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Farmers Still Oppressed, Despite New Government

A farmer from Nipukhan Vilage in Rathidaung Township, who is going to court for alleged trespassing, said that farmers are still being oppressed despite the new government.

burma-peasant-farmers“About 26 farmers are being sued for allegedly trespassing on his land by U Saw Aung Thein, a crony backed by the military. The farmers took to the land after the new government was sworn in because they believed that the land would be given back to them as it was confiscated from them during the military government. Now a court case has been brought against them and the farmers are so disappointed as even the military did not sue them for any other reasons,” one of those 26 farmers from Nipukhan Village told Narinjara on the condition of anonymity on 6 May, 2012.

“We 26 farmers are from villages called Nipukhan, Kaung Ree Chaung, Kyung Chaung, and Paung Sar on the bank of the Mayu in Rathidaung Township. What happened is this: The military confiscated our land of about 1800 acres in 1996 with the pretext that it falls within a wild area. We have been farming this land a long time, since the introduction of land possession after first cultivation. When the new government came in, we appealed that these lands belong to us and should be redistributed back to us. The government explained that only 780 acres were confiscated from us. The rest of the land was not included, but when we stepped foot on that land, we were sued for trespassing, stealing shrimp, and intending to destroy other people’s property. Thats why we are going to court as defendants,” the farmer said.

An educated youth from Rathidaung, who is helping with the case, reported that when the land was confiscated, farmers were tortured by being tied up with ropes when they refused to release their land.

“Some corrupt officers from the military and U Saw Aung Thein were cooperating for their own benefit with the support of the military. The military in fact took away 750 acres by force, and the military lent the land to U Saw Aung Thein. And then he took over more land by saying the extra land belonged to the military. He was able to do this by giving bribes to the military. The total land grab extended to 1800 acres and Saw Aung Thein has been exploiting this land for his own benefit. Some farmers who did not want to give up their land were taken and tortured. Since then, he has been using this land,” the youth said.

A farmer also said that Saw Aung Thein has bribed the judge to prolong the case.

“The court case was instigated on 9 March. We have been to the court 6 times but no defendants have been asked any questions yet in the court. The court is only asking questions on the testimonies from the plaintiff. Out of 16 testimonies, only 6 have been investigated and the court case is moving so slow. We believe that U Saw Aung Thein is planning this way to make the farmers jobless during the court case. Sometimes, we go to the court but because the plaintiff doesn’t show up we have to return home,” they said.

The 26 farmers have to travel to the court by boat from their villages and every trip costs them dearly. One trip costs 1,000 kyat and after the court hearing, the farmers cannot go back to their villages and have to stay in Rathidaung for the night, and it costs them more for food and accommodation in the town.

“We have so many difficulties coming to the court. We just want to urge the judge to send us to jail. We do not want to spend the time and money coming to court several times. Otherwise, the judge should finish the case as quickly as possible,” the farmer added.

The latest news reports reveal that other businessmen who are associated with the military are also suing some 19 other farmers in the same region. This is the first time that such groups of farmers have been brought to court over land issues.