Internally displaced persons (IDPs) returning to their former villages are being sued for trespass by the Asia World and Shwe Padonmar companies who claim the land was given to them for palm oil plantations.
Residents of Kyay Zuu Taw Village in the Hnam Kyal Village Group of Yebyu Township and residents of Ban Mae and Tone Byaw villages in Myeik Township, all in Tanintharyi (Tenasserim) Region held a press conference with Tanintharyi-based civil society organisations (CSOs) at the offices of the Myanmar Journalist Network in Rangoon on 29 September.
Saw Myo Min, a resident of Kyay Zuu Taw Village, said to KIC News: “I am one of the four residents of Kyay Zuu Taw Village who have been sued by the company [Shwe Padonmar Company]. My work has been disturbed as I have to attend the trial. I don’t have a motorcycle so I have to rent it [to attend the trial]. I am facing more difficulties since this [lawsuit] started as it is already hard for me to make a living. We came back because we were told that we could live on our ancestral lands. We are facing difficulties because we are being sued.”
Residents of Kyay Zuu Taw Village had to move to an area beside the Ye-Dawei Road in 1992 due to fighting between the Burma Army and the Karen National Union (KNU). In 1999 the Shwe Padonmar Company was given 611 acres of land in the area of the village to turn into a palm oil plantation.
After the Burmese government and the KNU signed a ceasefire in 2012 the villagers returned to their former villages after the Karen National Affairs Minister for the Thein Sein administration, Saw Harvey, gave them permission to do so.
But, on 23 September 2016 the Shwe Padonmar Company filed charges against four villagers for trespass.
Ban Mae and Tone Byaw villages were established in the 1980s, but in 1997 due to fighting between the Burma Army and the KNU villagers had to move five miles away to an area beside the Myeik to Tanintharyi road. The residents returned to their village in 2015 after being given permission to do so by the KNU’s Mergui-Tavoy (Myeik-Dawei) District Brigade 4.
The Asia World Company, which in 2000 was given over 9,012 acres on which to plant palm oil plantations, began suing the villagers for trespass in 2016 said Saw Maung Bwar, one of the villagers being sued by the company.
He said: “We are being sued for resettling [in our villages]. After Asia World arrived they [started] charging tolls on the roads the villagers built. I have had to attend the court nine times now. How could we apply for evidence of ownership when we were fleeing from the war? We want to work on our ancestral lands.”
Sa Ayeyar Win from the Myeik Lawyers Network, who has been helping the villagers, insisted that because the villagers had originally lived on the land they should be allowed to live and work there, even though the company has the right to sue the villagers because it has evidence of ownership.
He also urged the Burmese government to consider the weaknesses of the law when drafting the land policy.
Local residents and CSOs say that according to U.N. standards the IDPs in Tanintharyi Region are still facing many difficulties in resettling back in their homes because many thousands of acres of land in their villages and the surrounding areas have been confiscated.
Translated by Thida Linn
Edited in English by Mark Inkey for BNI