Locals near southern Shan state’s Inle Lake have gone into hiding after officials issued warrants for their arrests following a demonstration where the farmers ploughed land that had been confiscated by a controversial hotel zone project.
Authorities in Nyaung Shwe issued the arrest warrants last week after the seven locals tilled the confiscated land east of the lake.
According to a resident from Ingyingon village, he and three other protestors went into hiding after police showed up in their villages to round them up in the early hours of Sunday morning.
“Now I am hiding in the woods – [authorities] have been making serious threats to arrest me – I don’t know what kind of charges they want to arrest me for,” said the villager on the condition of anonymity.
“We’ve lost our land, our livelihood and we’re pressed with charges and now on top of that, I’ve become a fugitive.”
The four villagers, along with three other individuals, had already been hit with lawsuits last month for disobeying orders promulgated by public servants and using criminal force to prevent public servants from discharging their duty.
Earlier this year, the companies investing in the hotel project offered locals about 500m kyat in compensation for the crops grown on the more than 600 acres that had been confiscated.
However, several villagers refused to accept the offer because it allegedly only covered the value of the crops, not the property itself. The locals then proceeded to plough the land on 2 June in response to the offer.
The locals were then hit with charges after they refused to accept compensation, which they saw as insufficient.
According to local official Win Myint, the police were looking to arrest under 505(b) of the penal code for inciting unrest.
“I learnt that the police went to arrest the seven villagers with warrants under article 505(b) of the Penal Code,” said the local official.
“Since making arrests is part of their duty, I wouldn’t want to comment on that, but it was inappropriate to be making the arrests before dawn breaks unless there were other issues such as the villagers resisting arrest.”
Following two years of reforms in Burma, land rights have become one of the most tempestuous issues in the country as farmers begin to challenge authorities in the absence of military rule.
During a similar incident further south, six farmers in Irrawaddy division’s Ingapu township have also been in hiding after authorities issued warrants for their arrest after the locals ploughed land that had been allegedly confiscated by the army.