refused to accept the lawsuit previously filed by the farmers against the companies for breaking their promise. However they then accepted the companies’ charges against the farmers,” he said. “Evidently, farmers don’t enjoy the same rights as large companies.”
He said the farmers refuse to recognise the lawsuit against them as the court would not accept their original case against Green Asia and its partners.
“The companies’ agricultural project did not yield profit and we initially proposed that they allow us back onto our land to grow crops,” said Myint Aung, one of the 23 farmers. “We are the original owners of the land, so I don’t see why we should recognise a ‘trespassing’ lawsuit.”
According to a statement released by the farmers, Burmese President Thein Sein visited the area in 2008 in his capacity as prime minister and promised the farmers their land would not be confiscated.
Green Asia was not available for comment.