Nearly 15 years after their land was seized by the military, farmers in Lashio Township attempted to cultivate their lost fields, only to have their efforts later quashed by Burma Army troops.
The 52 acres of farmland in question was owned by 12 people in Ner Moon village, Hopeik village tract until 2004, when government soldiers from the Tatmadaw’s northeastern military command confiscated it to create a castor oil plantation. Castor beans were grown there until 2010, when the project—and the land—was abandoned.
The farmers waited for eight years, and in 2018 began to plough the land and grow their own crops there.
This week, however, a local said that soldiers unexpectedly returned to the land, effectively stopping the Ner Moon villagers from cultivating it.
“On May 16, they came with a tractor and ploughed the farmland,” farmer Sai San Htun Lu, an told SHAN of the troops. “After that, soldiers started guarding the farmland.”
He said that the northeastern command did not appear to have an interest in the land until after locals had gotten used to working on it again.
“Nobody came to oppose us when we grew plants here two years ago,” Sai San Tun Lu explained. “The army had stopped planting the farmland. That’s why we were working on our farmland again.”
Since 2013, villagers in Ner Moon have been contacting various government departments attempting to regain ownership of the land but say that they have never received any answers.
Lashio Township parliamentarian Sai Wan Leng Kham told SHAN that the farmers have full ownership documents for the land in question, and that even though the northeastern military command may have worked on the farmland in the past, they did not adhere to existing guidelines and should return the land to villagers or pay them fair compensation.
“We already reported to respective departments about the return of this farmland. The army didn’t work on the farmland two years ago. That’s why the farmers are trying to grow plants on their farmland again,” Sai Wan Leng Kham said. “Now a land dispute has occurred between the farmers and the army. We will report it to the commander of the northeastern military command and negotiate around it.”
However, the farmers say that they don’t want payment—they only want their land returned to them.
“We want to get it back. We don’t want compensation. We don’t want to grow plants in other areas. We just want to have our land,” farmer Sai San Tun Lu told SHAN.