Myanmar government begins responding to land grab protests

Vice President Henry Van Thio presents a farming permit to a farmer in Madaya Township on July 12. Photo: MNA
Vice President Henry Van Thio presents a farming permit to a farmer in Madaya Township on July 12. Photo: MNA

The ongoing drama over land seizures in Mandalay Region ended for some farmers on Tuesday when the Myanmar government returned over 300 acres of land back to its rightful owners.

The event was part of a well-publicized campaign by the government to meet some of the demands of farmers who have been protesting the current government’s failure to return land that was seized from them years ago by Myanmar’s then-ruling generals.

Vice President Henry Van Thio presided over the transfer of the land, which was a small fraction of a 2,000-acre parcel in Madaya Township that was seized from farmers in 1977 by Myanmar’s Ministry of Industry. The land was later transferred to the Ministry of Health and Sports, which planned to build a hospital for people with leprosy on the site.

According to the Global New Light of Myanmar, the government previously returned around a total 1,000 acres to the farmers in intermittent transfers that began in July 2016, bringing the total area that has been returned to farmers up to more 1,300.

The Ministry of Health and Sports says it will need to hold on to 600 acres to build the hospital.

On Wednesday, hundreds of farmers from Madaya completed a week of protesting in Mandalay to for an end to the prosecution of farmers who have sought get their land back.

Many of the protesters lamented that they had voted for Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD party in 2015 hoping it would come to their defense in land disputes, only to discover later that their plight was not a priority of the new government.

A week of protests, however, seem to have nudged the government to cooperate. They day after returning land to farmers in Madaya, Vice President Henry Van Thio presided over another land transfer in Sagaing Region’s Tazay Township. This time, 239 farmers received around 740 acres of land that had been seized by the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation.

Whether the remainder of the land claimed by the Madaya farmers will be returned, and whether the lawsuits against them will be dropped, remains to be seen.

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