Farmers vow to fight on in land clash with army

Relatives of the farmers who were jailed anxiously awaiting their release from prison in Taunggyi, Myanmar, yesterday. The farmers had been imprisoned for trespassing on land seized by the military.
Relatives of the farmers who were jailed anxiously awaiting their release from prison in Taunggyi, Myanmar, yesterday. The farmers had been imprisoned for trespassing on land seized by the military.PHOTO: REUTERS

YANGON • Farmers locked in a land dispute with Myanmar's armed forces pledged to renew their fight after being released from jail yesterday, in a case testing leader Aung San Suu Kyi's resolve to challenge the military's economic interests.

Mr Maw Maw Oo, a leader among the 55 villagers released, said they would seek government help to resolve the dispute in Ye Bu, a village in eastern Myanmar's Shan state.

Ms Suu Kyi's ruling National League for Democracy came to power last April after an election victory in part driven by rural anger over land seizures under military rule. But the Ye Bu case showed that farmers across the country had yet to see significant changes, despite hopes that the civilian administration led by Ms Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate, would prioritise land issues.

Ye Bu farmers say they were promised they could work the land near the village in perpetuity, before it was seized by soldiers in 2004.

"The military didn't make any profit for the country although it grabbed land," said Mr Maw Maw Oo, who was among those released yesterday after serving their one-month prison sentences for trespassing. "They just make profit for themselves and give the farmers trouble."

Farmers told Reuters they were now reluctant to return to their farmland out of fear of being jailed again. But Mr Maw Maw Oo said they would not give up.

The army's Eastern Command controls a 1,618ha plot near Ye Bu and has sought to establish agribusinesses with private firms, including Asia's largest agricultural conglomerate, Charoen Pokphand Group of Thailand.

An army official filed dozens of lawsuits against farmers for returning to work the land, leading to the jailing on Dec 22 of 72 farmers, including Mr Maw Maw Oo.

Officials had attempted to broker a deal between the military and the farmers, but could not persuade the army to make concessions.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 21, 2017, with the headline 'Farmers vow to fight on in land clash with army'. Print Edition | Subscribe