Myanmar Army Will Not Return Seized Lands in Shan, Rakhine States: Deputy Defense Minister

Lawmakers question General Myint Nwe about holdings taken from farmers and villagers.

A Myanmar government soldier secures the ground while a military helicopter carrying troops takes off from the town of Muse in eastern Myanmar's Shan state near the border with China, Nov. 25, 2016.

The Myanmar military will not return lands seized from civilians for security or training purposes in Shan or Rakhine states or pay them compensation, the country’s deputy defense minister told the upper house of parliament on Wednesday.

Sai Wan Hlaing Kham, an upper house lawmaker from the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy party who represents Shan state's constituency No. 3, asked General Myint Nwe whether the national military planned to return lands seized in Kaykham village, Lashio township, in northern Shan state after villagers lost all the land they had worked on for generations.

Htu May, a lawmaker from Ann Township in Rakhine state, also asked the general if the armed forces have a plan to compensate owners for land confiscated by the military to build a new city project.

But Myint Nwe said the land would not be returned to farmers or villagers in either state.

Nearly 160 acres of land belonging to 46 farmers in Kaykham village are located near a golf club owned by the No. 7005 Armory Unit and a training ground where soldiers operate armored vehicles and perform artillery exercises, he said.

“These farmers can’t submit any documents that show they own these lands,” Myint Nwe said. “Because they don’t have any documents, and for security purposes, the military will not return these lands to the farmers.”

The armed forces confiscated about 3,835 acres of land in Rakhine’s Ann township, the minimum amount it could take according to law, he said.

“The military has transferred 1,921.92 acres of the 3,835.275 acres to the government to return to farmers,” the general said.

“The military has invested manpower and money in the rest of the land for rubber plantations and shrimp farms,” he said. “For these reasons, the military will not return the lands or issue compensation to them.”

Pressing issue

Rural animosity over land seizures by the military remains a pressing issue in Myanmar, where the military’s economic vitality depends on its control of natural resources and vast land holdings.

After the National League for Democracy (NLD) government came to power in 2016 — the first fully civilian government in a half-century of military rule — it created a committee to investigate old claims by farmers and villagers whose land had been confiscated by soldiers in decades past.

Some of the acreage was eventually sold to businesspeople who had connections to the junta-led governments or to the relatives of senior military officers.

The quasi-civilian government led by former President Thein Sein under the now-opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) had formed parliamentary committees to review the land seizures and return land to its original owners.

Some holdings were returned to citizens, but other parcels remained in the hands of those previously granted rights to the seized property. In many cases, those people have rented the lands to their original owners who in turn must pay money to cultivate them.

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.