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Hlegu residents face eviction, demand compensation

Residents of a squatter community in Rangoon's Hlegu Township hold up an eviction letter telling them to leave the area by early September 2016. (Photo: Libby Hogan / DVB)

A group of people living in a squatter community in Hlegu Township, on the outskirts of Burma’s commercial capital Rangoon, held a press conference on Wednesday to voice their opposition to plans to evict them from their homes.

The group of informal tenants, who are living on land that is set to be cleared to make way for new development, said they received an eviction order from the Rangoon Division government’s Department of Human Settlement and Housing Development on Tuesday telling them to leave the area by early September.

Members of the group said they should be given a new place to live if they are going to be forced to leave where  they are now.

“We want compensation in land from the authorities. We are not rebels here,” local leader Pyone Cho said at the press conference held in downtown Rangoon.

More than two years ago, dozens of homes on land owned by the armed forces in Hlegu Township were demolished in a pre-dawn crackdown on squatting that attracted widespread sympathy to the plight of those displaced.

The victims of the latest push to clear the area hope they can also convince the wider public of their right to be there.

According to Nan Mu Khamm, an 88 Generation activist who spoke to DVB after the press conference, the residents of the land have a strong claim to it, even if they aren’t recognised as its legal owners.

“This is the land their grandparents lived on,” she said, adding that many of the people in the community are members of ethnic minorities — “Kachin, Rawang, Chin, Arakanese, not just Burmese.”

She acknowledged, however, that Hlegu has been slated as a priority area for redevelopment by Rangoon Division Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein, as Burma’s largest city struggles to cope with the need for affordable housing amid an economic boom that is attracting people from around the country.

Yu Khine, the director the regional government’s Department of Human Settlement and Housing Development, told DVB that some 1,453 acres of land in Hlegu would be used for a new project that would include 4,000 low-cost apartments, as well as new hospitals, schools and a market space.

Asked about the demands of the current inhabitants of the land, he said: “We don’t have any instructions to compensate them.”

Speaking to DVB by phone, he added: “They can just go back to where they originally came from.”

But Pyone Cho, the local leader, said that wouldn’t be easy, as “many of the residents were originally displaced by Cyclone Nargis in 2008.”

The squatters who received their eviction notice said that they have sent an open letter to State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, President Htin Kyaw, and Rangoon Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein requesting they be alowed to stay where they are.