Farmers accept return of land in Mandalay while others protest
Land ownership has long been a troublesome issue in Myanmar, with many farmers getting kicked off their land by companies and the government. Mandalay saw some progress this week when Myanmar Vice President Henry Van Thio handed over 300 acres of farmland in Madaya, Mandalay back to the rightful owners on July 12.
According to the Global New Light of Myanmar, Henry Van Thio expressed his delight at being able to return the confiscated land, pledging quick and correct solutions in returning the confiscated land to farmers. The land had been confiscated from local farmers for the construction project of hospital for people with leprosy. According to the report, the Ministry of Health and Sports confiscated nearly 2,000 acres of land from farmers in Madaya Township, and it would give up more than 1,300 acres. The ministry said it would need over 600 acres of land for the construction of the hospital, the paper said.
But a different story was being played out on the same day. Hundreds of farmers were staging a protest in Mandalay against land seizures. At that point the protest had been going on for a week. They were demanding the government return seized fields and protect them from a surge in prosecutions over property disputes.
Land ownership is one of the most contentious issues in formerly junta-run Myanmar, where the army is accused of rampantly confiscating land during its 50-year rule.
Anger over land-grabs was a key factor that helped Aung San Suu Kyi’s pro-democracy party sweep the first free elections in generations in 2015.
But little has been done to address farmers’ grievances since they took office last year, while nearly 500 villagers in central Mandalay region alone are being prosecuted in cases related to land-grabbing.
At the foot of Mandalay hill, some 300 farmers chanted and waved signs next to a ramshackle makeshift camp where they have been living for the past seven days.
“We chose the new government but they don’t do anything to defend the farmers,” protest leader Mg Soe told AFP.
“We know it’s hard for the government to solve all the land problems which festered for years when the junta was in power. But now, even more farmers are facing lawsuits under the new government.”
Most land seizures date from the 1990s and early 2000s, when activists say military men and their cronies displaced thousands of villagers and small-holder farmers.
Vice President Henry Van Thio presents the farmland work permit card to local farmer in Madaya township yesterday. Photo: MNA