One hundred farmers from a village in eastern Myanmar’s Shan state appeared in court on Monday after the national army filed a lawsuit against them for planting on confiscated land in a move that runs counter to the government’s efforts to return land that the military previously grabbed from locals during the country’s junta era, a villager said.

The army’s Eastern Command confiscated 2,000 acres of land in Ye Pu (Hot Water) village in the state’s Taunggyi township in 2004, during the rule of a military junta that controlled the country for 50 years until 2011, said villager Maw Maw Win.

From 2010 to 2015, the command allowed local farmers to plant on the land if they paid an annual fee of 10,000 kyats (U.S. $8.40) per acre, he told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

In May, army officials asked the farmers to sign documents saying that the land belonged to the military, he said.

About 100 farmers from Ye Pu village refused to sign the documents and continued planting on the land, prompting the army to file the lawsuit charging them with trespassing, Maw Maw Win said.

In early July, the Shan state government said it would return more than 40,000 acres of land confiscated by the Myanmar military to farmers.

Soe Nyunt Lwin, Shan state minister for planning and finance, also said the military would return more land to its original owners in the near future.

Fees for Rakhine farmers

In a similar case, the Mro National Democracy Party based in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state requested on Monday that the state government ban the national army from collecting fees from farmers who want to plant crops on lands that soldiers had previously confiscated in Kyauktaw township, the party’s chairman said.

The party was formed two years ago to represent the Mro ethnic people in Rakhine and in western Myanmar’s Chin state.

The Myanmar army’s light infantry battalion No. 374, members of the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), and other government organizations based in Kyauktaw township confiscated 200 acres of land from residents in three villages under General Than Shwe, the strongman politician who ruled Myanmar from 1992 to 2011, said party chairman Oo Mya Tun.

The soldiers allowed villagers to plant crops for an annual fee per acre during that time, he said.

But now the army is still keeping 40 acres of land although other organizations have returned confiscated land farmers, he said.

Righting past wrongs

Former landowners in various parts of the country have long appealed to government leaders to return property seized decades ago under the military junta, and the new civilian government under de facto national leader Aung San Suu Kyi is trying to right this past wrong.

Some landowners recently inundated Myanmar’s parliament with thousands of complaints about farmland seizures. A parliamentary committee on confiscated farmland is responsible for dealing with land disputes and puts pressure on relevant government ministries to return appropriated land or compensate the rightful owners.

Farmers in south-central Myanmar’s Bago region staged a protest on July 6 demanding that the army return more than 4,000 acres of land it confiscated from them 25 years ago.

RFA’s Myanmar Service reported in May that Myanmar’s government would return 2,500 acres of confiscated land to farmers in Tant-Se township in the country’s northwestern Sagaing region, more than 35 years after it was taken.

The Burma Socialist Programme Party, formed by the regime led by military commander Ne Win that seized power in 1962, confiscated nearly 4,000 acres of the township’s land in Shwebo district for a government farm project named “Wet Toe” in 1980.