BURMA/MYANMAR: Farmers falsely accused of trespass and destruction of a teak field are prosecuted and imprisoned

Magyi Pin, Kyar Inn village is located on Dandalon village tract, Pandaung Township, Pyay District, in the Western Part of the Bago Region. In 1966, government made a law in order to make paddy fields in the forest reserve area and gave the farmers legal documents for it. The farmers were able to borrow money from the government to establish the paddy land. In turn the handed over the produce and regularly paid tax on the land. As the Forest Department, in 1985, had planted teak in the Phan Khar Pin forest reserve area, forester U Myint Htay allocated pastureland for teak to the farmers and villagers. In 1994/1995, the Forest Directorate made a list of paddy land in the area and allowed the farmers to pay 2000 to 3000 kyats for one acre and gave temporary tickets to cultivate for paddy land.
In 1999 the Nyaung Kine Dam was constructed which flooded five villages in the Dandalon village area and 700 households had to be moved to a place near Nyaung Shay village.
At that time, U Aye Min Lwin and Major Zaw Min, the Officer-in-Charge of Troop 66, said they planned new houses with water and electricity and paddy land for the flooded families. However, the families have never received new housing or any form of compensation for the land they lost.
In 2001 at Dandalon Village School, Home Affairs Minister U Tin Hlaing, Mayor U Aung Thein Lin and MaYaKa, the president of Pandaung Township U Myint Tin met with the villagers from the from 700 households and inquired as to their difficulties. The villagers related their problems and difficulties and asked for a place to live instead of their flooded cultivated land. They wanted new uncultivated land from the Phan Khar Pin forest reserve area and a Government School for their children. U Tin Hlaing, the Minister of Home Affairs, duly gave orders for the contribution of seven acres of uncultivated land for each family and for the provision of a Government Schooled in order to fulfill villagers’ request. The order was passed to U Hla Soe, commander of the military region and U Myint Tin, MaYaKa president and the person in charge of the problem.
According to the order for implementation of the paddy land, forester U Kyi Win and the minister of the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation instructed that the villagers could live in any area providing it was 500 yards away from the dam. Forester U Kyi Win stated that as the forest reserve area had not been cultivated for over 22 years there was no objection to this.
The Settlement and Land Records Department measured the land for the Government School and as the farmers had already worked on the land, the Land Committee gave them the paddy land tax receipt for the land. The Committee collected 500 kyats a year and supplied paddy production record books. Furthermore, the Township Forest Department offered to grant temporary ticket to grow paddy in forest reserve area for the compensation of 7 acres of land. However, U Tin Hlaing ordered that the farmers did not have to pay the 2000 to 3000 kyats for the one acre tax to the Forest Department regularly but rather pay legal land tax.
In 2008, General Mya Zaw arrived at the Kyar Inn village to call for meeting with the villagers. U Myo Myint announced that one company, NRDC, will work at the Forest Reserve Area but leave land and pasture for them. Since that time, NRDC started to grow teak in the area though they did not get legal authority from government and started to occupy the farmer’s land by force. Then in 2010, NRDC made received a legal contract of permission to use 500 acres of land, by Order No 10/2010 dated 31 March, 2010, and a further 12,50 acres of land, by Order No 52/2012 on 2012. However, they have never produced these Orders in Court. Since then the NRDC has expanded the planting of teak in the area.
Moreover, the company, in 2011, dug a well for their base camp on about one acre of land at U Pho Thein and Daw Ngwe Yee without receiving permission and giving any compensation. The on 1 April, 2012, the company fired the forest land without informing the farmers. As a result the soy bean fields of U Aung Ko, U Mar Ku and U Pho Thaut Kyar’s son U Than Tun were destroyed and U Aung Ko and U Min Min’s huts were burnt down.
On 4 April the farmers informed the Pan Daung Township Administration, the Police Station and Fire Station but no action was taken. U Maung Nyo, U Tin Hla, U Aung Tin Win were fined and forced to work as their cows and buffalos had entered the company’s teak field. Over 10 acres of field which was connect with the paddy fields of U Nyo and U Tin Maung were forcibly occupied by the company in order to grow teak and the employees stole the cart and chickens belonging to U Than Tun who later died in police custody.
The company manager, U San Maw, prosecuted the farmers, accusing them of trespassing and destroying a teak field on 6 July, 2012, at Pandaung Police Station. However, as he felt that the police took too long to take action on 5 January, 2013, he applied directly to the Pandaung Township Court. However, according to U San Maw, the Pandaung Township Police Station made a lawsuit to U Sapal with six others by Section 447/427. By advice from the legal adviser they changed it to the Forest Act 40 (C)/ 43(A). Other farmers were sued by different case number with the same section.
The farmers state that they are innocent of the accusations of trespass and destruction of the teak fields. They were sued and attended court on 37 occasions. As a result they faced different problem for their living and were sentenced to terms of imprisonment.
The case is important as Burma moves towards a market-oriented system, more and more farmers are facing instances of attempted land confiscation and coercion from powerful and connected businesses. The legal system is incapable of stopping these business interests from getting their way. As the political system also is changing towards a superficially semi-civilian arrangement with more powers vested at state and regional levels, it is likely that cronyism and political influence through economic interests will increase considerably. This case also shows how the private, public and military interests in such cases all get conflated, making it very difficult for rural residents to fight against the complex of military, economic and political powers pushing forward these types of projects.
SOURCE www.humanrights.asia