DVB Multimedia Group

Anger as ‘plough protest’ farmers found guilty

FILE PHOTO: Karenni farmers march to the fields that were confiscated from them 10 years ago in a "ploughing protest" on Tuesday, 27 May 2014, in Hpruso, near state capital Loikaw. (Photo: DVB)

As many as 500 villagers in Karenni State’s Hpruso Township protested in front of the township court on Monday after three of their peers were sentenced for their part in a symbolic “plough protest”.

In August of last year, hundreds of residents from Solyaku village staged a symbolic ploughing of land that they say was wrongly seized by the military. The army subsequently identified five protest leaders who it prosecuted for trespassing. In total, around 200 protest participants were questioned by authorities.

Villagers say that since 1993 the Burmese army has confiscated more than 1,200 acres of their inherited land.

The Hpruso township court on Monday passed a guilty verdict against three of the protest leaders, handing each of them a sentence of 15 days in prison, or a 500 kyat (US$0.50) fine. The two other accused were acquitted.

Thu Reh, one of the three protest leaders found guilty, told DVB the army had confiscated 12 acres of his land.

“It is unacceptable that people who had owned the land for generations have now been sued by the army who have only been there for 18 years,” said Thu Reh.

“We will continue to fight until we can return to work on our land,” he said, adding he did not plan to appeal the verdict.

Around 500 residents from more than 30 villagers in the area gathered outside the courthouse to protest the verdict. They marched from the courthouse to the township administration office, and to the base of the Burmese army’s 531st Light Infantry Battalion who originally confiscated the land.

Thae Rah, chairman of the Karenni State Farmers Union and one of the two protest leaders acquitted at Monday’s hearing, said, “Three of our group were sentenced to serve 15 days in jail or pay a 500 kyat fine. This isn’t much, but we can not accept a guilty verdict against them for ploughing their own land that they inherited from their ancestors. We see this as an approval of the military’s confiscation.”