Burma: Villagers allegedly ‘trapped’ during land grab operation near Thilawa project
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Burma: Villagers allegedly ‘trapped’ during land grab operation near Thilawa project

LOCAL police and Thilawa town officials have erected a wall around the homes of 39 families in the port town, purportedly as part of an “aggressive” land confiscation operation near an area earmarked for the Thilawa Special Economic Zone (SEZ) project, a rights group claimed on Wednesday.

According to the Washington-based Earth Rights International (ERI), local administrators came with 150 policemen, prisoner trucks and the Fire Department last month to construct the wall across land the families are said to still own. The villagers, intimidated by the sheer size of the delegation of enforcers, did not dare protest the construction.

The wall, however, effectively cuts these families off from their surrounding areas.

The group said the families, whose livelihoods depend heavily on farming, are “trapped” as they are fenced in. The wall reportedly prevents them from cultivating the land they traditionally use for farming, even as farming season approaches.

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A local farmer, whose land was affected, told the ERI the authorities had ignored the rights of the residents and subjected them to subhuman conditions.

“The way this happened, with no agreement, with so many police to intimidate us, it’s just not right,” he said in a statement released by ERI.

The villagers also claim their grouses have fallen on deaf ears as they have repeatedly attempted to contact the Yangon Region’s Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein, who has refused to meet them since the clampdown on June 10.

On July 3, the 39 families also sent a letter to the National Human Rights Commission requesting an investigation into the land confiscation operation.

Aggressive Land Confiscation in Thilawa Area # Myanmar # Thilawa # Land Confiscation # SEZ # Farmers

Posted by Thilawa Watch on Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Local community-based organisation Thilawa Social Development Group (TSDG), which is working with the villagers in resisting the land grab, said such hostile takeovers reflect a broader disregard for land rights in the Thilawa area.

“This should not be happening in the name of ‘development’,” TSDG representative Phyo Wai said.

“If it is causing this much harm to the local communities, it is wrong.”

Launched in September 2015, the SEZ is a US$3.28 billion industrial project on 2,500ha (6,200 acres) of land that is being developed as a joint initiative between the governments of Burma and Japan, and some private consortia.

According to ERI, some 2,000ha is still under development for the project. The 39 families’ lands are located outside the economic zone but very close to one plot earmarked for the project.

Villagers directly impacted by the economic zone have in recent months voiced concerns internationally that developers and governments have not respected their land rights.

Last September, their representatives flew to Tokyo to meet the investors of the zone to renegotiate their relocation, which they say was substandard.

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TSDG leader U Mya Hlaing said the land confiscation violated a recent Burmese presidential directive.

“Under the presidential decree, there is supposed to be no land confiscation until land disputes are settled,” Hlaing said.

“Instead of protecting us, the government is perpetuating the problem.”