Farmers and land rights activists in Pyin Oo Lwin are calling on the government to speed up a program to return confiscated but unused land to its original owners.

Figures from the Mandalay Region administration office show the military has agreed to return 7432 acres of farmland that it has confiscated. However, local activists say almost 200,000 acres of farmland has been confiscated in the region, the majority in the Pyin Oo Lwin area.

Farmers also say the return of confiscated land is being held up by lower-ranking officials who do not want to give it back.

“The government gave that land to investors to do plantation projects but those projects were not successful,” said U Aung Htay, from the group Facilitators Network with ILO. “When the projects had no success, they didn’t give back those lands to the farmers – they sold them off to other people.”

On June 15, about 1500 farmers marched through Pyin Oo Lwin demanding the return of the land. The Myanmar Farmers Union (MFU), which helped organise the protest, had submitted an application to march through the town but withdrew it after the authorities refused to give permission.

The police then obstructed the procession when it set off from Pyin Oo Lwin’s Nyan Taw stadium, union officials said.

“We peacefully expressed the farmers’ feeling about the seized farmland to let people in Pyin Oo Lwin know,” Daw Su Su Nway said.

The farmers, from different villages in Pyin Oo Lwin township, are demanding that the seizures be dealt with quickly so they can plant during the rainy season.

One farmer from Kyauk Phyar Do village, whose land was confiscated by the Defence Services Signals and Electronics Training School confiscated in 2002, said their calls for a settlement had been ignored.

“We submitted letters to senior officers of the state eight times but there has been no settlement so far,” said U Khin Maung Than, adding that more than 130 acres was seized from 30 farmers.

“After that they leased those lands to farmers again. The commander-in -chief of the defence services said that the lands seized by the military will be given back to the original owners. But, lower ranks have done nothing to date.”

Speaking at a ceremony returning land seized from farmers in Yay Nan Thar village in Madaya township, the head of the Pyin Oo Lwin district administration office said tens of thousands of acres of land would be returned.

“The seized farmlands that the military doesn’t need for projects are now being given back to the farmers so they can grow there. But they need to wait to some extent. They must apply to have ownership documents first,” said U Aung Zaw Latt.

– Translation by Thiri Min Htun