Tuesday, 15 January 2008

ILO Case In Pago Over Junta's Trickery

15 January 2008
Original report by Ye May Aung, DVB
Translation by Nay Chi U

Followers of the junta have been forcing ordinary civilians to clear barren land for farming and were then plotting to jail them; they are to be reported to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), according to a lawyer in Pago (also known as Pegu).

After farmers from Bau Ni, Dike U were being forced to clear some wild land of the surrounding area, three of them - Daw Tin Mar Mar, a midwife, U San Shwe and U Soe Maung were sued for trespassing (under section 447). They were subsequently found guilty and jailed for 3 months on 28 December, by Dike U magistrate court. It is understood that the land they were working are owned by the nephew of the junta leader General Than Shwe.

All the lands, owned by the three victims, as well as 150 acres of lands owned by 10 other Bau Ni residents, were seized by a company called Myat Min.

It all started in 2006, when the District Authority chairman Major Maung Maung Kywe and the township chairman U Myint Sein and the team arrived to Bau Ni, Dike U to order the villagers to clear the waste land along side the Rangoon - Mandalay motorway.

The villagers were asked to attend the meeting held in a primary school, where the authorities told them, "Instead of chopping wood and making charcoal, you are better off clearing the waste lands to start farming. Just make sure you reach the target of the project - producing 30,000,000 tins of rice - then we promise that you will own the land", according to U Myint Aye, the defendants lawyer.

When the villagers cast doubts over the ownership, they were primised that "The person who farms it,owns the land". However, just after a year, in 2007, there were claims that the land they have been farming was owned by Phyo La Wai, the nephew of Daw Kyaing Kyaing, who happened to be the wife of general Than Shwe, and the farmers were ordered to move out. When the order was refused, all were taken to court.

During the hearing, the local 'authorities', the so-called Peace and Development Council secretary U Aye Wai, and also members of the land registry department flatly denied their involvement in urging the villagers to clear the land to farm. The company, who claimed ownership of the now-fertile land of about 150 acres, which had been cleared and treated by the farmers from Bau Ni, is now known as Zayar Phyo Company.

"It is issumed that they wanted the fertile land, free of charge, so forced the farmers to do the clearing, using their sweat and blood, before kicking them out. By using and dropping the big names like Daw Kyaing Kyaing and general Than Shwe, they tried to squash the involvement of the forced labour, ordered by the local authorities."

It was only Daw Tin Mar Mar, U San Shwe and U Soe Maung, that were taken to court while the other 10 farmers, who also refused to move out of the land were not. "Only the 3 leading figures were targetted. The idea is to jail them first and the rest will be easy to deal with. But now about 300 farmers from the area are all going to Dike U, to offices and courts as they are all unhappy about the whole case."

The complaint letters have been prepared for sending off to ILO and junta leader General Than Shwe within days. Documentary evidence and records were prepared by family members of the victims.

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