Pa-O Farmers Face Trial After Military Refuses to Drop Charges Against Them

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Farmers in southern Shan State’s Hsihseng Township are expected to go to trial since the military has not opted to withdraw trespassing charges against them regarding a land dispute.

Farmers Protest Land Grabs In Siseng Township Southern Shan State
Farmers Protest Land Grabs In Siseng Township Southern Shan State

The farmers, officials from the Pa-O self-administered region, and officials from the military’s eastern command met at a General Administration Department office on June 4 to discuss how to resolve land issues stemming from the army seizure of the farmers’ land.

“We didn’t come to any agreement in the meeting, so the situation hasn’t changed. Our meeting concluded without any solution,” San Win Maung, headman of Aung Chan Tha ward in Hsihseng Township, told SHAN.

According San Win Maung, the farmers demanded that the army allow them to work on their farmland, to withdraw trespassing charges against more than 70 farmers, to unblock a road, and to return 29 tractors to farmers.

“Police returned the tractors in the evening. The army didn’t withdraw the charges against farmers, so the farmers have to go to trial,” he explained.

Nearly 200 civil society organizations (CSOs), including many ethnic Pa-O organizations, released a joint statement on June 3 accusing the military’s Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) 423 and LIB 424 of confiscating the farmland, destroying farmers’ crops, prosecuting and threatening farmers, and seizing their tractors.

The joint statement also noted that the farmers were facing economic hardships amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“Military officials from the eastern military command came to see Pa-O organizations. The situation seems like the commander of the eastern military command wants to return the seized farmland,” chair of the Pa-O Youth Organization Khun Oo told SHAN.

He said that if the situation does not change, they will send a petition letter to the vice president and launch a campaign, involving a strike with farmers.

“The army doesn’t want to return the farmland because they want to start a business on the land,” Khun Oo said.

In the joint statement, the 194 CSOs demanded that the army unconditionally return the unused land plots to farmers.

The CSOs also demanded that the military respect traditional ethnic land management and ownership systems. They called on the army to pay compensation for confiscated land plots and return unused land plots to farmers in accordance with the law, and to respect existing land laws.

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