KARENNI LAND CON­FIS­CA­TION

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CONTENTS - Sai Wan­sai

Govern­ment's land re­form amend­ment and its neg­a­tive con­se­quences

On Au­gust 20, a 45-page re­port on land re­form was re­leased by Kayah Hu­man Rights and En­vi­ron­men­tal Rights Move­ment Net­work.

The re­port states that fol­low­ing the Septem­ber 2018 amend­ment on “Va­cant, Fal­low and Vir­gin Land Man­age­ment Law (VFV Land Law)” land con­fis­ca­tion dis­putes have dra­mat­i­cally in­creased in Kayah or Karenni state.

Ac­cord­ingly, the new law de­mands that these peo­ple must now ap­ply for 30-year con­ces­sions to use their own land. If they fail to do so and an­other group such as a com­pany or any en­tity is awarded the land ti­tle of their land, they may face up to two years im­pris­on­ment for tres­pass­ing. Most of the lands clas­si­fied as VFV are in ru­ral eth­nic states and up to 10 mil­lion peo­ple live or rely on these land plots for their liveli­hood.

“While the amend­ment does ex­clude land be­ing used un­der cus­tom­ary ten­ure from be­ing clas­si­fied as VFV, the law pro­vides no def­i­ni­tion of cus­tom­ary land or any pro­ce­dure by which com­mu­ni­ties can reg­is­ter their land as cus­tom­ary,” wrote Na­mati, a grass­roots le­gal ad­vo­cates group, in its re­port “Most Farm­ers Do Not Know about the Va­cant, Fal­low and Vir­gin Land Man­age­ment Law as the Grace Pe­riod to Reg­is­ter Closes”.

Ac­cord­ingly, as the re­port's ti­tle sug­gests, eth­nic farm­ers ei­ther re­ally don't know or refuse their land to be clas­si­fied as VFV land and stick to their tra­di­tional cus­tom­ary land own­er­ship, with a neg­a­tive con­se­quence on their own wel­fare.

Saw Eh Say ne­go­tia­tor of the Kayah Hu­man Rights and En­vi­ron­men­tal Rights Move­ment Net­work ex­plained the aims of their re­port as, “(re­solv­ing) land use is­sues; na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion; and (achiev­ing) gen­uine demo­cratic fed­eral union.”

Re­cent de­vel­op­ment

Ac­cord­ing to the Karenni State Farmer Union (KSFU), there are some 50,000 acres of con­fis­cated land in Karenni state, with the ma­jor­ity held by the mil­i­tary, also known as Tat­madaw and Myan­mar army, gov­ern­men­tal agen­cies and eco­nomic en­trepreneur­s.

“I wanted to high­light the con­fis­ca­tion. After the farm­ers knew more about land rights and laws and as­sessed the sit­u­a­tion, they re­alised that their lands were be­ing con­fis­cated,” said the KSFU Chair­man Khu Tu Reh.

“If we cal­cu­lated the ex­act acreage it will be about 50,000 acres. There is also con­fis­ca­tion after 2010, mostly for build­ing mil­i­tary camps by the Myan­mar army,” he added.

Re­port­edly, land con­fis­ca­tion is mostly in Loikaw, Hpruso, De­moso town­ships.

Farm­ers from Daw­mukala vil­lage, Loikaw Town­ship, and Daw­soshay vil­lage, De­moso Town­ship, have ap­peared be­fore the court be­cause of a Tat­madaw law­suit against them re­gard­ing land dis­putes.

Daw­soshay farmer, Ko Mar ex­pressed her wor­ries say­ing: “I'm wor­ried about the law­suit as it con­cerns my liveli­hood. I'm un­cer­tain, what to do next and very wor­ried. I only have this small farm and no other job or in­come. That's why I wanted to get back this farm. I rely on this farm like my par­ents as it pays for my sons and daugh­ters ed­u­ca­tion, liveli­hood, so­ci­etal duty ex­penses and ev­ery­thing,” ac­cord­ing to a Net­work Me­dia Group re­cent re­port. The Kayah Hu­man Rights and En­vi­ron­men­tal Rights Move­ment Net­work re­port called upon the au­thor­i­ties to stop the land con­fis­ca­tion, su­ing the lo­cal peo­ple and ar­rest­ing them as they af­fect their liveli­hood, se­cu­rity and peace.

In fight­ing back, des­per­ate Karenni farm­ers have staged silent demon­stra­tions, plough­ing demon­stra­tions and plant­ing on their con­fis­cated lands in a bid to get back their land plots.

Re­port­edly, the farm­ers were charged un­der pe­nal code para­graph 427 caus­ing mis­chief by dam­ag­ing;

para­graph 447 crim­i­nal tres­pass­ing; para­graph 353 us­ing crim­i­nal force against pub­lic ser­vant; and para­graph 61 de­stroy­ing pub­lic prop­erty.

KSFU said that now 27 farm­ers, some in prison and some free are fac­ing a law­suit at the court, where they have to ap­pear weekly.

One record taker and also state par­lia­ment com­mit­tee mem­ber from Loikaw town, gath­er­ing facts ac­com­pa­nied by a farmer whose land was con­fis­cated, were both ar­rested un­der para­graph 6 of de­stroy­ing pub­lic prop­erty.

Anal­y­sis

Look­ing at the un­fold­ing sce­nar­ios in Karenni state, one could only con­firm that govern­ment land pol­icy re­form has un­doubt­edly failed.

The lat­est Transna­tional In­sti­tute re­port quoted one Karenni In­ter­nally Dis­placed Per­son (IDP) and refugee on 21 Au­gust 2019 as say­ing: “After the VFV law amend­ment, over 50 acres of land in Hpruso was reg­is­tered un­der the name of a Burma (Myan­mar) Army com­man­der. These laws should be for the peo­ple, but now they ben­e­fit only a small group of peo­ple.”

More­over, the amended VFV Land Law of Septem­ber 2018 has wiped out the eth­nic cus­tom­ary land own­er­ship law, which has brought mis­ery and hard­ship to the eth­nic farmer pop­u­la­tion, as is ev­i­dent by many on­go­ing cases in Karenni state.

How­ever, this is not only lim­ited to the farm­ers in Karenni state. The same prob­lem is aris­ing in all eth­nic states and will ex­ac­er­bate once hun­dreds of IDP and refugees flee­ing armed con­flict in Kachin, Shan and Karen states re­turn to claim their cus­tom­ary own­er­ship of the lands they left.

Some farm­ers in Karenni state are so des­per­ate that they may even be think­ing of armed strug­gle as their liveli­hood, which is de­pen­dent on land, have been taken away, said KSFU Chair­man Khu Tu Reh very re­cently.

Thus, the govern­ment should ac­com­mo­date the eth­nic na­tion­al­ity farm­ers' tra­di­tional cus­tom­ary land own­er­ship for now and let the in­di­vid­ual eth­nic state de­cide for it­self in the fu­ture, as the coun­try is try­ing to move to­wards fed­er­al­ism.

Fur­ther­more, pro­mul­gat­ing such sweep­ing laws on land re­form, with­out the con­sent of the eth­nic na­tion­al­i­ties, maybe breach­ing the Na­tion­wide Cease­fire Agree­ment (NCA), which is al­ready of­fi­cially en­dorsed by par­lia­ment dur­ing Thein Sein's pres­i­dency.

In NCA Chap­ter 6 “Con­fi­dence-build­ing mea­sures,” phrases like en­vi­ron­men­tal con­ser­va­tion; ef­forts to pre­serve and pro­mote eth­nic cul­ture, lan­guage, and lit­er­a­ture; and mat­ters re­gard­ing peace and sta­bil­ity, and the main­te­nance of rule of law in the said ar­eas (eth­nic ar­eas); are to be car­ried out and ob­served by the govern­ment and the Eth­nic Armed Or­ga­ni­za­tions in co­or­di­na­tion.”

Seen from this point of view the Na­tional League for Democ­racy govern­ment may be breach­ing the NCA en­dorsed by par­lia­ment and should give a sec­ond thought to­wards cor­rect­ing its failed land re­form pol­icy.

Photo: Karenni State Farmer Union

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