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Around 20 farmers from Kanbalu, central Burma, jailed for holding a “plough protest” in March, have this week been transferred to prisons far from their homes.
Some 400 farmers from the remote Sagaing Division township of Kanbalu have been on trial locally under various charges for staging the plough protest – whereby farmers return to cultivate lands they claim were confiscated by the military many years ago. Around 50 of them have so far been handed sentences of up to three and half years in prison which they were previously serving in Shwebo Prison, less than 100km south of Kanbalu.
A local villager told DVB this week that 20 of the jailed farmers serving these longer terms have now been transferred to prisons in Myingyan in Mandalay (300 km from Kanbalu), Magwe’s Pakokku (325 km) and Pegu (750 km) .
“Those serving longer prison terms were transferred,” he said. “Farmers indicted on several charges and sentenced to two or three years in prison– around 20 inmates in total – those were the ones who were transferred to prisons in Myingyan, Pakokku and Pegu.”
Eighteen other farmers are expecting verdicts on 28 July.
Activist group 88 Generation Peace and Open Society on Thursday released a statement strongly condemning the jailing and prosecution of farmers demanding the return of lands confiscated by the military, mostly in the 1990s.
According to Myo Thant, the farmland affairs coordinator of the group: “These land dispute issues would have been resolved if the government had managed their return when they came into office. Most of the land would now be cultivated in the hands of original owners.
“There were various options to systematically return seized lands but the government did not explore them because they clearly have no desire to see this through.”
He said some 1,200 farmers across the country are currently on trial for protesting land dispute cases, while around 100 have already been jailed.