Residents of the Pauk Chaung village tract in Sagaing Region are lobbying the government for the return of land they say they were tricked by a pharmaceutical company into selling in 1999.

Residents said representatives from the company told them that 400 acres had been confiscated in 1998 by the government for a pharmaceutical factory run by June Pharmaceutical and Foodstuff Industry Ltd.

The 400 acres include plots in Chaung Pauk, Shwe Kyet Htauk, Pauk Taw, Myay Daing, Let Pan and Pe Ngar Ze villages claimed by more than 70 farmers.

Villagers said they were “forced” to sign affidavits saying they never owned the land, but they later found out the company had never received permission from the government for the factory project.

Frustrated at local officials’ reticence to take up their case, the villagers have now written to the Chief Minister of Sagaing Region, U Thar Aye, asking for the land to be given back.

U Hla Maw from Pauk Taw village said company officials “made villagers sign a letter that said the farmers had no rights to the land because it had been confiscated under section 39 of the Land Nationalising Act”.

But he said the 400 acres in question were not included in the pharmaceutical project, and pointed out other irregularities in the process.

“There was no office seal on the company’s letter, and we also found inconsistencies in the years stated on the letter, in both the Myanmar lunar calendar and the Western calendar,” U Hla Maw said.

“It appears to be a fabricated working licence, so the locals are asking the government to take action so they can regain their land.”

Locals said lower-level government officials have not taken any action in the case, despite the fact that authorities at the regional and district levels have ordered them to do so.

U Phoe Kyaw from Pauk Taw village said that when pressed to solve the problem, low-level officials respond that they are “too busy”.

“There is a mountain between the actual project area and the area where the company grabbed land using a forged working licence. The company said they were granted a working licence to conduct business on these lands, but we have receipts for land tax paid through 2012,” he said.

He said locals have sent complaint letters to U Thar Aye and relevant government committees about the allegedly forged licence, and they also protested in front of the pharmaceutical company in July 2012 after applying for permission from the authorities.

Translation by Thiri Min Htun