Eight farmers jailed for staging a plough protest on military-confiscated land in Sagaing Division’s Kanbalu Township are now facing additional charges for illegal trespassing.
“One of the eight farmers, Ko Kyauk Khe, has already been accused of 10 different violations of the law. He is currently serving prison terms for three of the charges and is still standing trial for the remaining indictments. On [Tuesday], two additional charges were lodged against him,” said Tin Myo, a Kanbalu resident.
In July, a court in Kanbalu sentenced the farmers to jail terms ranging from three months to two years for their involvement in a rally in March where they ploughed land confiscated by the Burmese army. Plough protests have been used in Burma recently as a show of defiance against the military and might serve to strengthen the original landowners’ claims to their land.
In the wake of the plough protest, more than 200 villagers—including residents from Khaohnta, Pegyi and Ngatpyawdine Villages—were served with charges.
Shortly after, civic group 88 Generation Peace and Open Society released a statement which strongly condemned the farmers’ imprisonment and demanded the return of lands confiscated by the military.
Over 10,000 acres of farmland owned by Kanbalu residents were confiscated by the Burmese army for a sugar cane plantation in the 1990s. Villagers have previously told DVB the land has been managed by the Burmese army’s 13th and 16th Light Infantry Battalions.
In August, 1,500 farmers held a rally calling on the government to release 57 of the jailed farmers, but so far only seven of the farmers were released after serving their full three-month jail sentences.
Burma’s government passed a land reform package in early 2012, which led to the creation of a land investigation commission charged with examining and mediating property disputes. But in July 2014 the Ministry of Defence announced plans to return only 120,000 acres of disputed land—less than a quarter of the land formally registered as seized property.