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Despite an ultimatum issued by Rangoon township authorities, around 200 protestors are refusing to leave their camp site in Michaungkan township on the eastern outskirts of Rangoon. The protestors, who are demanding the return of farmlands they say were seized by the military in 1990, were told to leave the site or face forceful eviction following a dispute on Saturday during which at least eight people were injured.
Authorities warned the protestors, who have set up camp outside the town’s Myasaryan pagoda, to clear out before 6pm on Monday. DVB reporters confirmed that as of 2am Tuesday the site was still occupied, the deadline passing without incident.
“We are not preparing to defend ourselves – let them come and shoot us if they want; we are not going to back down now,” said a 76-year old woman at the protest site. “We are just here to ask for our land back. I am 76 now and don’t care if I die – I’m not going anywhere.”
Villagers of Michaungkan have been contesting the alleged land-grab for more than a year, staging over seven demonstrations at three different sites. In mid-November, three villagers were convicted for organising a protest about the same disputed lands back in March 2012. Htin Kyaw, Sein Than and Kyaw Lwin were charged under Burma’s infamous Article 18 – the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Processions Law – each receiving 18 month prison sentences, according to a Radio Free Asia report.
Last week, DVB reported that 400 villagers went to the protest site and received funeral rites from monks, saying that they are “ready to die protesting.”
While Thein Nyunt, an MP representing Thingangyun constituency, has vowed to compensate villagers for the land, the activists say that the offer is insufficient. The protest leaders have drawn up a list of seven demands including the return of all lands in question, full compensation for those whose lands cannot be restored, and the release and amnesty of those charged for prior demonstrations.