Shan State Chief Minister Sao Aung Myat said he believes all seized lands will be returned to farmers in his region before the end of the year.
Speaking to DVB in an exclusive interview at his office on 5 March, Sao Aung Myat said, “There remain 74 cases for us to resolve in Shan State. We have already laid out plans for 60 of these cases whereby lands will be given back to farmers. In general, each township has five or six cases and the different township authorities are working with State-level and then Union-level counterparts.
“I think that around September , the farmers who are physically working on their fields and need to begin sowing crops will get back their lands. Then we will continue to work on the other cases.”
The Shan chief minister’s timeline for the return of confiscated lands – many of which were seized by the military during the era of the previous junta – comes after Parliament had motioned that all seized lands are returned before September.
He also acknowledged that many people are dissatisfied with the delays in administrative work at all levels since the Land Usage Administrative Committee was formed.
Sai Win Myint, a member of the Central Executive Committee for Burma’s main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), said he does not believe that the issues will be resolved before September as the Land Usage Administration Committee has still not been established in Shan State capital Kengtung.
“I don’t think it is likely,” he said. “The Land Usage Administrative Committee is just a term of speech in Parliament. In reality, it is invisible.”
He added that the Land Usage office is demanding that proof of land ownership is provided, but even though many villagers have worked on these lands for generations, they don’t have land deeds.
“It is the companies that seized the lands who acquired land deeds and rights,” he said. “The farmers have nothing.”
The NLD member cited a case of 500 acres seized in Kengtung in 1995-96, to which he said there has still been no response from the investigation commission.
Nang Kwam Lake, a spokesperson for the exiled Shan Human Rights Foundation, said the land seizure problems cannot simply be resolved through compensation, but that issues such as environmental destruction, a lack of jobs, and security issues also need to be addressed.