In a recent meeting with the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society’s Farmers’ Affairs Committee, many farmers from Mon State’s Ye Township expressed their dismay at having been forced to accept compensation at below-market prices for land confiscated by the military government.

In order to gather facts on landgrabs in Mon and Karen states, the farmers’ affairs committee—an eight- member body led by Ko Tun Myint Aung—went to Ye Town from August 18-19 to meet with local farmers, whereupon the committee learned that the farmers were forced to accept unfair compensation for their land.

“They [the army] invited orchard owners to come and receive compensation for our orchards. When we got there we were forced to sign documents in order to receive compensation… Although the military is now claiming that we willingly signed away our land by providing our signatures…we [only did so] because we were threatened,” said U Khan Ngwe, whose orchard was seized by the Burmese army’s 343rd Light Infantry Battalion (LIB), which is based in Ye Township.

According to another plantation owner whose land was seized, “Compensation was provided at the rate of 100 kyat per acre, so we only got around 1,000 kyat. At that time in 2001, however, our orchards were worth over 1,000,000 kyat.”

Due to such land seizures, many farmers have become unemployed and have been compelled to migrate to Thailand in search of work, while some have even died from the overwhelming grief of losing their livelihoods.

Among the ten townships in Mon State, the largest amount of land seized in terms of acreage has been in Ye Township. The  majority of cases took place in 2000 when the military government confiscated orchards, farms, and rubber plantations as it expanded its army bases.

According to the Human Rights Foundation of Monland (HURFOM), the previous military government seized more than 3,000 acres of land in order to construct ten bases, including bases for the 586th, 587th, 588th, 343rd, 583rd, and 591st LIB’s.

In a letter sent by President Thein Sein to the chairman of the Union Hluttaw (Myanmar’s parliament), the president said that over 350,000 of the 470,000 acres of land confiscated by the government and Tatmadaw (army) across the country were needed for government use, so the land will not be returned.

Many farmers have been arrested for protesting against land confiscation, and the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society stated on July 24th that arresting farmers and confiscating land is unjust and shows a lack of responsibility by the government.

“If the government is a clean government representing the people and is the people’s government, then it will return the land to its [rightful] owners. In order to encourage the government to be clean and become a people’s government we are cooperating with farmers on this issue,” said U Tun Myint, Chairman of the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society’s Farmers’ Affairs Committee.

On August 11th, the farmers union released a statement which asserted that in order to resolve land issues the government shouldn’t think that merely compensating landowners and returning some seized lands satisfies its responsibility to the people. Rather, it’s necessary for the government to also provide development projects or other kinds of support which benefit the community.

After gathering facts from across the country the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society’s Farmers’ Affairs Committee plans to submit a report on land issues to the government, parliament, armed ethnic group leaders, and international organizations, said Ko Tun Myint Aung.