Villagers in Doo Tha Htoo District Karen State are demanding to be paid full compensation for their lands they allege were illegally taken by one of Burma’s largest companies.
Residents of Shwe Yaung Pya village and surrounding villages in Thaton Township have made it clear that they want to get paid full compensation for 5,000 acres of land near Shwe Yaung Pya village that villagers claim was confiscated by Max Myanmar Company in 2004.
Local sources in the area alleged that under the former military government, the Max Myanmar Company, owned by U Zaw Zaw confiscated farm land owned by villagers from Shwe Yaung Pya, La Oh Kae (Wingyi), Kya Ta Raw (Zeewon) and Klaw Keh (K’lout Inn).
Naw Mu Dah, a villager from Zeewon spoke to Karen News that with the changing political situation and the change of government, villagers now want to be paid compensation for the loss of their land.
Naw Mu Dah said that villagers face hardship without land and are having to rely on being employed as laborers for the rubber plantation that is growing on their confiscated land.
Speaking to Karen News, Naw Mu Dah said.
“As the [company] confiscated our land, we now have nothing to work on. We have to work at their rubber plantation to earn our living. Although we didn’t want to give up our land, we could do nothing. Their compensation was far less than our land price and they even had us signed papers. It’s difficult to reclaim our land, but we want full compensation from the company.”
Villagers claim that when Max Myanmar Company confiscated agricultural land in the area for their rubber plantations, locals were given 20,000kyat [$20] an acre as compensation. Then in 2014 and 2015, when villagers asked for 500,000 kyat an acre compensation, the company paid 200,000 kyat [$200] an acre.
Villagers claim they were reluctant to complain about the low compensation they got from the company as the company has strong links to military officials and that the company promised to build roads, bridges and schools for the region.
Saw Aung Moe Tun, the head of Shwe Yaung Pya village said that the company boss, U Zaw Zaw, promised to develop the infrastructure for the community, but up to now there has only been a few primary schools built for the community.
Speaking to Karen News Saw Aung Moe Tun said.
“U Zaw Zaw said that they would do these thing when their project succeeded. Now rubber trees are old enough for them to produce rubber. But they haven’t done anything. Since the start, they have not negotiated with the locals about our land that they claim was vacant or fallow land and therefore owned by the government. In reality the land had been cultivated by the local villagers and it is in the KNU controlled area. In the past, we had no right to argue about it, but now we have the right.”
Padoh Saw Thein Min, the chairman of the KNU Thaton district office said that many businesses had caused similar problems in the community and that local villagers did not understand all the laws and policies about land.
“Companies took a lot of land – some local land owners received compensation and some didn’t. While some were satisfied with the compensation, some were not. Land policy and the laws should be explained to the people.”
There are more than 90 households affected by the alleged land confiscation by the Max Myanmar Company. The Karen Human Rights Group has documented the case and have said that although some villagers received compensation, there are still some who have not received any compensation at all.