The eviction of thousands of long-term settlers living on the fringes of Mandalay’s railway network are to be followed with an even larger dispossession of homeowners and businesses in the region, as military land grabs continue apace.
The junta has, since the coup, established what it calls “Township Encroachment Committees” in Mandalay with the intent of forcibly evicting people from land across the region.
The recent actions of these land grab committees show that they do not discriminate between those living on government or private land — a thin distinction in Burma — or, indeed, between those with or without a contractual claim to properties.
Railway settlers displaced
From Feb. 26 onwards, members of the security forces moved to oversee the destruction of at least 200 established settler households, home to an estimated 1,000 people, in Mandalay’s Pyigyidagun township.
Affected households were told by the military’s municipal staff that homes were to be torn down as they had been erected too close to electricity pylons. Residents told DVB that most of the homes had existed for over four decades, and had been provided with official permissions from past administrations.
The dwellings had been erected along a stretch of railway operated by Myanma railway lines — such homes have become a popular target for the military; since the coup, soldiers have overseen the destruction of similar sites in Mandalay’s Aung Myay Tharzan, Chanmyatharzi, and Amarapura townships, as well as settlements in Kannar Road — to say nothing of other enforced “clearances” across the country, notably in Yangon’s Hlaingtharyar and Thanlyin townships, that have left tens of thousands of people without shelter.
“Nobody let us know about it until 8.a.m. They arrived at 9.a.m. and asked us to pack our stuff and leave,” one of the displaced told DVB.
According to several sources, authorities then brought in the bulldozers.
“Even men were in tears on that day — we didn’t expect this terrible situation to happen… I have no doubt that many families are now in terrible difficulties,” one of the affected, who works for a private company, told DVB.
Many amongst the displaced report being forced to sleep by roadsides or to take shelter in monasteries after being denied rental accommodation — landlords’ have said that they fear authorities may conjur up charges that the displaced are involved in anti-junta activities, giving themselves the ability to confiscate properties under newly enacted anti-terrorism laws.
Others have remained in temporary shelters nearby, holding onto the hope of reclaiming their homes.
CDM railway staff targeted
Just one week later, on March 7, members of the security forces convened on the staff dormitories of state-owned Myanma Railways in the town of Myitnge — a short drive south from the center of Mandalay town — and announced over loudspeaker that they were to evict those participating in the civil disobedience movement (CDM).
Afterwards, troops drove across the town to promote their message, threatening railway staff living in private property that their homes too would be appropriated by the military, an employee of Myanma Railways said.
Local sources told DVB that approximately 5,000 civilian households and public housing spaces — home to nearly 50,000 people — may be implicated in the order. Troops are said to have deployed across Myitnge, and have established checkpoints to monitor the movements of those participating in the CDM.
“The announcement is causing severe difficulties for those affected — two thirds of the staff have now returned to their jobs,” a CDM railway worker said.
Troops are believed to have begun forcing workers to register locations at ward administration offices a month ago, forcing a number of people to flee to rural areas.
“This does not only affect CDM staff — troops are evicting the whole town, including civilians,” one resident told DVB.
Land reclamations in central Mandalay threaten hundreds of businesses
Whilst threatening residents of Myitnge with the loss of their homes, the military, in the first week of March, also moved to seize land 15 kilometers to the north — in Chan Aye Tharzan township, central Mandalay — handing eviction notices to owners of businesses and residential apartments close to the Ba Htoo Stadium compound.
Over 130 market stalls and apartments are believed to be located in the vicinity, with local sources saying that tenants may have paid upwards of approximately K1,000 lakh (US$55,000) for a space.
The owners of the plot say that they are not pleased with the order, which has been made by Mandalay Region’s military-affiliated Department of Sports and Physical Education.
Approximately eight years are believed to remain on the original lease granted by the government, as bemused tenants say that they are facing difficulties in abiding by the order due to ongoing political unrest and uncertainty caused by the pandemic.
A man who has lived in an apartment by Ba Htoo Stadium for over two decades told DVB that the eviction had no basis in law, and that no contingency plans had been provided to tenants by the military.
“They just sent a letter via the post office… According to the law, they should arrange compensation, or relocation plans.”
On Nov. 3 of last year, Min Aung Hlaing visited the stadium, ordering authorities to renovate sidewalks and remove billboards affixed to its exterior.
Locals speculate that the junta head may, at the same time, have ordered the removal of the stallholders and tenants, regarding them to be a similar eyesore. Sources close to the military told DVB that they were aware that businesses directly outside of the stadium blocked the public’s view of its entrance.
According to notice letters sent by authorities, a total of 133 shops in Ba Htoo Stadium, 95 shops in Aung Myay Mandala Stadium, and 162 shops in Pyin Oo Lwin Stadium have been ordered to shutter by March 31 at the latest.