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72 farmers get prison time over land dispute with military

Farmers facing trial on criminal trespass charges wait outside the court in Taunggyi township, Shan State, on Thursday. (Photo: DVB)

Scores of farmers in southern Shan State’s Taunggyi township, who were facing trial after the Burmese military pressed criminal trespass charges against them over a land confiscation dispute, were sentenced to one month in prison on Thursday.

Of the 96 defendants from the village of Ye Bu in Taunggyi, 72 of them — 32 woman and 30 men — were each sentenced by the township court to one month in prison with hard labour.

Citing the defendants’ lawyer, Reuters reported that at least two dozen others were sentenced to pay a fine and released.

“This case is not only about the farmers in this place, this is a national problem,” the lawyer, Mya Myitzu, was quoting as saying, while pledging to appeal the verdict.

The farmers were charged under articles 447 and 427 of the penal code, covering criminal trespass and vandalism, respectively, for continuing to till farmland that was confiscated by the military.

Prior to their sentencing on Thursday, Reuters reported on a campaign led by one of the convicted, Maw Maw Oo, to challenge the military’s claim to the land they argue is their own.

Their dispute was framed in the broader context of the hundreds of outstanding land-grab cases involving the Tatmadaw, which the National League for Democracy government has pledged to make resolving a priority.

“The NLD gave us a lot of promises during the election campaign that they will find solutions for land conflicts with the military, but no solution has appeared until now,” the news agency quoted Maw Maw Oo as saying.