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More than 95 percent of confiscated lands – some 350,000 acres – have been returned to farmers across Burma, according to the government’s Land Utilisation Management Committee, noting that just 17,091 acres are left to be returned nationwide.
In a statement on Sunday, it said the vast majority of lands returned were in Irrawaddy and Sagaing divisions with more than 80,000 and 50,000 acres respectively.
The vast majority of the land seizures took place during the military junta era of the 1990s, when army-backed firms requested land for a variety of enterprises, displacing thousands of local people in the process.
Nu Nu Aung, the coordinator of 88 Generation and Open Peace Society’s Agriculture and Farmers’ Affairs, said some portions of the land were handed into the wrong hands.
“From what we have learned, some of the land was not returned to the rightful owners but handed over to tenant farmers who had been working those lands in recent years, leading to further disputes between the original owners and tenant farmers,” she said. “Also, in some cases, the original owners were not provided the forms that legally allows them to the work the land so they cannot take it for granted that they can back to work the land without any stress.”
She added: “There are also cases of local government officials knowingly handing over land to people who are close to them instead of the original owners. The majority of the farmers we communication with, who are the rightful owners, did not get their land back.”
In 2010, farmers and activists across Burma staged ‘plough protests’ demanding the return of their farmlands seized over decades of military rule. Many protestors were jailed and prosecuted for their involvement.
Nu Nu Aung said she hopes the incoming National League for Democracy government will oversee the full return of land to rightful owners.
“There’s pretty much no land left for the new government to confiscate and we believe that they are not the kind of government that would take people’s land. We would like the new government to focus on allowing farmers to work their land free of stress and return the remaining portions rightfully,” she said.
Read more about land-grabbing in Burma here.