CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 13 October 2018

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Myanmar farmland grabs condemned

MANDALY (UCAN): Myanmar must provide redress for illegally confiscating land and enact laws and regulations “to safeguard the rights of farmers” and other small landholders, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a July 17 report.
 
The report said that over the last 30 years the government as well as military officials have seized hundreds of thousands of acres from farmers while providing little or no compensation and that this has jeopardised their livelihoods and eroded their access to basic services.
 
Many farmers have faced criminal prosecution for protesting the lack of redress and refusing to leave or cease work on the land that was taken from them.
 
In its 33-page report entitled, Nothing for Our Land: Impact of Land Confiscation on Farmers in Myanmar, Human Rights Watch interviewed 39 farmers as well as experts from land rights and civil society groups, documenting the effects of this policy on farmers in Shan State, Yangon and the Irrawaddy region.
 
Phil Robertson, the group’s deputy Asia director, said widespread plundering of land across the nation has harmed rural communities for decades.
 
“Aung San Suu Kyi’s government should promptly address the issue of illegal land confiscations, compensate aggrieved parties and reform laws to protect people against future abuses,” he said.
 
Seeing their land confiscated by successive military juntas has been a thorn in the side of many rural communities for over five decades, critics of the government contend.
 
Official statistics show the ruling regime has seized hundreds of thousands of acres since the 1990s, but activists believe the true number stretches into the millions.
 
Maw Oo, a 47-year-old village leader in Ye Bu near Taunggyi in southern Shan State, said her 12 acres of land were confiscated by the military and now she is trying to negotiate their return.
 
However, she expressed frustration with attempts to organise meetings with the military commander in the south and the state’s chief minister to discuss the fate of the land seized from her and other farmers.
 
Under the watchful eye of the National League for Democracy (NLD)-led government, many farmers have been sued and few have seen their livelihoods take a turn for the better, she said.
 
The lack of resolution for land-related issues has triggered a widespread sense of disappointment in the administration’s determination to respect people’s basic human rights, she added.
 
Maw Oo was one of 72 farmers sentenced to serve a month in prison—others received hefty fines—by a court in Taunggyi in December 2016 for trespassing after they continued to work on the land seized by the military.
 
“One month in prison was definitely a new experience for me,” he said.
 
“But it hasn’t deterred me from challenging this policy of grabbing people’s land despite having received threats that I will face even more charges.”
 
State counselor, Suu Kyi, and the government have established an investigative body to look into suspicious cases and undertaken reforms of critical laws, among other positive steps, but pundits say they face an uphill battle in trying to resolve land issues involving the powerful military.
 
In June, the president, Win Myint, directed local authorities to swiftly return any unfairly confiscated farmland to the original owners or provide a reasonable level of compensation.
 
Kyaw Myint, an NLD lawmaker and chairperson of the farmers’ affairs committee in the Lower House, said his committee has received over 9,000 complaints about illegal land grabs from Yangon, Mandalay, the Irrawaddy region and Shan State.
 
He said the government is trying to solve the issue, adding the recent directive from the president should give farmers hope.
 
“But many challenges remain, such as our bureaucracy, deeply ingrained attitudes and a lack of collaboration with local authorities,” he said.
 
“As the world knows, the civilian government does not have full control over home affairs, border and defense. All of those things are still under the control of the military,” he explained.

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