Land rights and tenure are arguably some of the thorniest issues facing Burma as it emerges from decades of junta rule in which claims to land ownership often did little to stop the military from confiscating plots for its own use.
For years, increasingly emboldened activists and lawmakers have called on the government and Burma Army to do more to return seized lands — with limited success. It is against this backdrop that Burma’s deputy minister of defence offered a novel explanation for why the military would not be returning more than 100 acres it seized several years ago in Arakan State.
“Producing rations on land seized by the Tatmadaw saves 75 billion kyats a year,” the minister, General Myint Nwe, told lawmakers at an Upper House session on Tuesday.
“If the budget for rations of Tatmadaw forces were to be allocated as it is for the Myanmar Police Force, the Tatmadaw would need 75.79 billion more. Instead of requesting that the state fund more for Tatmadaw forces’ rations, Tatmadaw families have been doing farming, rearing livestock and selling the farm products to families at a cheaper price,” he added.
Myint Nwe was responding to a question from lawmaker Wai Sein Aung about seized lands in Yay Chan Pyin village, part of Sittwe Township in Arakan State. The MP was inquiring as to whether the Tatmadaw’s 270th Infantry Unit had any plan to hand back nearly 110 acres of confiscated farmland and grazing pastures to their original owners.
“The lands were seized in accordance with the laws and bylaws, and there is no plan to hand back the land,” Myint Nwe told the assembled lawmakers.