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For Myanmar’s farmers, land rights still stuck in past

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BurmeseNews

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U Myint Tun was alone in his field in Sagaing Region when four officers pulled up in a military jeep with the bad news: His land now belonged to the government and he could no longer farm it. This was April 1996. Nearly two decades later, he has still neither gotten his land back nor been paid a single kyat for it. U Myint Tun is not alone. Many of his neighbours had their land taken by the local police and a Thai-Myanmar corporation to grow sugarcane. If caught growing other crops besides sugar, they can be fined or arrested.

 

For Myanmar’s farmers, land rights still stuck in past
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By Caitlin J Pierce   |   Tuesday, 22 December 2015
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U Myint Tun was alone in his field in Sagaing Region when four officers pulled up in a military jeep with the bad news: His land now belonged to the government and he could no longer farm it. This was April 1996. Nearly two decades later, he has still neither gotten his land back nor been paid a single kyat for it. U Myint Tun is not alone. Many of his neighbours had their land taken by the local police and a Thai-Myanmar corporation to grow sugarcane. If caught growing other crops besides sugar, they can be fined or arrested.
 
A farmer works in Bago Region. (Kaung Htet/The Myanmar Times)A farmer works in Bago Region. (Kaung Htet/The Myanmar Times)
 
The recent landslide win for the National League for Democracy (NLD) marks an important milestone in Myanmar’s history. But the party will not rule alone: The 2008 constitution guarantees the military 25 percent of seats in parliament and control of several key ministries, so the military and the NLD leadership will need to find a way to govern together. This should entail remedying past wrongs and guiding this resource-rich country on a path toward smarter and fairer economic development.
 
There is no more urgent or tricky a topic than the governance of land in Myanmar, where 70pc of the population still works the land. One of the most pervasive legacies of the military’s half-century rule in Myanmar is the dispossession of thousands of farming families. Tens of thousands of acres of land were taken without due process or explanation by the government, the military, its commercial agents or well-connected people. Many of the effects of this are only just now being felt; the new “owners” are taking advantage of the political changes to benefit from real estate and other economic opportunities.
 
In just under two years, the parliament’s Farmland Investigation Commission, the body tasked with scrutinising land grabs, has received more than 30,000 cases. Of these, only two-thirds have been heard, and in fewer than 1000 – a mere 4pc – has it ruled that compensation is justified.
 






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