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Expansion of military forces citizens off land

Apr 21, 2009 (DVB), Fertile farmland is being confiscated by the government and converted to army barracks, outposts and training sites as Burma's military increases in size, says a report released today on land confiscation in Burma.

Forced land confiscation without compensation has caused widespread problems throughout the country, says 'Holding our Ground', which focuses on Arakan State, Mon State and the Pa-O region of southern Shan State.

"The main reason for land confiscation is the need to feed and financially support increasing troop numbers", explains Aung Marm Oo, chief author of the report.

Army personnel now number 490,000, having more than doubled in size since 1989. Troops are expected to produce their own food and obtain basic living materials.

The report cites a Global Witness investigation in 2003 which found that army personnel steal food and other resources from areas close to their bases.

"Generally villagers receive no compensation for lost land," Aung Marm Oo said. "They can go and complain to the village headman, but they get no assistance from township authority."

Victims of land confiscation have faced drastic problems such as food and water shortages, and often are unable to educate their children or find work.

Further reasons for land confiscation include government development projects, says the report.

"For example, for the Sittwe to Yangoon highway a few years ago government confiscated large amounts of land," said Aung Marm Oo.

These projects often use forced labour and have disastrous environmental effects in many areas.

Land is increasingly being confiscated to grow biodiesel crops such as jatropha or castor oil plants to fight rising oil prices.

The government has stated their intention to plant eight million acres of the plant within three years, with each state or division, regardless of size or suitable land, required to plant 500,000 acres.

A report released earlier this month by the Lahu National Development Organisation cited China's insatiable hunger for rubber as another reason for the increase in land confiscation, as large tracts of land are being converted to rubber plantations.

Burma cultivated 302,000 hectares of rubber in 2006; the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation stated their aim to increase that by a further 100,000 acres last year.

Reporting by Rosalie Smith


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