Vice President U Nyan Tun defended land seizures by the former military government in comments at a ceremony at Kyaunggone Township in Ayeyarwady Region to return more than 35,000 acres to its original owners.

“We confiscated land to increase the presence of our military; our country must be respected by its neighbours and a strong military is key to safeguarding our national sovereignty,” U Nyan Tun, who was nominated for the presidency by the unelected Tatmadaw bloc in parliament, said at the May 11 ceremony.

The ceremony, to return almost 36,500 acres (14,700 hectares) to its 4,017 original owners, was addressed by U Nyan Tun in his capacity as chairman of the Land Use Management Committee, which was established to administer the return of property involved in “land grab” cases.

“We confiscated land to build towns and villages because our population was growing,” said U Nyan Tun. “We needed to build industrial zones, railways and bridges to improve our productivity; we needed to give space to farming companies to increase agricultural yield,” he said.

The Farmland Investigation Commission says there is about 14,000 acres (5,600 hectares) in Ayeyarwady Region that has been referred to the Land Use Management Committee but is yet to be returned to its original owners.

The commission says the land comprises about 30 percent of the land in the region that is the subject of disputed ownership.

On January 5, Deputy Defence Minister General Kyaw Nyunt apologised  for land seizures by the Tatmadaw, pledged that it would not confiscate land in the future and said it would begin returning seized property to its owners.