Farmers in southern Shan State’s Hsihseng Township say that if a plan goes ahead to distribute highland farms to locals, the authorities risk fomenting interethnic conflict in the area.
The farmers from the Pa-O Self-Administered Region held a press conference in the Htein Htar Hotel in Taunggyi on Monday to discuss the risks of the proposed plan by the township’s council to give around 200 acres of land to Hsihseng farmers whose land was confiscated by the Burma Army.
Locals launched an opposition campaign to the plan on July 18, because the land would need to be cleared of trees that the villagers have conserved and rely on for firewood and building materials.
In the July 20 press conference, they also highlighted an ethnic divide created by the land redistribution, as ethnic Shan people live on the mountain where the proposed highland farms are located.
Ethnic Pa-O farmer Khun Chit Htwe said that creating farms for Pa-O farmers in an area where Shan people live could create problems for the communities.
“They are making interethnic conflict between groups. If we accept the new highland farms, we will have problems with [the Shan community] in the long term,” Khun Chit Htwe said in the press conference.
The farmers, who are also opposed to the deforestation of the mountain, said that the trees in the area have been conserved by the Shan people in the area.
Farmers in Kong Sut and Pin Sone village tracts in Hsihseng have therefore rejected the mountain land from the Pa-O Self-Administered Council.
“This is a big forest with big trees. We won’t accept the highland farms as compensation because they will destroy the big forest. We should not accept it. We are not considering accepting it,” Cho Cho Win, a farmer whose land was confiscated by the military, told SHAN.
The Hsihseng-based Burma Army columns of LIB-423 and LIB-424 have confiscated more than 1,900 acres of land from farmers in five villages in Hsihseng Township in 1996, but did not inform the locals that the land had been seized, nor did they compensate them. The army has prosecuted 70 farmers for trying to use the land.