English News Letter

March-2013

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COMMENTARY:Land Grabbing and Related Issues and Abuses Continue

As land grabbing, attempts at land grabbing and other problems related to land have continued unabated at many places in Shan State, human rights abuses connected or related to these incidents have also been rampant over the years up to the present.

 The Burmese military have not only taken lands for themselves but have also permitted, and even instructed, their cronies and cohorts, including ceasefire groups, people’s militia forces, their families and relatives, and influential individuals, etc., to take lands that they wanted for various purposes.

Many land areas that have been forcibly taken or which people have attempted to take had been originally cultivated by  local people for generations. Even many lands claimed to be ownerless or uncultivated had in fact been abandoned due to pressure by the authorities on the owners.   Furthermore, apart from taking lands for their own use, the Burmese military and some ceasefire groups and people’s militia forces have exerted control over the use of lands in  areas under their influence. They allowed only their relatives and cohorts to farm in certain land areas and prohibited the original local people from doing so.

In attempting to grab lands, where it was not probable to simply confiscate or take them for some reasons, the military and their cohorts have often used various means including restrictions, threats and other cunning ways, so that the lands would sooner or later fall into their hands.

People generally believe that without the backing or tacit approval of the Burmese military, the situation would not have become as bad as this. These individuals and groups, their cronies and cohorts, would not have been so bold as to not care about any consequences.

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CONTENTS: Themes & Places of Violations reported in this issue

  • Themes: All the reports in this month’s issue are about various types of human rights violations directly and indirectly connected to land issues, including land grabbing, attempt at land grabbing, and other related incidents of violations, e.g. restriction, intimidation, extortion, etc., committed by members of the administration, the Burmese military and their cronies and cohorts, from around mid 2012 up to the beginning of 2013
  • Places: Lai-Kha, Nam-Zarng and Murng-Ton

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ACRONYMS:

LIB = Light Infantry Battalion (e.g. LIB246 = Light Infantry Battalion No. 246)

IB = Infantry Battalion

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MAP

 

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LANDS ABANDONED UNDER FORCE SEIZED AND ORIGINAL OWNERS REQUIRED TO BUY THEM BACK, IN LAI-KHA

In late 2012, up to the end of the year when this report was received, many displaced people who returned to their native places to reclaim and work their original rice fields and farms were told by a people’s militia force under the Burmese military that they needed to buy them if they wanted them back.

Sometime around early and mid 2012, there has been news about people who had been displaced for various reasons being allowed to return to their original villages by the current nominally civilian government, which had assumed power a year or so before.

Another piece of news had been that since the Shan resistance troops and the Burmese army troops had reached a ceasefire and had agreed to work together toward a democratic country in which all peoples are equal, the Burmese military would no longer oppress the people.

This news has had some effects on several displaced communities inside and outside of the country. Many people have been interested in returning to their original places, which they had been forced to leave for many years, if they could reclaim and work their original rice fields and farms.

During late 2012, a number of people from several village tracts including Wan Paang, Zalaai, Wan Heng, Wan Saang, Wan Thi, Kaang Un and Naa Poi, in Lai-Kha township, returned to their original places from which they had been forcibly relocated by the Burmese army troops during the 1996-1997 mass forced relocations, in which more than 1,000 villages were relocated.

These longtime displaced people were from different places inside and outside of the country, including those who had been staying and working in Thailand since their displacement more than 10 years earlier. Although they have been able to survive by working hard at different places and abroad, these people have always wanted to return to their original places which they still call home.

Most of them were once decent farmers, working many acres of wet rice fields and dry farmland for generations, and owning hundreds of head of cattle. After being displaced, they have virtually nothing to call their own. At best, they could only earn enough to feed their families, although some may have done a little better or worse than  others.

However, when they got to their original places, they were told that if they wanted to work their rice fields and farms again, they had to buy them back from the concerned authorities in the area, a Shan people’s militia force working under the Burmese military.

The said Shan people’s militia force were members of a former ceasefire group led by a man named Aai Thoi, who had been extorting money from the local people over the years and sharing the spoils with the Burmese army troops under whom they operated.

The price of rice fields was set at 100,000 kyat per acre, and farmland was between 30,000 and 50,000 kyat per acre, depending on their locations. People who could not afford to buy back their fields and farms were unable to resettle down at their original villages.

Those who had gone back from Thailand were said to have already been thinking of returning to Thailand. If they could not get back their fields and farms and grow at first at least subsistence crops they could not survive, because there were virtually no other means of livelihood in the area.

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BURMESE MILITARY LET PEOPLE’S MILITIA GROUPS GROW CROPS ON LANDS LONG CULTIVATED BY LOCAL PEOPLE, IN NAM-ZARNG

From mid 2012, up to the beginning of 2013 when this report was received, many lands already cultivated by local people in Nam-Zarng township have been forcibly taken by several people’s militia forces, operating under the Burmese military, to grow their own crops.

With the permission from the Burmese military under which they operated to grow crops on lands in the areas designated for them, these militia groups have taken many acres of plots of land to grow corn, sesame and peanut, etc. for their own consumption.

In choosing plots of land to grow their crops, they did not care whether the lands belonged to or were already cultivated by other people. They simply put their tractors to work and tilled the ground in the land areas they had chosen and in the process had included many areas of local people’s farms.

It was learned that a people’s militia force known as ‘Naa Yaai’ group have been designated by the Burmese military to settle down in an area about 15 miles south of Nam-Zarng town, where there were several villages inhabited by an indigenous people known as ‘Yaang Lam’.

Another people’s militia force known as ‘Maak Keng’ group have been designated an area southwest of the town down to Murng Zid village tract, where there were several villages inhabited by indigenous peoples such as ‘Tai Loi’, ‘PaO’ and ‘Palaung’.

A people’s militia force named ‘SSS’ were previously permitted to be stationed in Nam-Zarng town, but were ordered by the Burmese military in 2012 to move to the east of the town in the area of Ta Saai and Kung Pok villages in Mong Mon village tract.

During the period from around mid to the end of 2012, these people’s militia groups have taken many acres of farmland originally cultivated by the local indigenous peoples in those areas. Although community leaders of those respective peoples have occasionally complained about this to the township administration, nothing has yet been done up to the end of 2012.

In early 2013, on 8 January, members of a PaO people’s militia force in Nam-Zarng township came to the area of Haai Naeng and Kaad Lur village tracts in the township and told the local people that their group would soon come and control the area to take some land for their own benefit.

The area of land they most likely intended to take covered some villages, including Saam Khaa village, inhabited by ‘Shan’ and ‘Yaang’ indigenous peoples. There were more than 100 households, big and small, with a total population of around 500.

These village communities have lived in this area for generations and earned their living by cultivating their own farmland, of which each household had about 4-5 acres. These communities would surely lose most of their land, or even be forcibly relocated, they said.

Furthermore, there were rumours circulating that some kind of mineral has been discovered somewhere underground in the area, which indicated that it could eventually become a mining area and the local people would then be forced to move out.

Some people who thought that would certainly happen sooner or later one day and they would actually have to move away, most likely without receiving any compensation, have already been preparing to move before anything has happened.

Although the said people’s militia group or the Burmese military under which they operated had not yet come to do anything about the land in February 2013 when this report was received, some people have already moved to find other places where they could engage in some kind of livelihood. “Before it is too late”, they said.

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SITUATION OF LAND GRABBING AND RELATED ABUSES IN AREAS UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF A CEASEFIRE GROUP “UWSA”, IN MURNG-TON

Since their settlement several years ago up to the present, members of the UWSA ceasefire group in Huay Aw area in Murng-Ton township have grabbed a lot of land, and are still attempting to grab more, and in the process have committed human rights violations against many people in the area and other surrounding areas.

UWSA (United Wa State Army), a ceasefire group with their main headquarters close to the Chinese border in northern Shan State, were allowed to set up their second headquarters in Murng-Ton township close to the Thai border in southern Shan State by the Burmese military after they forcibly relocated a number of Wa civilian families to the area, a decade or so ago.

Since then, land grabbing by the UWSA troops and land wresting by Wa civilian new settlers from the original local people have become serious problems up to the present, with the new settlers often getting the upper hand because they enjoyed the backing of the UWSA which in turn enjoyed the backing of the Burmese military.

The following are some instances of human rights violations that took place in late 2012 up to early 2013:

ORIGINAL LOCAL PEOPLE FORCED TO SELL LAND, RESTRICTED FROM CULTIVATING REMOTE FARMS, IN MURNG-TON

In September 2012, SHRF met with some original local people from Murng Kyawt area in Huay Aw village tract in Murng-Ton township and inquired about the situation of their livelihood in the area which was under the influence of the UWSA ceasefire group.

According to them, since the new settlers came there have been a lot of problems concerning land grabbing and wresting. The UWSA and their civilian supporters have taken a lot of cultivated land areas from the original  local people, often by forcing them to sell, using various cunning methods.

The situation has become worse in 2012 for the original local people in their particular area since the new settlers have managed to forcibly buy all the rice fields around the water source which all the rice fields in the area used for irrigation.

After that, they asked to buy the rice fields located downstream of the water source one after another. If the original owners refused to sell them, they simply diverted the water away from the fields in point, stating that the water was needed for irrigation somewhere else.

Without regular water for irrigation, except for some occasional rains, the original local farmers could not cultivate their lands properly in the long run and sooner or later have had to sell them to the new settlers. When alternative livelihoods could not be found in the area, these people have had to flee and become displaced persons.

Although there were good arable lands in the remote surrounding hills and valleys, original local people were prohibited from farming in those places by the UWSA, citing security reasons. But the new settlers were allowed free access to those places and their farms and gardens could be seen all over, they said.

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THREATS OF LAND CONFISCATION, ARREST AND RESTRICTIONS, IN MURNG-TON

In late 2012, there have been some incidents indicating that members of UWSA and their civilian relatives have still been willing to grab more and more land from the original local people in Murng Kyawt area in Murng-Tontownship.

On 1 November 2012, the UWSA officer who was in charge of the administration of Murng Kyawt area issued an order to the ethnic Shan, or Tai, communities living in the area. The order said that if any Shan left their places and not returned over a month, their fields, farms and houses would be confiscated.

Because of the persecution by the newcomers, many original local Shan have been facing difficulties to earn enough to feed their families just by working in Murng Kyawt area, and have to go somewhere else to earn more money and bring or send it back to their families, mostly to Thailand.

Members of many families, sometimes even whole families, have had to leave their homes and lands, which they do not want to sell to the new settlers, and work at other places, including Thailand, usually for months before they could come back home.

The order of the UWSA has caused a lot of anxiety among the original local people, and even more so after an incident that took place at the end of 2012, in which a Shan man who had returned from working in Thailand was driven out of Murng Kyawt village during the night by the troops of UWSA.

On 23 December 2012, Zaai Aw (not his real name), who had gone to work in Thailand, leaving his wife and children at their home in Murng Kyawt, came back to visit and give some money to his family. Zaai Aw had to go and work in Thailand because he could not earn enough to feed his family although they had some land to farm.

However, Zaai Aw did not have a chance to be with his family very long because the troops of UWSA stationed at Murng Kyawt did not permit him to stay overnight at his house. Shortly after midnight, they came to his house and told him to leave the village immediately, threatening to arrest and put him in jail if he did not comply.

Zaai Aw had no choice but to leave right away as ordered, knowing how brutal this group could be if antagonized. This incident has made the original local Shan communities become more and more worried about their future.

Many people fear that UWSA and their civilian newcomers would do virtually anything in their capacity to persecute the local Shan communities until they eventually leave the area, so that they could take all the land and property left behind.

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WRESTING OF WATER FROM ORIGINAL LOCAL FARMERS, IN MURNG-TON

In September 2012, members of UWSA destroyed a traditional dam and an irrigation ditch used by local Shan farmers for generations in Murng Haang village tract in Murng-Ton township, and diverted all the water to their newly set up fields and farms at a different place.

There were Shan villagers’ rice fields in an area covering about 60 acres of land on the eastern bank of Nam Haang river, on which they built a traditional dam and diverted some water to irrigate their fields for generations, in Murng Haang village tract.

Some time ago, a new settlement was set up for a Wa  village community by the UWSA on the western bank of, and some distance from, Nam Haang river. The Wa community had in time made some land in the area into their own fields and farms, and needed water to irrigate them.

On 1 September 2012, some UWSA troops came with a digging machine, probably an excavator, and destroyed the dam and the irrigation ditch used by the Shan local farmers east of Nam Haang river, and dug a new ditch to divert water to the new fields and farms west of the river.

Since the UWSA had diverted virtually all the water to their new fields and farms, there was hardly any water left for the rice fields on the eastern bank, and besides, the dam and the ditch had also been destroyed. Although the Shan farmers and their community leader in Murng Haang lodged a complaint about this with the Burmese military authorities in Murng-Ton, they said nothing to the perpetrators.

Although members of a Shan political party have helped to plead with the UWSA to spare some water, there was no effect on them, they simply did not care. This has caused many people, especially the Shan farmers, to worry about their future.

After the destruction of their dam and irrigation ditch, the rice crops of the Shan farmers, which were already aboutto produce rice ears, did not receive enough water apart from some occasional rains, and yielded very poorly for the last harvest near the end of the year. “We are very much worried for our future, but we don’t know what to do,” they said.

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LAND GRABBED AND RESOLD BY BUSINESSMAN UNDER “UWSA” PROTECTION, IN MURNG-TON

In October 2012, an ethnic Chinese businessman, working under the protection of UWSA, grabbed a long strip of land that included many villagers’ farms, divided it into small plots and advertised to sell them, in Murng-Tontownship.

The said long strip of land was located along an old logging road, constructed many years ago by a Thai logging company, starting from Hawng Lin village in Phaai Khe village tract in Murng-Ton township down towards the Thai border, and was about 4-5 miles long.

Villagers of Hawng Lin and other villages in the area have already been using parts of the land in many places to cultivate sesame and other crops for many years when the said businessman came and measured it, split it into small plots, and advertised them for sale.

Villagers who were cultivating farms in the area were shocked to hear about it, but they could do nothing and had no one to complain to or ask for help. It was as if the farms and woodlands along the old logging road between Murng-Ton town and Me Ken village tract all belonged to him, the way he was splitting and selling them, they said.

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