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MP slams military promise to return confiscated land

A member of parliament on Wednesday accused the military of misleading the public by pledging to return thousands of acres of land confiscated under the former regime.

Hla Swe, an upper house MP for Magwe division in central Burma, told DVB that the army’s northwestern command had instead tried to bargain with locals by offering them “joint ventures” on the confiscated land.

He accused the military of roaming around farmlands in his constituency inviting locals via loudspeakers to participate in “joint ventures”, despite promising to unconditionally return all unused land in accordance with the law. It is not clear what type of joint deals had been envisioned.

“If they actually plan to give up the land, there is no reason to be proposing these joint ventures,” Hla Swe said. “What’s happening on the ground is basically far from what the senior military leaders promised.”

Hla Swe is a member of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and a government-backed commission set up to investigate land disputes in the former military dictatorship. In March, a commission report revealed that the army has been accused of illegally seizing 247,077 acres of land from farmers across Burma.

The government has promised to return all unused land to its original owners in a bid to placate growing social unrest over land grabs. A 2012 farmland law requires all confiscated land to be returned to their owners within six months if it has not been used. But activists say the military continues to ignore the law.

The government-backed land grab investigation commission has also called on the military to return undeveloped land, or to provide adequate compensation to farmers.

Commission member and lower house representative, Pe Than, from the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party in Myebon township, said the union parliament is currently exploring ways to speed up the returns of confiscated land. He told DVB that they have sent a formal request to the government to hasten the process.

“Implementation has been rather slow leading to several issues, including farmers protesting, waging plough wars and clashing with authorities, as well as [farmers] ending up in jail, court trials and bloodshed,” said Pe Than.

“These instances lead the public to grow more disappointed and so we are going to hold further discussions with parliament.”

Burma has seen a sharp rise in land grabs since reformists President Thein Sein took office in March 2011. Activists warn that large-scale foreign investment is likely to fuel such conflicts, unless the government acts swiftly to implement effective legal remedial measures.


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