By Aye Nai
Powerful business tycoon and MP Khin Shwe has been placed in the crosshairs of aggrieved farmers in Rangoon division who claim he abused his links to the former junta to confiscate swathes of arable land.
The group of farmers in Mingalardon township are preparing to sue the owner of Zaykabar Company, which had been behind the construction of an industrial complex close to Shwenanthar village.
He allegedly told farmers that the order for the confiscation of 815 acres of land for the site that was given in April 2004 came from the then ruling State Peace and Development Council. The farmers had been allowed to continue work on their land until around April 2010, when they were forced off.
After successive complaints, local government officials in Rangoon division in December last year ordered that the project be stopped, warning Khin Shwe that if it went ahead, he would be penalised.
In their lawsuit, the complainants will allege that local officials in Shwenanthar village had been in cahoots with the Khin Shwe – U Bo Gyi, a former village council administrator and member of the local Land Committee, summoned them to a meeting back in April 2004 where he warned that the government would take the land.
Later Khin Shwe offered them 300,000 kyat per acre “out of sympathy”, according to Nay Myo Wei, chairman of Peace and Diversity Party, who has been appointed by the group to assist in filing a lawsuit. It was only after Rangoon division officials suspended the project that the farmers realised the order had not come from the government, but was a scam.
The issue of land rights in Burma is a sensitive one: existing laws do little to prevent confiscation by government-aligned figures, and that looks set to continue if a bill currently being debated in parliament comes into force. The Land Act will effectively allow powerful tycoons to monopolise arable land and force off small-scale farmers.
At present most farmers are ostensibly tenants on their land, and are forced to share a portion of revenue with the government. Since the scandal arose, the Shwenanthar village farmers have lost their tenant status.
Burma’s agriculture sector provides income for roughly 70 percent of the country, but its productivity remains handicapped by poor infrastructure, equipment and a lack of governmental planning.
Nay Myo Wei acknowledged that the farmers face an uphill task in taking an MP, who was closely aligned with the former ruling junta, to court, but would press ahead nonetheless and hopes to file the lawsuit next week.