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Some 1,500 farmers rallied for the release of 57 jailed land rights activists in central Burma’s Sagaing Division on Wednesday.
The demonstrators, who received permission from local authorities, have submitted their demands to Burma’s president and other relevant officials.
“These are our demands: the return of all farmland confiscated by the military; the release of farmers jailed for previous land rights protests; the dismissal of all outstanding trials related to land protests; and an immediate halt to the destruction of crops being carried out by the military,” said Mar Swe, a resident of Ngapyawdine village in Kanbalu, where locals have been protesting for months over land they say was seized by the military in the late 1990s.
“We have sent letters to the president and relevant government departments calling for mediation, but they have not done anything about it,” she added.
Hundreds of farmers currently face charges for participating in a “plough protest” on the disputed land in March. In the newly popular form of protest, farmers re-occupy and work lands that were unlawfully acquired by the military.
Villagers said that thousands acres of land were seized in Kanbalu in 1997, and the regime later hired tenant farmers to cultivate sugar cane. On Monday, several locals told DVB that they had reached an agreement with the Burmese military to return a small portion of the disputed property, but added that they do not believe they will ever be fully recompensed.
Of those farmers charged for the March protest, 57 have already been convicted and at least 20 have been transferred to prisons far from their homes and families.
Ko Gyi, the coordinator of a farmers’ assistance group, said that optimism is fading.
“Judging by the situation right now, it’s unlikely that things will turn out how we want,” he said. “We have demanded the release of the farmers who were jailed, and also for the army to stop bulldozing the farmland.
“I don’t think these demands will be met,” he said, “but we will continue to do whatever we can.”