A Myanmar land rights activist who challenged illegal land grabs in northern Shan State was beaten to death this week by a mob of some 20 people, a fellow unionist told RFA’s Myanmar Service on Thursday.
Htay Aung, a member of the National Farmer’s Union was attacked by a mob on Wednesday in Iwine Parhe Village of Naungcho Township, northeast of the city of Mandalay and later died at Mandalay Hospital.
Naw Ohn Hla, chairwoman of the National Farmers Union, described to RFA the events leading up to the attack, for which three people have been arrested.
“An Iwine Parhe Village administrator telephoned Farmer’s Union members and asked them to meet to talk about a land grab case on October 28. Htay Aung and some group members went to the meeting point and about 20 people including women attacked him in front of the village administrator,” she told RFA.
“That’s why we wonder if this was planned,” added Naw Ohn Hla.
Of the 20 or more attackers, Eike Kyaw, Kyaw Zan Lat and Naw Ngyin were arrested, she said.
“I asked the police to take action against all the people who were involved in the case and gave them the names of people involved as I was told by local villagers. I also asked them to work for getting justice,” said Naw Ohn Hla.
RFA’s efforts to reach Naungcho Police Station and Banbwe Police Station in Naungcho Township by telephone were unsuccessful.
Htay Aung, a leading rural activist who has tried to call the attention of Myanmar’s president and vice-president to land-grab cases, spoke to RFA in mid-October about a long-running dispute in Naungcho Township involving 346 acres that were seized from 31 households back in 1997.
The land had changed hands, with a New Zealand farming concern growing corn, wheat and sesame until 2002, then a group from Palaung ethnic minority growing corn and sugarcane from 2005-2008.
“We haven’t gotten the lands back yet. We have reported it to authorities since 2015, but haven’t had any response,” Htay Aung told RFA.
“We received the letters from military and said this land is to be returned to us, but we can’t work on it yet. We don’t know what Naungcho Township administrator and Land Records and Agricultural Department are doing about it," he said.
Land grabs and the appropriation of public property to turn over to foreign and domestic companies are a major source of political and social tension in Myanmar and other Southeast Asian countries.
Reported by San San Tin and Wai Mar Htun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Paul Eckert.