As parliamentary commission began investigating land-grabbing in Burma, it has received complaints that the military has forcibly seized about 250,000 acres of farmland from villagers.

The report said farmlands were confiscated for six different reasons: the expansion of urban areas; expansion of industrial zones; expansion of army battalions and military units; construction of state-owned factories; implementation of state-run agricultural and animal husbandry projects; and land allocation to private companies with links the military.

The commission recommends that undeveloped lands are returned to their owners or handed over to the state. In cases where land has been developed, affected farmers should receive adequate compensation from the military, the report said.

Further parliamentary reports on other forms of land-grabbing are due to follow.

Lower House member Thein Nyunt said parliamentarians would discuss land-grabbing issues and possible amendments for the existing land laws in coming weeks. “Compensation for confiscated land will be on the agenda, too,” said the opposition MP.

Burma’s military junta ruled the country for decades and land seizures by the army were widespread and local dissent was brutally crushed. After a nominally civilian government took over 2011, the military let it be known that it would end such practices, but whether it will do so remains to be seen. Land-grabbing by powerful private companies meanwhile, has increased rapidly in the wake of Burma’s socio-economic reforms.

Land rights activist Han Shi Win said Burmese law states that the military should return unused farmlands and compensate for seized land. “Article 31 of the Farmland Law states that if no work is done on a confiscated land within six months, the land shall be returned to its owner. That’s why we are trying to bring back land to farmers,” he said. “But the army does not follow the law.”

The activist warned that if the long-festering land grabbing complaints were not dealt soon angry farmers might resort to violent protests, such as in Maubin Township, where dozens were injured and a policeman killed when villagers clashed with security forces on Feb. 26. During a government ceremony to mark Peasants Day on Saturday, about 700 hundred villagers from Shwepyitha Township, located on the northern outskirts of Rangoon, came to demand that authorities resolve their complaints. Supported by the local Diversity Party, they handed out pamphlets stating that 1,742 farmers lost about 11,000 acres (4,422 hectares) since 1986 to private companies, such as Zay Ka Bar, Yuzana Group and Htoo Group—the latter firm is owned by Tay Za, a business crony of the former junta.

“We will only have 800 kyats (US $0.93) per acre under the existing law for my land that was grabbed,” he said. “It is not fair for us to get such low compensation.”

2013.03.05 The Irrawaddy Military Involved in Massive Land Grabs