More than 200 farmers staged a protest on Tuesday in the town of Hpruso in Karenni State against land grabs by the Burmese military by marching to the confiscated farmland in question to plough it.
Over 1,200 acres of farmland were allegedly confiscated about 10 years ago from 109 residents in Sokyaku village by the Burmese army’s 531st Light Infantry Battalion. Local villagers said they went to plough the land on Tuesday morning to express their frustration that calls to government authorities to return the land have been repeatedly ignored.
“The army said they’d allow us to work on the farmland if we signed an acknowledgement that they own the land. We refused to do that and now they have been threatening to ‘take action’ against us,” said one villager.
“This year, we decided to come here together and start ploughing our fields to see if they would try to stop us,” he added.
A spokesman for the villagers said some of them had previously attempted to return to work on the land but were harassed and threatened by the army. However, he said, this time they are determined not to back down and have vowed to return on Wednesday to continue the cultivating protest.
The demonstration was observed by about 10 officers from a local police station, but no arrests were made.
The farmers, in their capacity as original landowners, say they have contacted local MPs and the state-level Land Grab Investigation Commission, as well as the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), but have received no response.
Khu Plu Reh, coordinator at the KNPP liaison office in Karenni State capital Loikaw, said the Sokyaku villagers had called on the state government to assist them reclaiming ownership of the land.
He added that Burmese military authorities had last year pledged to the Union Parliament that they would return over 150,000 of some 300,000 acres of farmland confiscated across the country during the era of the military junta. “However, implementation has been slow on the ground,” he said.