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MNHRC urges inquiry into violent eviction of squatters

A squatter settlement in Wadatkwin, a village in Mon State's Kyaikhto Township, being burned down, allegedly on orders from local authorities.

The Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) has urged an investigation into the forced removal of squatter homes by local authorities accused of using violence in Mon State’s Kyaikhto Township.

A statement released by the MNHCR on 9 May listed a series of violent confrontations between a community of squatters in Wadatkwin village and local officials, police and members of a people’s militia between last November and February of this year.

The commission received a letter of complaint last month regarding the use of violence by authorities in multiple incidents as they attempted to remove the community from a government-owned plot of land in the village.

In November of last year, local village authorities began moving in on the squatter community in an attempt to remove them from the area, resulting in a series of confrontations with the residents. On 8 December, shots were fired when police and local militia members inspecting the scene came under slingshot attack from the squatters, six of whom were later charged.

Charges were also laid against other villagers in early 2016 following a physical altercation on 26 December in which a group of 10 policemen and some residents clashed, leaving one officer injured.

The squatters claimed their homes were finally burnt down on 2 February of this year by hired thugs. They also said the local fire brigade did not show up to put out the fire. The squatters subsequently pressed charges against the village authorities for arson.

The MNHRC urged the adoption of transparent land allocation policies and the formation of land committees to resolve the issue and also called on the local court and police to prioritise an investigation into incidents related to the dispute.

Hla Myint Than, an upper house representative from the National League for Democracy who has been assisting the squatters, said he welcomed the MNHRC’s move.

“This is a very appropriate thing to do. I hope that concerned government authorities heed the commission’s recommendations. The government should systematically resettle those who lost their homes for various reasons — due to environmental disasters or poverty — as the homeless problem is rising not only in Mon State but all across the country,” said Hla Myint Than.

The majority of the squatters in Wadatkwin were originally residents of Irrawaddy Division who moved to Mon State to work in local rubber plantations after they lost their homes to Cyclone Nargis, which struck the Irrawaddy delta region in May 2008.

Since their homes were destroyed in February, some of them have been taking shelter at local monasteries and in farm huts in rubbers plantations, while others have returned to Irrawaddy Division.