Jeopardy for the poor: Opportunity for the rich

December 2, 2020

Land grabbing during COVID-19 in Southern Ye Township

Despite work and travel bans imposed across Myanmar, a mining company has unlawfully and secretly bought land and plantations in the Magyi village track, in Southern Ye Township, Mon State. The conduct of the company has provoked conflicts within the community, and has led to negative impacts on the livelihoods of local villagers.

Local people want the authorities to stop the company and ease their worries.

Magyi village track borders Southern Ye Township, Northern Yebyu Township, and Tenasserim Division.  The villages in this area include Magyi, Mi Htaw Hlar Lay, Mi Htaw Hlar Gyi and Dani Kyar. Most of the residents are ethnically Mon.

Relying on abundant natural resources, local villagers earn their livelihood from farming, plantations and fishing. Villagers have been maintaining a sustainable environment that is vital and essential to their lives. 

Despite their care for the natural resources of the area, the area is underdeveloped and defined as a  “Black Area” by the military.

The Mining Company

The Excellent Fortune Group, formerly known as Myanmar Force Group, is an international company which has a strong financial situation. The company specializes in natural resources extraction, construction, land and estates, timber, cement factory, and bank and financial services.

On February 28, 2018, the company requested permission from the Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Land Management Central Committee to use 98 acres of land nearby Balae Kha Boi Mountain in Magyi village, for stone mining.

They also requested another 625 acres of land to use for their construction business.

After making this request, the company began to secretly buy the plantation nearby the mountain. According to the locals, the company was buying land for 1.5 million Kyat to as much as  3 million Kyat /acre,  if the owner had a good relationship with them.

Company officials have made  connections with villager leaders, and do not inform local villagers properly when buying their plantations. Also, when conducting land surveys, they do not ask the consent of land owners.

It is believed the company has bought more than 600 acres of land near the Balae Kha Boi Mountain. Most of the original land owners were from Dani Kyar village, but about 30 sellers were not local villagers.

Villagers report  the company has unlawfully bought as much land as they can, and village leaders have not stopped them. In addition, land trades have included grazing and community lands. 

Local villagers unsatisfied with their villager leader reported him to the Ye Township General Administration Department (GAD) on May 17, 2019.

In response the village leader claims this action has harmed his reputation, and has sued a monk and five local activists under the  Criminal Act Section #500 – punishment for defamation as of July 27, 2020.

On September 14, the Ye Township Court summoned the five local activists who are now engaged in legal proceedings in the court.

The local villagers claim the company and the villager leader are using oppressive laws to sue them, in order to exploit their resources.

The Department of Agricultural Land Management and Statistics

In April, 2018, Magyi villagers attempted to get Form #7 – Land Use Certificates (LUC) under the 2012 Farmland Law. They filled out the appropriate paperwork and applied at the Departments of Agricultural Land Management and Statistics Ye and Khaw Zar Townships.

However, the authority neglected their application and did not visit the village to conduct a land survey.  In 2019 and again in 2020, the villagers resubmitted their paperwork but the authorities did nothing and have not  granted them any land use certificates. 

Meanwhile, the authorities granted the company permission for a stone mining project and did a land survey requested by the company.

The Magyi village track has a beautiful beach.  Villagers make their livelihoods from agriculture and fishing. They rely on the Balae Kha Boi Mountain for their water resources. However, the mining project threatens the area’s  natural resources, environmental sustainability and villagers’ livelihood. 

Local villagers are frustrated, despite efforts  to preserve the land and natural resources in accordance with the laws,  they face legal action. Making a living is increasingly more difficult and conflicts persist in the area. Now villagers feel unsafe and their livelihood is under threat.

Villagers struggle to persuade the local authorities to stop the misconduct of the company and the village leader.  They are seeking recognition  for  their “customary land tenure”,  and resolution of the  land disputes in their area.

The Mon State Parliament

The villagers have attempted to get help from the government, the parliament and the local media to settle the land disputes. On August 5, 2020, with the support from a local community based organization, the  Mon Area Community Development Organization (MACDO), villagers visited the Mon State Parliament, met with the members of the parliament to discuss land disputes.

During the meeting, villagers requested an investigation into  the actions of the company, including  a field visit to meet and listen to the concerns of villagers.  They are seeking  protection of  their livelihoods and for the government  to take a stand against the negative impacts of mega- development projects.

Can the government and the parliament sweep away the tears of villagers?

The Magyi villagers never faced land disputes when their area was defined as “Black Area”. Under the customary land tenure, the villagers earned their livelihoods peacefully. They harvested fruits and vegetables from the forest. They used natural resources from the mountain. They collected fish and prawn at the streams, ponds and sea.

There was social and ecosystem sustainability as well as  harmony between their livelihoods and environmental conservation.

However, these corporate led development projects enabled during the democratic transition pose a serious threat,  create worry and social conflicts in the community. This is made possible by oppressive laws favouring business projects, and do not result in benefits for the residents. 

Villagers had expectations of the democratic government and their parliament would act to  protect their livelihoods, resolve land disputes fairly and justly address  aggressive business companies.

So far that expectation has not been met. 

(The article has been written by “Tarzan Thu Lay” – a woman activist who fights for land conflict in Southern Ye Township, Mon State and works to get justice for land acquisition in the area.)

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