Locals in Mandalay division’s Maddaya township near Sale village who are engaged in a land dispute with the Burmese Army’s Air Defence Battalion 1004 have been sued for trespassing by the group’s commander.
Residents in Sale village were sued by the Air Defence Battalion 1004’s commander last week after they refused to sign an acknowledgement that their village and more than 1,700 acres of farmland they have been working on is under the battalion’s jurisdiction.
The land was appropriated in 1992 for official use to make way for an agricultural and livestock breeding and training centre, but the plan was abandoned in 2003. The Air Defence battalion then began allowing the village’s residents to work as tenant farmers on the land.
The battalion’s commander Myo Hlaing Oo said the villagers were told in early August to sign an agreement acknowledging the military’s ownership of the land. Myo Hlaing Oo said if the villagers compiled then they would be allowed to continue working on the land free of charge.
“We were officially directed by superior authorities not to profit off the land,” said the commander. “This directive came from the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services.”
The villagers on 27 September protested the move and said they didn’t want to work on the property as tenants and wanted the land back.
“Now the agricultural bank is not giving us loans apparently because we are in dispute with the army, which has added more hardship to our lives that have already been made difficult by the unstable weather,” said one of the villagers. “We would like to appeal to the president to allow us to work on the land freely and receive the government loans we were supposed to get.”
The villagers have sent letters of appeals to President Thein Sein and the country’s Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing.
The battalion commander said the lawsuit filed at Maddaya township court against the villagers on 2 October might be revoked if they would agree to sign the acknowledgement.
“We will allow the farmers to work on the land but in return – they must sign the acknowledgement that the land falls within the army’s [jurisdiction],” said the commander.
“Understandably, they are afraid of signing acknowledgements since we heard what happened the last time around. But this time is only to make the record clear so that we are not making profit off the land by charging farmers as tenants.”
With Burma primed for massive investment following the continual removal of western sanctions, land grabs have been on the rise amid the country’s shaky legal infrastructure that experts say allows forced relocation and appropriations to continue.
However, local farmers are feeling increasingly empowered in the absence of military rule to stand up against development projects that threaten to forcibly remove them off land they work.