Tensions nearly boiled over between security guards from a company owned by business tycoon and parliamentarian Khin Shwe and local farmers in Rangoon’s Mingaladon township last Thursday over a land dispute.
On May 10, a row broke out between the two sides when employees from the Zaykabar company began to bulldoze land in Shwenanthar village. The farmers in the area responded by taking to the fields with two tractors and standing their ground.
The farmers later left the field after Mingalardon township’s authorities mediated the situation. But the Zaykabar bulldozers later demolished embankments built by the farmers, said local resident Kyaw Hsein, who claims to have lost 50 acres of land during the episode.
“Yesterday, the township authorities told both the farmers and the Zaykabar workers to stand down. But the company continued to demolish the land after the authorities left,” said Kyaw Hsein during an interview with DVB.
“Yesterday, we were preparing to plough the land and were stopped by township authorities,” said chairman of the Peace and Diversity Party Nay Myo Wei.
“We informed the authorities and they went to the[field] and stopped them,” said Nay Myo Wei. “But then, the [company’s bulldozers] continued to destroy the embankments after the authorities left.”
Zaykabar Company was implicated in a similar event in February this year.
Win Cho, an independent politician in Dala township near Rangoon, is providing legal assistance to farmers in Hlaingtharyar township who claim that their land destroyed by the company. The famers lost about 600 acres of their land after the Zaykabar Company cleared the area for an industrial zone.
“While the farmers and the public are abiding by the existing laws [that aim] to maintain tranquility in the country, [Zaykabar] is instigating unnecessary confrontations – we feel as if they were testing our patience and insulting our rights,” said Win Cho.
He said he is preparing to file a report concerning the case that will be sent to top government leaders.
Last year, Zaykabar appropriated 800 acres of land from locals in Hlaingtharyar township to make way for an industrial project. The company offered farmers 300,000 Kyat in compensation per acre.
After receiving several complaints from the farmers, state authorities told the company to suspend their projects, but the orders were ignored.
The issue of land rights in Burma is a sensitive one: existing laws do little to prevent confiscation by government-aligned figures, and that looks set to continue if a bill currently being debated in parliament comes into force. The Land Act will effectively allow powerful tycoons to monopolise arable land and force off small-scale farmers.
Currently, most farmers are ostensibly tenants on their land, and are forced to share a portion of revenue with the government. Since the scandal arose, the Shwenanthar village farmers have lost their tenant status.
Burma’s agriculture sector provides income for roughly 70 percent of the country, but its productivity remains handicapped by poor infrastructure, equipment and a lack of governmental planning.
Nay Myo Wei acknowledged that the farmers face an uphill task in taking an MP, who was closely aligned with the former ruling junta, to court, but would press ahead nonetheless.