Thursday, 21 November 2019

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Farmers write to Than Shwe over land grab

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Five farmers have received no response to a letter written a week ago to junta chief Senior General Than Shwe appealing for redress after local officials seized their lands for the Kalaymyo airport expansion project in Sagaing Division, one of the farmer’s daughters said yesterday.  

Local authorities seized a total of 32 acres (13 hectares) of freehold land in Taungphilar ward from Khaw Thin Oak, Lian Sai, Pyan Ta Hlan, Sin Kwal and Lal Ngel after the farmers had rejected the officials’ offer of compensation for the land that amounted to half the per-acre market price, Than Than Htay, a senior assistant teacher and a daughter of one of the farmers, said. 

The farmers lodged their complaint with Than Shwe in a letter sent last Wednesday after construction of roads and sewerage began on their properties. They protested against the seizure and appealed to the leader for resumed use of their land, she said. 

“Five farmers wrote the letter in consensus and sent it through someone they trusted. The ‘subject’ in the letter said: ‘Request to resume use of seized farmlands’,” Than Than Htay said. “ ‘We are poor farmers and the land is our lifeline. Since we are consumers of farm produce grown on the farmlands we want to cultivate them again,’ the letter said.” 

Copies of the letter were sent to the United Nations Development Programme and the International Labour Organisation. A National Unity Party (NUP) member assisted them in sending copies of the letter to division, district and township level peace and development councils (PDC) and the Regional Operations Command in Kalay. 

“Kalay Township, Tarhan Ward branch NUP member Kyaw Myint assisted us in sending the letter … by express mail service. In the subject line, he wrote ‘Claiming restitution of seized farmlands’,” Than Than Htay said. “The letter signed by all five farmers says: ‘the farmland is our … livelihood, our economy and our vocation’.”

Local authorities led by district PDC deputy head Hla Soe invited the farmers to their office on April 28 for negotiations and offered to pay them one million Kyats (about US$1,000) per acre as compensation and leave a 2,400-square-foot (220-square- metre) plot for each farmer’s use. As the market price of their farmland was about two million Kyats per acre, the farmers rejected the offer, she said. 

Having failed to reach a deal, the PDC and municipal authorities without notice started building roads and digging sewerage lines on the land. 

They used large machinery and “about one-and-a-half miles (2.4 kilometres) of the road, which is 20 feet (six metres) wide, has already been built,” one of the farmers said. “They built two roads east to west and north to south like a ‘plus’ sign. The sewerage lines are also nearly complete. They worked on it yesterday too.”  

The farmers have received no response from any authority for the entire week, the daughter said, adding that they would seek alternative means if there were no further developments after waiting a few more days.


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