Four villagers found sowing seeds on disputed land were arrested on May 23. Officers from the Border Guard Force caught the four villagers as they were planting trees in Mon State’s Kyaikmaraw township. Locals say the plot was made into a protected forest reserve in 2015, but the BGF insists that an overlapping parcel of 600 acres was set aside for military use in 2012.
“The state [government] set out a total of 864 acres for 30 farmers from Kayin Lai Village in the Dar Li forest reserve in 2015,” said Saw Phoe Naing, chair of the local tree planting association.
He said villagers had planned to plant rubber, teak, pyinkado, and mahogany trees on the land, but BGF officials halted the planting activities last month, and when villagers resumed the work this month, they were arrested.
“Over 20 soldiers from the BGF’s 1021st battalion put handcuffs on U Tayoke and his nephews and car drivers and arrested them,” Saw Phoe Naing said. He added that a complaint will be filed with the Ministry of Home Affairs about the incident.
Major Mann Win Yone, deputy commander of the BGF’s 1021st battalion, confirmed the recent arrest of the villagers, but declined to comment on the reason for it.
Mon State Land Network Committee member Saw Kyaw Kaung Myat said local residents have been working on land inside and outside the Dar Li forest reserve since the days of their ancestors. He accused the BGF officials of fuelling conflict in their attempts to seize the land.
“The public suffers because they are seizing the land along with [a private organization]. Even though we have submitted complaints about this, they continue to expand the seizure,” he said.
Translated by Thida Linn
Edited by Laignee Barron