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