Monday, September 25, 2017

Farmer burns himself to death in protest against army land grab

A farmer has burned himself to death in protest against the seizure of his land by the military. U Myint Aung, 63, of Yepu village in Taunggyi township, Shan State, died of burns in hospital on May 23.

Nearly 500 local farmers turned out to mourn him.

Written in red on the walls of his farm was the message, “Give back the lands that the Tatmadaw seized.”

Letters found at the scene accused a government land survey official, Mg Naing, and village administrator Tin Shwe of corruption.

Ma Maw, U Myint Aung’s niece, told The Myanmar Times yesterday, “He never drank or smoked and had a placid disposition. But he may have heard, wrongly, that I had been arrested while protesting against a Tatmadaw attempt to grab land.”

The police at Taunggyi and Shwe Nyaung declined to comment on the matter, saying they had no responsibility.

Ma Maw said the tragedy occurred in connection with an attempt by Captain Win Tun Aung of the Tatmadaw’s Southeastern Brigade to build a barracks on land in Yepu village on May 20. His request was rebuffed by villagers.

“They tried to seize our land and build huts to show that the military had taken it over and would not return it to us,” she said.

Local residents say the Southeastern Brigade had seized land from more than 200 farmers since 2004, renting out the land to tenant farmers for K10,000 an acre.

Last year, Tatmadaw Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing promised to return seized farmland to its original owners.

U Tin Maung Toe, the chair of Taunggyi National League for Democracy, said more than 10,000 acres of land had been seized by the military and their allies in the Pa-O armed militia, and none had been returned.

“The military grabbed the land from the residents, leaving the villagers empty-handed. It destroyed their lives,” he said yesterday,

He added that five Chinese companies had been granted authorisation by the army to grow sugarcane and corn.

Ma Maw said, “Our family needs the land. We just want it back, and we’re so sorry for my uncle.”