Burma’s defence minister promised the country’s parliament on Tuesday to return just over 18,000 of the approximately 300,000 acres of land confiscated by the military during decades of junta rule.
According to the secretary of the parliament’s land grab investigation commission Thein Htun, Defence Minister Lieutenant General Wai Lwin informed legislators that the ministry had verified about 400 of the more than 600 complaints forwarded to ministry by the group.
“The committee had forwarded 665 complaints to the [MoD] involving 297,217 acres of land and so far they have verified the ones concerning 10 of 14 regional military commands across the country involving 18,364.49 acres, which have been approved to be returned to the original owners,” said Thein Htun.
The minister told the parliament that the military would not be returning approximately 50,000 acres of land where projects had already been constructed and instead would follow legal procedures in order to compensate the relevant parties.
During his address, Wai Lwin went on to claim that the military was not responsible for all of the land grab cases that were cited by the commission and insisted that certain episodes had been wrongfully pinned on the army, when in fact the property had been appropriated by individuals and companies.
The minister said the country’s armed forces had also allowed locals to cultivate more than 15,000 acres of land that had been confiscated but not developed by the military. Wai Lwin then pledged to return around 25,000 acres to locals if they could prove they were actually using it for farming.
Lower house MP and land grab investigation commission member Pe Than welcomed the minister’s pledge but stressed that the commission would wait and see if the military followed through with the agreement.
“Generally this looks encouraging but we need to wait and see if the farmers actually get their land back,” said Pe Than.
Earlier this week, Burma’s parliament approved a proposal tabled by the land grab investigation commission urging the government to speed up the implementation of recommendations presented by the group.
During a speech in London on Monday night, Burma’s President Thein Sein described the challenges facing the reformist government as “tremendous” and alluded to the difficulties authorities have had with confronting the myriad land issues in the country.
“Land ownership issues for example are extremely complex,” said Thein Sein. “As part of our drive to foster growth for all the people of Myanmar (Burma), we will develop clear, fair and open land policies.”
However, the government has yet to provide the parliament with a detailed plan laying out how authorities are preparing to address what is fast becoming one of the most tempestuous issues in the country.
In a article published by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, the think tank reports approximately 1.9 million acres of land in Burma has been illegally seized by private businesses in the past two decades, “even though 70 percent of that land has never been developed and is still used for farming by the original owners”.