By: Alisa Tang
Date: November 3rd 2016
Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation
BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Land conflicts in Myanmar have escalated in recent years, with military and armed groups driving people from their land, and new laws failing to protect farmers, a rights watchdog said on Thursday.
Land disputes are a longstanding problem in Myanmar, but researchers from New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) documented rising discontent over displacement for agriculture, mining and infrastructure projects.
Land confiscation and reprisals against protesters are particularly acute in resource-rich Kayin state, which borders wealthier Thailand and is seen as attractive for investment in tourism, mining and agriculture, HRW said in a report.
"Military and armed groups use intimidation to force people off their land. Government laws and policies are failing to protect farmers, even where land seizures go through proper channels," Caroline Stover, author of the report, "The Farmer Becomes the Criminal", said by telephone from Yangon.
"Under the Land Acquisition Act, the government can take land for public purposes, but the government has failed to do proper notice and consultation, and provide proper compensation as required by law," she said.
For decades, Kayin state, also known as Karen state, has been the site of an armed conflict between ethnic armed groups and Myanmar's military, causing huge displacement and forcing hundreds of thousands to seek refuge in Thailand and beyond.
A peace process in the state and other ethnic areas has opened up access to areas once beyond the reach of Myanmar's armed forces and military-linked businessmen, HRW's report said.
It said peace - combined with the opening of the country to investors - has boosted land value and left farmers vulnerable to powerful interests "gaining land through questionable means".
As in many parts of the world, the people worst impacted by such projects lack land titles or the knowledge to defend themselves against businessmen and state officials.
VILLAGER JAILED, HOUSES BURNED
Over eight months last year, HRW researchers interviewed 72 farmers and labourers in Kayin state and Thailand.
In Hlaingbwe township in May 2015, border guard forces held a man for four days, after they claimed rights to land which the man's family had been working for generations, HRW said.
"They didn't charge me ... They just said it's because of the land," the man was quoted as saying in the report.
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