Shan Human Rights Foundation

October - 2012

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COMMENTARY:Rampant Land Grabbing Continues

Over the last 4-5 decades of direct military rule, forcible confiscation of lands cultivated or otherwise used by the people without any compensation by the Burmese military authorities has been one of the frequent instances of human rights violations people have had to face.

Soon after the seizure of power 5 decades ago, the Burmese military have been continually deploying more and more troops in Shan State in their scheme to occupy it and subjugate its people. To establish military bases and other facilities, they simply took all the lands they wanted without any compensation, no matter who they belonged to.

Since after brutally suppressing the 1988 people uprising, the Burmese military has been increasing its size and setting up many more military bases all over Shan State, and in the process has grabbed many land areas they wanted from the people virtually without any compensation.

Since the Burmese army battalions in Shan State have been instructed to find their own means to help support themselves, many more extra land areas have been confiscated by them for that purpose. Many lands already cultivated by local peoples for generations have thus been confiscated, badly affecting their livelihood.

Furthermore, some military authorities have also encouraged and helped their cronies and cohorts to grab lands from the people, if they also benefited them one way or another. When lands could not be simply taken, for some reasons, they helped make it possible for their cronies to buy them at very low prices, using force or other cunning means.

Corruption seemed to be contagious among power holders. Now land grabbing has become so rampant that it has been committed by various groups and individuals who wield certain amounts of power, bigger powers grabbing more and smaller powers grabbing less.

This month’s newsletter issue includes incidents of government officials secretly taking bribes and giving to their cronies lands which had been temporarily abandoned by their original owners, under force. This has been mostly found out only after the owners tried to register them with the land offices.

Land grabbing has also become one of the most urgent issues for the nominally civilian government to address if it is serious in its attempt to reduce poverty. However, some sort of just and appropriate land reforms may be required to effectively tackle the problems, which certain concerned authorities may not want to do.

That seems to be just the problem at the moment, as suggested by the following recent piece of news, “During a parliamentary session in July, agriculture deputy minister said the confiscation of lands for various projects after 1988 conformed with the law, thus, there was no way to reclaim them”.

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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 Land Grabbing and Confiscation, and a few incidents of other violations, committed by members of the Burmese army and their cronies during mid and late 2012

* Places: Ta-Khi-Laek, Murng-Ton, Murng-Sart, Loi-Lem, Murng-Nai, Lai-Kha, Mawk-Mai, Larng-Khur, Kae-See, Nam-Zarng and Parng-Yarng

 

ACRONYMS:

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

IB = Infantry Battalion

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FARMLANDS SEIZED BY POLICE IN TA-KHI-LAEK

In September 2012, about 30 acres of villagers’ farmlands in Wan Pung village tract in Murng Phong sub-township, Ta-Khi-Laek township, were confiscated by the police authorities for setting up a base for the Navy Police Force.

The said land area was on the bank of the Mekong river that was a natural border between Burma and Laos. Villagers of Wan Pung had been cultivating farms on the land for generations, and they had been growing peanut when it was seized.

Even though the villagers begged the police authorities to wait at least until they had a chance to harvest their peanut for the last time, their voices had fallen on deaf ears. Just last month, the police brought in 2 excavators and cleared the land of all the peanut plants.

The villagers then filed a complaint about their loss with the authorities at the administration office in the town. Soon after, the police chief of Ta-Khi-Laek came to Murng Phong and called all the villagers who lost their farms and peanut in the land seizure to a meeting.

The police chief told the villagers that he did not know that there were villagers’ peanut on the land taken by the state because his subordinates had not informed him. He said he was sorry and promised to compensate each villager with 2,000 baht of Thai money for their losses.

As soon as he finished telling the villagers this, the police chief immediately left the place before the villagers had time to ask any questions or lodge any further complaint. According to the villagers, each of their peanut farms was worth between 20,000 and 30,000 Thai baht.

The villagers said that there had been news that after the current nominally civilian government came to power there would not be any more confiscation of people’s farmlands, and those that had been confiscated during the previous military government would be checked and returned to the original owners if deemed appropriate.

“But our farmlands are still being confiscated without proper compensations even one and a half years after the current government came to power. We cannot understand what is going on”, complained the villagers who had lost their peanut farms.

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LAND GRABBED AND RESOLD BY MILITARY IN MURNG-TON

In May 2012, a large area of woodland south of Kung Sa village in Naa Kawng Mu village tract in Murng-Ton township was taken by the Burmese military authorities of IB65, made into small plots and sold to people who could afford to buy them.

On 1 May 2012, the Burmese army troops of IB65, stationed at Naa Kawng Mu, ordered the headman of Naa Kawng village tract to mark off the confiscated land with bamboo stakes, announcing that the area would become a living place for the people.

The Burmese military authorities said that there was peace since they and the Shan soldiers had stopped fighting and many land areas would be developed into new villages and towns, and the areas of Murng Taw and Murng Thaa in the township had been given to a Shan ceasefire group.

But there were some woodlands left in Naa Kawng Mu area that could be developed into living places for some hundreds of families, said the authorities, and further ordered the headman to divide the land into many small plots, each of which was about an acre in size.

The Burmese authorities said that in the near future another main road between Ta-Khi-Laek and Murng-Pan townships would run through the area, and there would even be a railway passing through it. When there were enough settlers, water supply and electricity would also be available, they said.

They then put the land plots on sale for anyone who could afford to buy them, at the rate of 10,000 up to 20,000 Thai baht, depending on the location of each plot. At the time this report was received in mid June 2012, many people had gone to see them and some had already bought some lands.

However, many people said that the situation in the area was still very uncertain as to whether there would be durable peace or not. But people continued to buy the lands despite the risk of losing them if something went wrong. Only the Burmese troops would certainly make profits, no matter what, commented some people.

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FARMLANDS SEIZED BY BURMESE ARMY-SPONSORED PEOPLE’S MILITIA, IN MURNG-SART

In June 2012, a large area of land on which many local villagers had their farms was forcibly seized by a Burmese army-sponsored Lahu people’s militia force to make way for rubber plantations, in Saai Khaao village tract in Murng-Sart township.

There were 12 local farmers who were cultivating rice, corn and peanut on the land when the said people’s militia force suddenly declared that it had been given to them by the Burmese military authorities for setting up rubber plantations.

At a meeting called by the head of the people’s militia, Bo Ja He, the farmers were told to immediately stop cultivating the land. “The land has been given to our militia group by the Burmese military authorities in Murng-Sart township to grow rubber trees. In a few days we will start clearing the land,” he said.

At that time, the crops on the land had already grown to some height and would soon be bearing fruits and the farmers refused to give up their farms.  They said that they had been cultivating the land for decades, not just a few years, and that they had not even been informed about it beforehand.

The militia’s head then said that he did not know about and had nothing to do with such things. He was only interested in being able to start growing rubber as soon as possible, because the land had already been given to his group by the authorities, he said.

The farmers then told their village headman about it and together they went to file a complaint with the authorities in Murng-Sart town. However, up to the time when this report was received, on 28 July 2012, there had not yet been any progress about it.

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VILLAGERS’ FARMLANDS SEIZED BY ‘WA’ CEASEFIRE GROUP, IN MURNG-TON

In June 2012, farmlands belonging to villagers of Son Kuay and Pung Pa Khem villages in Pung Pa Khem sub-township, Murng-Ton township, were seized by a Wa ceasefire group on the order of the Burmese military authorities.

About 30 acres of land east of Pung Pa Khem village, where 5 villagers of Son Kuay and Pung Pa Khem had their corn, sesame, and peanut farms, was confiscated by members of 171 Military Region of the UWSA, a Wa ceasefire group, as ordered by the Burmese military.

After the signing of a ceasefire between a Shan resistance group and the Burmese army, there were skirmishes between them a couple of times, in which the Burmese army suffered some deaths and injuries, in the said area.

Because of that, the Burmese troops were angry and ordered UWSA’s troops, which were stationed in Pung Pa Khem area, to seize the land and make it their own, saying that it was a place where the Shan soldiers often came and stayed.

Since 20 June 2012, the 5 villagers who had their farms on the said land were not allowed to continue cultivating their crops by the troops of 171 Military Region of the UWSA, who had taken all the farms to be their own. The villagers lost their land, but had no one to turn to.

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VILLAGERS’ LANDS SEIZED BY HEADMAN, WITH THE HELP OF LAND OFFICIALS, IN LOI-LEM

In June 2012, the headman of Wan Mai village in Haai Naang village tract in Paang Long sub-township, Loi-Lem township, seized a large area of land belonging to his villagers by secretly bribing the land administration department officials and registering it in his name.

The land was about 49 acres in area within which many villagers of Wan Mai had their farms and rice fields. Without letting the villagers know, the head man, Khun Aung Win, secretly bribed the officials at the land survey department and managed to register it in his name.

The headman and most of the villagers of Wan Mai were Pa-O nationals. Although in the past people were not used to registering the lands they cultivated, they started to do so recently because the prices of lands had risen quickly and considerably, and there had been many cases of land grabbing and forcible buying.

Later, when the villagers went to register the lands they were cultivating, many of them found that their lands had already been registered in the name of their village headman. The officials at the land department told them that because the lands had legally become the headman’s property, they had no right to claim them any more.

When the villagers asked the headman about their lands, he said he knew nothing about it. “The authorities must have given them to me”, he said. “Anyway, since they are legally my property now, I cannot give them to you”, he concluded, and the villagers could say nothing more.

According to the local people in Haai Naang village tract area, many lands had already been seized in this way by the retired military officers, police and other government officials and their cronies. Villagers who had cultivated the lands for years only knew about it when they tried to register their lands in their own names.

The villagers were told by the concerned officials that they had been a bit too late in coming to register their lands because they had already been registered in other peoples’ names. The villagers said they did not know what to do, but they would try and ask some political parties and ceasefire groups if they could help.

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FARMLANDS SEIZED WITHOUT KNOWLEDGE OF OWNERS IN MANY TOWNSHIPS IN CENTRAL SHAN STATE

During late 2011 and early 2012, many farmers, who had to temporarily abandon their farmlands for various reasons, later found out that their farmlands had been taken by the authorities and given to their cronies, during their absence.

Many of the lands had also been sold to strangers, mostly Chinese businessmen, and the original native owners only knew about it when they tried to rework their farms and were prohibited by those who said they had legally bought the lands.

Uncountable cases like this have taken place up to at least around mid 2012 when this report was received in many townships in central Shan State, including Murng-Nai, Lai-Kha, Mawk-Mai, Larng-Khur, Kae-See. Loi-Lem and many others.

Virtually all the lands on the sides of the main roads leading to the towns mentioned above, many of which were previously farmlands of the local people, have been seized and distributed among government servants of various departments, and many have already resold their lands to mostly business people.

According to a farmer in Lai-Kha, whose name is withheld for safety reason, who had been forced to abandon his rice field for a few years during which he had to flee the persecution of the Burmese army, returned to find that his land had already been taken and sold to a Chinese businessman.

When the situation got somewhat better and he was able to return to his village, he immediately started to rework his rice field which was on the side of a road and not far from his village. However, as he was about to start tilling the ground, a Chinese businessman came along and said that he had already bought the land.

When the said farmer went to enquire about it at the government administration office in the town, he was told that lands in the township that had not been registered previously had recently been divided and given to government servants. “Some have even sold their lands to other people, and you cannot claim them to be yours without having previously registered them in your name”, they said.

There have been a lot of people who have lost their lands in this way and they did not know what to do about it. Some of them said that they would ask the political parties they have been supporting for help, but were not sure whether it was a good idea.

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VILLAGERS FINED FOR TRYING TO WORK THEIR FARMLANDS TAKEN BY MILITARY IN NAM-ZARNG

In May 2012, villagers in Kho Lam village tract in Nam-Zarng township were fined by Burmese military authorities for trying to work their farmlands that had recently been taken by the military but were left unused for some time.

The lands had already been used by the villagers of Nam Mawng, Loi Waeng, Kung Sim and Haang Lin  villages in Kho Lam village tract to grow peanut and sesame for many years when the military declared during late previous year that they were confiscated by the state.

However, the lands were being left unused until this year’s crop growing season and the villagers thought they could still grow crops on them, at least for just one more harvest, as long as the military had not made use of them in any way.

On 24 May 2012, many former owners of the lands then started to clear their farms in preparation for growing their usual crops on them. However, as soon as they knew about it, the military authorities came and ordered the villagers to immediately stop their activities.

The authorities accused the villagers of trespassing on military property without permission and ordered them to pay fines as a punishment. According to the villagers of Loi Waeng village, of which 3 were among the victims, each of them had to pay a fine of 150,000 kyat at the military base at Kho Lam village.

Since then, many villagers who had thus lost their lands, especially those who mainly relied on them for their livelihood, have been in a very difficult situation because there were virtually no lands left for them to cultivate within reasonable distances.

Even if they tried to cultivate their crops on lands far away, they still might not be free from the persecution of the Burmese military, said the villagers. Some of them already had virtually nothing left and they might soon have to flee to other places to avoid starvation.

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LANDS SEIZED FOR BUILDING ROADS, DISPLACING PEOPLE, BY CEASEFIRE GROUP IN PARNG-YARNG

Between late 2011 up until June 2012 when this report was received, members of a ceasefire group UWSA (United Wa State Army), responsible for building a road between Paang Saang and Kerng Ma in Parng-Yarng township, seized many land areas of the people on the sides of the road under construction.

The road was previously a narrow dirt road which had long existed between Paang Saang and Kerng Ma village tracts near the Chinese border. The UWSA, which headquartered at Paang Saang, had proposed to make the road into a 20 metre-wide motor road.

However, the officer supervising the road construction, of his own desire, had proposed to make the road much wider than originally planned, up to 40-50 metres wide at many places, causing many land areas on the sides of the road, including houses, gardens, farms, plantations and woodlands of the people, to fall within the designated space of the road.

The supervisor, Pao Ai Long, male, aged about 43, seized all the lands that fell within the scope of the road, using his influence as a nephew of the top leader of the UWSA, and in the process displacing many families who had been living close to the road for generations.

No compensation was made to those who lost their lands and houses. Instead, those who dared to complain to the UWSA authorities at Paang Saang Headquarters were fined and punished by the supervisor if he knew about it.

Many people had also been beaten and locked up for 2-3 days for one thing or another related to having attempted to do something about the illegal land seizure. In addition, people were warned to not to make any more trouble or, “Go away if you don’t want to stay. Others will come”, said the supervisor.

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