The scene in Yangon’s Mingaladon township on Tuesday was like a community building exercise in reverse.
Starting in the morning, thousands of squatters living in the township’s industrial zone frantically took down their simple wooden houses to avoid demolition and save the materials for later use. They were being evicted.
The work picked up after a handful of homes were ripped apart by a heavy-duty digger earlier in the morning. Thousands of police stood by as sounds of hammering and sawing filled the air. Roofs were taken down, bamboo beams uprooted and furnishings placed in piles.
No one was exempt. Not even monks.
We stumbled across the group as they were dismantling their own wooden monastery that had been used in the community. Like everyone else, they were hurriedly removing parts of the structure and placing them in piles for later transport.
Local residents in the industrial zone said they had lived there for years and worked in nearby factories or in agriculture until they received a notice from the police on January 25 to get packing.
The reason was not given, though many factories own land nearby.
Copies of the notice said that residents of the industrial zone “have to leave and can’t work.” It threatened 30 days in prison for anyone who did not voluntarily go. Police on the scene declined to comment. They were out in force, some carrying shotguns.
Ma Htay Shin, 29, said she had been living in the area with family for the past five years.
“We have lost our eggplant fields and other vegetables because of demolition,” she said. “I don’t know where to move but we have to find a place.”
U Tin Han, who claimed to have been living there for three decades, said the community grew after Cyclone Nargis in 2008.
“When I started to stay here, there were only three houses,” he said.
He was uncertain about the future.
“We don’t have any place to move or keep our stuff. We will stay beside this pipeline for a few days,” he added, pointing to a large pipeline that ran through the edge of the community.
“They just told us to move from here but they didn’t replace any land.”
All photos, except supplied image, are by Aung Naing Soe