Myanmar’s Migyaungkan Land Protesters End Sit-In

2013-12-12
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Migyaungkan demonstrators sit in their protest camp on the outskirts of Yangon, Dec. 2013.
Migyaungkan demonstrators sit in their protest camp on the outskirts of Yangon, Dec. 2013.
RFA

Residents fighting a decades-old military land grab disbanded their protest camp in Myanmar’s biggest city Yangon on Thursday after lawmakers pledged to investigate their dispute, ending a two-week sit-in that had embarrassed the authorities while the country hosted the Southeast Asian Games.

But the protesters vowed to return in three months if authorities fail to address their demands for redress over land in Migyaungkan village in eastern Yangon’s Thingangkuun township taken over by the military in 1991.

The protesters had camped out near the Myasaryanaye Stupa in the township since Nov. 26, defying orders from the regional government to leave earlier this week.

Protesters left the camp on Thursday morning after ruling party lawmaker Aung Thein Linn, a member of a parliamentary land dispute committee, visited them and signed a letter promising the panel would look into their concerns, reading the document aloud in front of protesters and reporters.

His assurance came a day after opening ceremony of the 22-day SEA Games which Myanmar is hosting for the first time in 44 years.

Aung Thein Linn promised the protesters that the Land Investigation Commission would address the issue “as soon as possible” and agreed they had grounds to challenge the legal basis of the land’s confiscation, Sein Than, one of the protest leaders, told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

“What he promised is that the Yangon region Land Investigation Commission is going to address this problem urgently and will meet with government officials to discuss resolving it,” Sein Than said.

“He said that the land grab in Migyaungkan was not in accordance with the 1984 law on land confiscation because there are monasteries, schools, a pagoda, and the homes of taxpayers on this land.”  

“We told him that we will open another protest camp if our problem is not resolved within three months.”  

Recurring protests

The 17-day sit-in was the second staged by the protesters, who last week vowed that they were willing to die for their demands.

Hundreds of former Migyaungkan residents have held recurrent protests this year, saying the seizure of the land had forced them from their homes and into other parts of the city suburbs.

Several of them have been arrested for violating a controversial protest law, including Sein Than.

He was released Wednesday as part of a national amnesty granted for prisoners of conscience at the start of the Southeast Asian Games, according to the Irrawaddy online journal.

Negotiations

Earlier in the week Aung Thein Linn had pleaded with the protesters to temporarily end the sit-in in honor of the games.

Protesters said they will continue to meet with Aung Thein Linn and other lawmakers to discuss their dispute.

“The protest leaders are going to have talks with members of parliament including Aung Thein Linn again soon because the promises they gave us … have not been carried through yet,” said Nay New Than, Sein Than’s daughter and a fellow protest leader.

“We shut down our protest camp today temporarily, but … we will open a third protest camp if they haven’t resolved our problem within three months,” she said.  

Last weekend, eight women protesters were injured in clashes that broke out after authorities sent workers to erect a fence on land next to the protest camp.

The next day, the Yangon government issued a public notice warning that the protesters would face a crackdown if they did not leave by Monday evening, but protesters refused to budge.

Reported by Khin Pyay Sone and Kyaw Tun Naing for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.

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