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Tavoy locals vow to step up land grab protests

About 50 Thayetchaung residents protested against land confiscations on Wednesday, 19 February 2014. (Dawei Project)

Locals in Tavoy [Dawei] in Tenasserim Division have vowed to step up protests demanding the return of farmlands, which they say was confiscated without their prior knowledge.

Residents of Sanchi ward, Tavoy, claim that they have been working on the disputed land for generations. The residents say they only realised they were the victims of a 1990 land confiscation when their bid to register ownership of the land was rejected by the Tenasserim State government last year.

Now residents say that over 300 acres of land has been taken from some 60 locals since 1990. According to the locals, living quarters for the staff of a private company, as well as the divisional headquarters of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, have been built on a 100-acre stretch of the land. More constructions are underway on remaining seized plots, they said.

Around 20 locals were threatened with arrest by local authorities and police when they attempted to stop construction operators from bulldozing the land on Saturday.

Tun Tun Win, a farmer who claims he lost 14 acres of land, said the locals have vowed to open rally camps for a sit-in protest because calls to authorities to negotiate either substitute land or compensation have been repeatedly neglected.

“It’s been a long time since we reached out to the [parliamentary] Land Investigation Commission, but there was no response at all. When we tried to stop construction operators from working on our land they called the police on us,” said Tun Tun Win.

“We are determined to have our land back – to claim our right – we will do that by opening rally camps and staging more protests.”

He said the group had previously staged two protests, one in 2012 and another in 2013, and had reached out to government authorities on several occasions. Tun Tun Win speculates that the local people’s pleas have been ignored because two USDP MPs and other government officials are direct beneficiaries of the confiscation.

The value of land in Tavoy has risen dramatically with the continued construction of the Dawei Special Economic Zone, which will provide a deep sea port and deregulated infrastructure hub for private and state-owned companies to operate within.

The Tavoy Township Settlement and Land Records Department were unavailable for comment.