Farmers lose out in Karen conflict

Farmers in eastern Karen state’s Myawaddy township are complaining that heavy fighting over the past month has forced them to abandon crops and amass debts.

One village close to the border town, Hpalu, has seen regular fighting in recent weeks. While that appears to have eased over the weekend, the area remains volatile. One farmer told DVB that he had been unable to harvest acres of beans, corn and paddy around Hpalu.

As a result, many had been borrowing money from local business people, but remained reliant on a good harvest to repay the loans.

Thousands of refugees have moved back and forth across the border with Thailand since 8 November after fighting erupted between the Burmese army and a breakaway faction of Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA).

Many of the refugees returned days after fleeing, despite warnings that the area was not safe. Numbers of those who returned had said they were keen to tend to their crops, given that it is harvesting season in eastern Burma.

Meanwhile, lawyer Aye Myint, who heads the Guiding Star legal advocacy group in Burma, said that there had been an increase in extortion of farmers by local officials since the 7 November elections.

Burma already has high rates of illegal land confiscation by authorities, an issue which is monitored by the UN’s International Labour Organisation. One of the main catalysts of the recent increase, Aye Myint believes, is fear among low-level officials that they will lose their positions in a post-election reshuffle and thus are looking to secure land for financial stability.

Aye Myint said he had received 15 complaints from farmers over the past weekend, seven of which were over land disputes.

One Karen woman in Wakhema township complained to him that her land had been seized by village authorities, but when she refused to leave and continued to work the land was placed in detention.

Two monks that had assisted the lady were also put in jail, he added, while the village-level officials moved in on the land and harvested some of the crops.

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