Farmers in the central Burmese town of Madaya are in hot water after protesting at the site of a fishery company whose land, they claim, is rightfully theirs.
Twenty residents from four villages in the town marched onto the land, ignoring signs that read, “Trespassers will be shot”, and began to plant rice paddy. They also tore down the barriers of one of the fishponds to allow the water to irrigate their fields.
Armed police intervened, and now the Sanpya Fishery Company, who occupies the land, is suing the villagers for the damage.
“There are around 100 police deployed and they have been harassing us by various means – raiding our villages and such to make our lives difficult. The so-called “People’s Police Force”, said Sandar Oo, one of the original owners of the land who is now facing charges.
Sanpya Fisheries leased 300 acres of land from the Burmese army in the early 1990’s. But the army had allegedly confiscated that land from the Madaya villagers.
The residents feel they were not compensated adequately, and have tried to reach out to the company and local authorities four times to discuss their ownership claims – but have been repeatedly ignored.
“The company built a fishery pond in the area and did nothing to compensate us. Therefore, we want our land back,” said Mya Hnin from Thabyaythar village.
Farming confiscated land has become a popular form of protest in Burma as farmers feel it shows that they have rightful ownership of the land.
This isn’t the first time the Madaya villagers have run afoul of the authorities. In March, 19 farmers were charged with sedition and trespassing after staging a plough protest on the contested land.
The farmers were pressed with various charges of Burma’s Penal Code, including criminal intimidation, (Article 506), abetting a crime, (Article 114) vandalism, (Article 427) and trespassing (Article 447).