High­way squat­ters vow to re­turn if evicted

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - – Trans­la­tion by Emoon and Thiri Min Htun za­yarlinn@mm­times.com ZAY YAR LIN

Over 4000 res­i­dents of an en­camp­ment along the Yan­gon-Man­dalay high­way re­sponded to an evic­tion or­der by say­ing they will stay where they are un­less pro­vided a re­lo­ca­tion site.

DE­FI­ANT res­i­dents have laid down a chal­lenge to the Yan­gon Re­gion gov­ern­ment: If you evict us, we will re­turn. The squat­ters in­sist they will not be driven from their homes be­cause they have nowhere else to go.

Their stance is a se­ri­ous chal­lenge to the re­gional gov­ern­ment’s in­sis­tence that it will not re­sort to the tac­tics of its pre­de­ces­sor in solv­ing Yan­gon’s squat­ter prob­lem, which in­cluded of­ten vi­o­lent evic­tions backed by a heavy po­lice pres­ence.

On Au­gust 23, the gov­ern­ment told more than 4000 peo­ple en­camped about 3 miles (5 kilo­me­tres) from the Yan­gon-Man­dalay high­way to va­cate their homes by Septem­ber 5. The res­i­dents promptly called a press con­fer­ence to an­nounce that if they were dis­placed, they would re­con­vene on the site – be­tween mile­posts 2 and 3 – as soon as the bull­doz­ers had left.

“If they de­stroy our tents in the morn­ing with­out giv­ing us any­where else to go, we will go back the same evening and re-oc­cupy the site,” said com­mu­nity leader U Maung Naing. “We don’t have any­where else to go. If the au­thor­i­ties of­fer us land, it has to be some­where we can live. It’s the gov­ern­ment’s job to look af­ter the peo­ple.”

He said the un­of­fi­cial res­i­dents had named their en­camp­ment Kant Kaw Kyun.

Those liv­ing along the high­way were evicted by the last gov­ern­ment in De­cem­ber 2015, but re­turned to the same place af­ter­ward. They have named their set­tle­ments Aung Yada­nar, Yada­nar Aung and Kant Kaw Kyun and or­gan­ised vil­lage de­vel­op­ment sup­ply groups with do­nated funds. Many are from Kayin and Kachin states and Aye­yarwady Re­gion, and were driven from their homes by job­less­ness, but strug­gle to sur­vive in Yan­gon city.

“We just col­lect money from those who can af­ford it,” said U Maung Naing. “There was noth­ing be­fore we came here, just for­est.”

The “vil­lage” of Kant Kaw Kyun, in Hlegu town­ship, was cre­ated in March 2015. The en­camp­ment com­prises 547 plots cov­er­ing about 1450 acres (580 hectares). It stands on land owned by the De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture and orig­i­nally in­tended for the plan­ta­tion of le­mon­grass, though now it has been trans­ferred to the Min­istry of Con­struc­tion’s De­part­ment of Ur­ban and Hous­ing De­vel­op­ment.

“There are 426 huts here. We have re­ceived no­tice to quit, but we’re not go­ing to leave be­cause we have nowhere to go, and be­cause we’ve all contributed to build­ing this vil­lage,” said vil­lage leader U Py­one Cho. “If they drive us away, we’ll just keep com­ing back.”

The De­part­ment of Ur­ban and Hous­ing De­vel­op­ment has threat­ened to take un­spec­i­fied ac­tion against the squat­ters if they do not leave by Septem­ber 5, de­part­ment di­rec­tor U Yu Khaing told The Myan­mar Times on Au­gust 24.

“The pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment tried to clear out the squat­ters from the area, but they came back. The num­ber of squat­ters has now increased. They have been is­sued with a no­tice to quit, and if they fail to com­ply we will act in ac­cor­dance with the law,” he said.

The Hlegu town­ship ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fice said that they would re­spond to the res­i­dents’ re­fusal to quit the premises by tak­ing ac­tion un­der the Lower Burma Town and Vil­lage Lands Act.

Photo: Zarni Phyo

More than 4000 peo­ple liv­ing near the Yan­gon-Man­dalay High­way have been told to va­cate their homes by Septem­ber 5.

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