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One policeman was injured and at least five people were arrested in clashes on Monday as authorities in Burma’s largest city, Rangoon, demolished a shanty town to clear the land for development.
Some 100 police officers and over 1,000 workers hired by the government razed shacks with chainsaws and sledgehammers as many residents defended their homes, shouting at the demolition crews. The injured policeman was hit in the head by a stone.
Residents say they were not adequately consulted and were not compensated for the loss of their homes.
City authorities and a private company that plans to use the land for new homes, hospitals, parks and a golf course, said the people had occupied the land expecting compensation, knowing it would be confiscated for development.
Just 14 months into the government of Aung San Suu Kyi, the forced eviction drew comparisons to methods used by the previous, military-backed government. At that time, Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) was a defender of forcibly removed squatters.
Among the removed residents was Thein Htay, 49, and his nine-year-old son. They stood beside their blankets, television set, clothes and cutlery scattered on the ground next to a pile of bamboo which a few hours earlier had been their home.
“I can’t afford living in Yangon [Rangoon]. I wanted to own a house for the first time in my life, but now everything has been destroyed,” said Thein Htay.
He had bought a piece of land two months ago from a broker who advertised in a state-owned newspaper. He paid over $440 and built his house with bamboo.
“Now I have nowhere to go and I don’t have enough money to move to another place,” he said.
Yu Khine, director at the Rangoon government housing department that led the clearance operation, said: “We will not compensate any of them because they are squatters for their own profit. This land belongs to the government.”
The NLD in the past supported people facing forcible evictions and, after coming to power last year, promised to solve land disputes, but critics say it has made little progress.
Rangoon-based analyst for Human Rights Watch, Richard Weir, called on the government to uphold citizens’ rights.
If not, Weir said, “people’s rights to adequate housing would be particularly affected and, if not provided adequate consultation or compensation, could leave a large number of people landless and highly vulnerable.”