Employees of the Yuzana construction company, which recently bought up swathes of land in the Hukawng tiger reserve in northern Burma, are being trained in weapons handling by the Burmese army, a local development group has said.
Around 500 workers of the company, whose chief Htay Myint is close to the Burmese junta, have been trained for militias over the past three months and were given firearms in a special ceremony on 2 September, Aung Wa of the Kachin Development Networking Group (KDNG) said. The training has focused on workers Tanai in Kachin state.
The KDNG in August released a report documenting Yuzana’s move into the Hukawng Valley, which is now the world’s largest tiger reserve. Up 200,000 acres of land has been cleared by the company for planting sugar cane, and with it villages are reportedly being flattened and locals displaced.
There is speculation that Yuzana fears a backlash from villagers, who have filed complaints to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) about the land grab, and so is equipping workers with weaponry.
The majority of the employees were hired from lower Burma prior to the project’s inception in 2007, Aung Wa said, adding that the 2 September ceremony was attended by a Burmese army commander from the Tanai region.
The Kachin News Group reported last year that Yuzana had built around 100,000 houses in the valley for men and women working on the plantations, which are being created in what last month became the world’s largest tiger reserve and the largest protected area in Southeast Asia, and celebrated enthusiastically by the Burmese junta.
Locals have said that Yuzana had confiscated land in seven villages in the region and compensated only 80,000 kyat (US$80) for an acre of land normally valued at 300,000 kyat (US$300). More than 160 families are so far thought to have been displaced.