Farmers displaced by industrial park project

It’s groundnut planting season, but U Sein Paw won’t be sowing any seeds today, or any other day. His daughter was arrested for harrowing what he still thinks of as his field, and to secure her release U Sein Paw had to sign a pledge not to work the land anymore.

His former farm is now encompassed in the Mandalay Myotha Industrial Park project, according to the township land management committee, which extracted the pledge from him under threat of further legal action.

“We worked those fields for a long time,” U Sein Paw, 65, told The Myanmar Times in a recent interview at his home in rural Mandalay Region.

The huge industrial park project has been in the works since 2013 near Than Bo village in Ngazun township, where U Sein Paw lives.

The project, jointly implemented by the Mandalay Industrial Development Authority and Royal Hi-Tech Group, is backed by the Mandalay Region government as a regional-development and poverty-elimination scheme, and will occupy more than 260,000 acres.

When complete, the estate will include Department of Transport offices, large-, medium- and small-scale industrial enterprises, a housing project, a business and trading zone, scientific research labs, a golf course, parks and green spaces, detached housing, high-rise developments, supermarkets and a shopping centre.

As part of the deal, international-standard trading ports and industrial enterprises, bus lines, stores, markets, hospitals, banks, posts and telecommunications facilities, a police station, a fire department, sports grounds and religious buildings will appear in the long term in what is shaping up to be a new modern city, said U Aung Win Khaing, chair of Royal Hi-Tech.

He added that the development would bring jobs for residents within a radius of 80 kilometres (50 miles), including Myingyan, Natogyi, Tada-Oo, Sagaing, Myinmu, Myaung, Yesagyo and Pakokku townships in Si Mi Khone and Myo Thar districts.

“There will be about 2500 industries in the industrial park city and about 150,000 jobs,” U Aung Win Khaing said.

Villagers in what will be Mandalay Myotha Industrial Park worked the fields around their 14 hamlets and raised animals. In the rainy season, they would cultivate sesame, corn, cotton, pigeon peas and groundnuts, and in the rest of the year they would herd cows, goats and sheep.

With the coming of the poverty elimination project, they lost their plantations and their pasture.

Compensation was offered ranging from K500,000 to K2 million per acre, depending on the condition and location of the farmlands. Some farmers turned it down because it was not enough.

Faced with that refusal, the company responded last August by deploying bulldozers to dig up the farmlands.

The deputy staff officer of Ngazun township’s general administrative department sued 10 farmers, including U Sein Tun from Thanbo village and others from Ywar Zite, Pyawbwe and Letpan Kyin villages, on September 23 after conflict erupted between residents and the company.

The farmers were prosecuted for unlawful assembly, rioting, causing damage, trespass, and publishing or circulating information that may cause public fear or alarm and that may incite people to commit offences against the state or public tranquillity.

The regional government set up notice boards in the project area threatening that it would take action against anyone who tried to stop, disturb or threaten – or inspire or help to do so – the projects they were carrying forward for the development of the region.

Two National League for Democracy members, who were using their phones to record a video of the confrontation between police and farmers in the golf-range area of project zone, were arrested on April 29.

“The farmers had asked them to record the event,” said U Myint Aung, a member of a group formed by the NLD that helps political prisoners and farmers.

The two were charged with unlawful assembly, rioting and incitement at Myotha Police Station, U Myint Aung said.

Farmers want to carry on cultivating despite the arrests because it’s the season. If they farm, police immediately come and stop them, said farmer U Tint, who lives in Letpan Kyin Kwin.

“They watch from an observation tower. They come and stop us immediately if they see us planting seeds, and threaten us with arrest if we don’t stop. We have to go to work early in the morning so they can’t see us. When the sun rises we have to stop, even if we haven’t finished,” he said.

U Tint, 55, has been living in the area for more than 40 years, paying annual land tax and sharing his vegetables when asked. He will not accept the offered compensation of K500,000 per acre because he says it is not enough to buy new land. An acre of land outside the project area costs K4-K6 million.

It’s not only in the growing season that farmers face problems. The farmers of Anauk Taw village, which is included in the project zone, raised cows and goats, but had to sell most of their animals because their pasture was confiscated for development.

“Most people in our village are in the livestock business. We asked the developers to leave some pasture for livestock, but they didn’t. We need the livestock because our income from farmlands is not enough. Now we are selling animals because we don’t have the pastures,” said U Thein Htay.

Palm tree climbers can’t make palm sugar because of the lack of the resources to get firewood, U Ohn Thaung from Tan Bo village said.

“In the past all kinds of trees apart from teak grew in this field. Now there’s nothing left because the plot has been cleared. They can’t make palm sugar anymore,” he said.

Without the ability to cultivate the land or breed livestock on which they lived for so long, the local farmers are facing the prospect of having to leave their native soil earn their living – either by moving out of the region or dropping farm work altogether.

“All my lands have been confiscated. I dare not cultivate my farmlands,” said U Sein Paw.

“Without them I would have to find some new kind of work, and I’m getting old.”

Source: Myanmar Times

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