In wake of silence from government, villagers in Kyaikmayaw Township hold press conference to demand justice for land confiscations

March 7, 2019

HURFOM: After their calls for restitution were met with silence from government, landowners from Kyon Kwel and La Mu Kho village tracks, Kyaikmayaw Township, Mon State, staged a press conference at Kyon Kwel’s Parami Dipadi Monastery to call attention to land confiscations carried out with impunity by former village administrators in the region.

Although Kyon Kwel and La Mu Kho are under government control, the Karen National Union (KNU) still exercises partial authority over land management in the area because these villages are recognized as falling within the boundaries of the KNU’s Dooplaya District.

Between 2001 and 2002, the village administrators of Kyon Kwel and surrounding villages seized more than 1,000 acres of land claiming it was needed for a development project. However, the land was divided among the administrators and sold to new owners shortly after it had been confiscated.

Those who lost their land say they have written to the President’s Office, the Mon State government, and various government departments tasked to oversee matters pertaining to land but have yet to receive any response. Frustrated with the continued silence, villagers took it upon themselves to organize a press conference and speak out about the injustices they have suffered.

Even though we’ve submitted several reports to the appropriate government departments, the government doesn’t seem to care…It’s already been four years…But we’ve never received a reply. A month ago, we submitted another report to the President’s Office in Naypyidaw…We haven’t heard back yet,” said Daw Y—, a local woman who lost five acres of land as part of the confiscations.

The person believed to be most responsible for organizing the land confiscations is Kaung Myat, the former Kyon Kwel village administrator and former member of the KNU. Kaung Myat now serves as a village-level secretary in the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) government.

In collusion with staff from the Department of Agricultural Land Management and Statistics, Kaung Myat and other village administrators were able to illicitly obtain Form No. 7 Land Use Certificates (LUCs) and thus establish that only they were legally entitled to use the land they had confiscated.

Though villagers have yet to receive any response from members of government they have attempted to contact, they say they have received threats from former village administrators responsible for the land seizures. In response to these threats, villagers filed a report with the KNU’s Judicial Department in Dooplaya District.

There is a man named Kaung Myat in Kyon Kwel who once served as the KNU’s Township Chairperson. He seized farmland, religious land, marsh land, and cemetery land, and illegally obtained Form No. 7 for the land. Today, he is a village-level secretary in the NLD government. We asked him to come to our office [to discuss the land seizures], but he didn’t come. If the KNU and the government are able to meet and discuss the land seizures, I think we can find a solution,” said Saw R Ni, the KNU Township Organizer.

The chairperson of the KNU’s Judicial Department in Dooplaya, Saw Maung Myint, stated that the KNU has a concrete land policy and a standard set of procedures to settle disputes over land ownership, but that the overlapping authority of the KNU and the government on land management in this area of Kyaikmayaw Township (Dooplaya District) complicates the resolution process. The chairperson went on to state that the NLD government has a responsibility to settle disputes over land in accordance with NLD policies.

Before the ceasefire agreement, Kyon Kwel was under KNU control. After the ceasefire agreement was signed, the KNU lost its power in Kyon Kwel and we can’t resolve issues without cooperation from the NLD. As Kyon Kwel has become a mixed-controlled area, people don’t know whether they have to report to the KNU or to the government. The KNU faces difficulties in the decision-making process because of this,” said Saw Maung Myint.

Villagers are now demanding that the government acknowledge the land confiscations and act in accordance with the law.

Our farmland was confiscated and sold. We said we wanted to buy our land back but he [Kaung Myat] doesn’t care about us. He sold our land to those who were close to him. A leader must protect and benefit the people. We demand that the government tell the truth about what happened to our land,” said Daw N—, a local woman.

I want the government to investigate the land confiscations and explain to us what happened. There are disputes over land in every village. We have land laws, but if the government doesn’t follow the law to resolve these problems, all ethnic people will suffer. To get the truth, each government department has to work correctly,” said U T—, a local man whose land was confiscated.

Disputes over land ownership in Kyon Kwel and La Mu Kho village tracks have been ongoing for years, though it was only after the NLD government came to power in 2016 that villagers began to seek restitution for land confiscations. For now, villagers will have to contend with the overlapping authority of the KNU and the government with respect to land management in Kyon Kwel and La Mu Kho as they move forward in their search for justice.

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