Around 400 residents in Rangoon’s Thingangyun township have received funeral rites from Buddhist monks, saying they are ready to die protesting for the return of cultivated land which was confiscated from them by the military.
The villagers of Michaungkan ward have been protesting non-stop since 26 November demanding the return of farmland that was seized from them in 1990. One of the protest leaders, Zaw Tun, said the protestors on Monday received traditional Buddhist funeral rites to signify their readiness to die fighting for this cause, after getting no response from the authorities.
“After seven days of protests, we have been given our funeral rites by 21 monks, 11 of whom were involved in the Saffron Revolution, to show our determination and that we are ready to die protesting until we get our land back,” he said.
The protestors have laid out a list of seven demands which include the release of fellow villagers imprisoned for involvement in previous protests.
According to a report by Radio Free Asia, Htin Kyaw, Sein Than and Kyaw Lwin, who led the second Michaungkan protest in March 2012, were each sentenced on 16 November to three months in prison with labour under Article 18 – the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Processions Law – for staging a protest without official permission.
Three others are also reportedly awaiting trial on similar charges.
On Monday, Rangoon division’s Border Affairs and Security Ministry Col. Tin Win spoke in person with the protestors and urged them to end the rally. He reportedly refused to discuss their demands.
In late September, Presidential spokesman Ye Htut said that the government intended to return the disputed lands to the Michaungkan farmers and provide compensation to those whose land now sits under newly-constructed factories.
The Michaungkan residents have staged seven rounds of protests to date and opened two protest camps to call for the return of lands, as well as camping out in front of City Hall in downtown Rangoon in October.
Rangoon division Land Investigation Commission members Aung Thein Linn (a former mayor of Rangoon who is now an MP for the ruling USDP) and Khine Maung Yi promised to raise the issue in parliament if they closed down the rally camp, which the villagers did.
However, failing to see any progress on the promises, the residents resumed their protest on 26 November.
Aung Thein Linn told DVB on Tuesday that the parliament has done its part on this case and the rest is up to the government.
“We did raise questions in the lower house and also in our [committee] report regarding this case, and that’s pretty much all we can do on our mandate,” he said.
“The government is aware of this and we assume the Land Management Committee will attend to the issue.”
Khin Lay Naing, a 76-year-old villager from Michaungkan, said she would die fighting for her land rather than risk being made homeless.
“We have received our funeral rites and are not afraid to die,” she said. “I have no home, and have been staying with family members, but they cannot keep me the rest of their lives.”
The Michaungkan residents said they have been living on the land in question since Gen. Ne Win’s era.
On Tuesday, a coalition of female activists associated with Bangkok-based ALTSEAN-Burma launched an awareness campaign about land-grabbing among Burma’s urban population, saying that farmers “need more support by townspeople”. The activists appealed to the residents of 13 townships to speak out against what they say is “an urgent problem” that has consequences for all people in Burma, such as rising food prices.