The Burma Army has brought trespassing charges against 22 farmers in Hsihseng Township in the Pa-O Self-Administered Area of southern Shan State.
Light Infantry Battalions (LIB) 423 and 424 are prosecuting the farmers, who were charged after planting crops on more than 300 acres of farmland that the Burma Army confiscated from them.
“The farmers are charged with violating Article 447 of [the Penal Code] for trespassing,” farmer Cho Cho Win told SHAN. She is among those charged, and lost four acres in the land grab.
The military initially prosecuted 15 farmers in May, and seven more in early August. All of the farmers attended their first court hearing on August 17, except for one 87-year-old farmer who requested medical leave.
“This is our farmland. We grow our crops here every year,” Cho Cho Win told SHAN. “We did not trespass on other people’s land. We went to plant on our farmland, and we will continue to plant on our farmland. Even though we attended a court hearing, we will continue to grow crops on our farmland. It’s because this is our land.”
Monday’s court case focused on crops planted on 300 confiscated acres owned by farmers from eight villages in Hsihseng Township. Cho Cho Win added that in total, farmers have lost more than 1,900 acres to land grabs carried out by the military in 1996.
Hsihseng local Khun Kyaw Naing said that the current legal case is a test to demonstrate who the law protects.
“We will wait and see if the Burma Army’s justice system protects farmers and if the law is enacted fairly,” he said, adding, “We want to stand with the farmers.”
The Burma Army and the Hsihseng Township farmers have been involved in the land dispute since May, but the farmers say that they were not informed that their farmlands were seized more than 20 years ago, and never received compensation from the Burma Army.
Additionally, the farmers said that nearly 35 acres of their corn crops were destroyed by unidentified perpetrators in early July.