Tavoy farmers encounter harsh response to compensation appeals

November 14, 2013

HURFOM: Two decades after government authorities confiscated more than 300 acres of farmland in Tavoy, the capital of Tenasserim Region in southern Burma, farmers report that they are seeking restitution at long last. Former landowners said their hopes were particularly buoyed by a speech given by Thura U Shwe Mann at the Tavoy City Hall in September. According to attendants, the speaker of the lower house of the Burmese parliament, or Pyithu Hluttaw, said that since most farmers’ lands were passed down through ancestry or customary rights, many would have been unable to produce the official land documents requested at the time of confiscation to ward off property seizure. He reportedly urged traditional land ownership practices to be acknowledged and considered during the land appeals process.

However, farmers’ confidence faltered after Secretary U Tin Thein, a vice general administrator in Tenasserim Region, allegedly paid them a visit with three of his staff on October 29. Residents asserted that he was hostile toward their restitution appeals, displaying little concern for their losses and being gruff with the farmers he met.

 “Even Speaker Thura U Shwe Mann raised the point about carefully investigating the [confiscations] regardless of whether farmers had papers or not. There will be no peace process unless the administrators have the same perspective as U Shwe Mann,” said a social development worker. “Land confiscation problems exist everywhere in Burma but especially in Tavoy because of the deep-sea port project. The authorities claimed that most lands confiscated in the past were for the implementation of state projects. But farmers [who had land seized] have been paying yearly land usage fees [to continue cultivating their land] since then. So they should solve the problem by determining the appropriate time to resettle or compensate the farmers.”

Tavoy residents who met with U Tin Thein to discuss compensation said they were frightened to talk because of his severe demeanor. Meeting participants alleged that he sharply questioned each farmer and would not allow the group to speak together, instead silencing anyone who spoke up to fill in a peer’s account.

Farmer Ko Tun Win said, “[U Tin Thein and his staff] used very harsh words toward farmers instead of solving the problems clearly. The authorities are the ones who intruded on our land but still they intimidate us. I think they are worse than the previous government. All farmers want to get fair compensation for land that is being used and take back the land that is not. If [authorities] did what we asked, there would be no problem at all. We cannot stand their treatment anymore.”

Former landowners in Tavoy described that of the 300 confiscated acres, 100 were used by the Union Solidarity and Development Party while the other 200 acres remain untouched to this day.

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