Twenty farmers were charged this week for “disturbing” local authorities in Tenasserim Division’s capital of Tavoy [Dawei] after they resisted their attempts to measure out lands that have been at the centre of a longstanding dispute.
Some 300 acres of land in Tavoy’s Sanchi ward, owned by 64 local farmers, was allegedly confiscated by the government in 1990. The farmers, who had been paying land taxes for decades, said that they were not aware of this until 2012 when they tried to register for land ownership.
Since then, the community has staged protests demanding return of the land, which currently houses the divisional headquarters of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party on a third of it. More construction is planned for the remainder, and the protesting farmers have faced threats of lawsuits from the private company that has leased the land from the government.
On Sunday, company representatives and government officials – accompanied by 50 police officers – tried to survey the remaining land but were stopped by the farmers, said one farmer named Shwe Zin Yu.
“They were very insistent about doing the surveying but we did not let them,” Shwe Zin Yu said.
The Town Administration’s director then filed charges against 20 farmers on Sunday and called them in for questioning on Tuesday, said Tavoy police superintendent Myo Myint Oo.
“The Town Administration’s director has filed charges against the villagers for disturbing officials on duty on Sunday,” said Myo Myint Oo. “At the moment, we are only questioning the villagers but we are not making any arrests.”
Than Myam, one of the charged farmers, said they faced questioning for about an hour before they were released on bail.
This long-running case has prompted the villagers to petition the parliament’s Land Grab Investigation Commission for help. Local authorities have previously offered a settlement to the farmers, but were rejected as they felt the offer was unfair.