Arrests, anger as Yangon authorities tear down slum

YANGON • At least six people were arrested yesterday as the authorities in Yangon started to clear a huge slum on the city's northern fringes, as bitter competition for land in Myanmar's commercial capital intensifies.

Armed police escorted hundreds of local authority workers wielding bamboo sticks, rakes and saws as they descended on the shanty town in Hlegu township - the first major forced eviction under the civilian government of Ms Aung San Suu Kyi.

Furious occupants screamed at the workers as they started pulling down bamboo houses early in the morning. "You idiots... You are all evil. How dare you do this?" cried one woman.

Many directed their anger at Ms Suu Kyi's administration, accusing it of continuing the kind of land evictions that were common under military rule. "The government is useless and we were wrong to use our fingers to vote," one man shouted. "The government is always afraid of the army. How can we rely on the government?"

An Agence France-Presse journalist saw five men and one woman being hauled into police vans for trying to stop the clearance.

Local reports said the slum, around 45km north-east of Yangon near the highway to Mandalay, had about 4,000 houses.

Soaring rents and rapid urbanisation have forced thousands of people into Yangon's shanty towns, which are thought to house 10 per cent to 15 per cent of the city's population.

Myanmar's former military government regularly confiscated land during its five decades in power, especially in rural areas, and staged mass evictions in many cities.

The government that took power in May last year announced plans to evict Yangon's hundreds of thousands of squatters.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 13, 2017, with the headline 'Arrests, anger as Yangon authorities tear down slum'. Print Edition | Subscribe