‘Plough protesters’ in Pyin Oo Lwin arrested, charged
FARMERS who staged protests over land grabs in Pyin Oo Lwin district are set to face charges, standing accused of trying to “destroy the country’s peace and stability”.
At a press conference on November 18, the Mandalay Region government confirmed that action would be taken against the farmers and activists of Pyin Oo Lwin over their demonstrations.
Ten farmers, including protest leaders Ko Myo Win, Ko Toe Gyi and Ko Min Min Soe, have been denied bail and charged under sections 447, 440, 386, 114 and 323 of the penal code. Police have issued arrest warrants for an additional 10 farmers.
The farmers had held several “plough protests”, a form of demonstration where they till disputed land to signify their claim to ownership over it.
Regional police force chief Major Han Tun said private entrepreneurs have been using land confiscated by ministries in the region, with plough protests being staged on the land. Private plantation owners often file complaints with the police, he said.
From April until October, 13 trespassing cases were opened in five townships of Mandalay, Pyin Oo Lwin and Kyaukse districts.
The National League for Democracyled government has put in place dispute resolution mechanisms for contested land, regional Minister for Agriculture and Irrigation U Soe Than said.
“The central committee has subcommittees, from regional or state, district and township levels, down to ward or village level. These sub-committees are supposed to present issues of confiscated farmlands to the central committee,” he said.
“The central committee is supposed to decide which lands are to be given back to original farmers if relevant ministries can return the land, or pay compensation in accordance with current land prices. If farmers can show that they are the original owners, we will give their land back,” he said.
“Action against farmers is not taken by the regional government. The police are dealing with claims filed by private plantation owners because they are facing losses due to plough protests,” he added.
U Zarni Aung, the regional minister for electricity, energy and construction, cautioned farmers against staging more protests, advising that they should instead file complaints in accordance with the law if they have been affected by land grabs.
But the government’s mechanisms for resolving farmland confiscations aren’t practical, nor are they providing benefits to victims of land grabs, said farmer and activist Ko Ye Yint Aung from Madaya township. He said the complaint mechanism is not feasible due to the sheer amount of time it takes for each case to be assessed.
– Translation by Zar Zar Soe