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Land battles surface in Myanmar as reforms unfold

October 23, 2012 • Business


In this photo taken on Sept. 16, 2012, Zay Thiha, vice chairman of the Zaykabar Company, talks during an interview in Yangon, Myanmar. Zay Thiha predicts, ambitiously, that the 2,500 acre industrial zone alone could create 1.5 million stable jobs in Southeast Asia’s poorest country, but few farmers see a place for themselves or their children in that bright, industrial future. Skeletons of factories for a new industrial zone rise from thick green rice paddies local farmers say were seized by Zaykabar, one of Myanmar’s most powerful companies. Human rights groups say land battles could intensify because companies tied to the military and business elite are rushing to grab land as the country emerges from five decades of isolation and opens its economy. (AP Photo/Khin Maung Win)

MINGALADON, Myanmar (AP) — The landscape of Mingaladon township on the northern outskirts of Myanmar’s main city tells a story of economic upheaval. Skeletons of factories for a new industrial zone rise from thick green rice paddies local farmers say were seized by one of Myanmar’s most powerful companies.

The fight over land in Mingaladon is one of many such battles in Myanmar. Human rights groups say land battles are intensifying because companies tied to the military and business elite are rushing to grab land as the country emerges from five decades of isolation and opens its economy. Not only that. The political change sweeping through Myanmar means farmers and others are challenging land confiscations in ways that were unimaginable just a few years ago.

One Sunday in July, some 200 farmers took to the streets of Yangon, the main city, to protest the Mingaladon land acquisition by the Zaykabar Company. It was the first legal protest to be held in Myanmar since a 1988 uprising against military rule was crushed and came just days after parliament passed a new law allowing peaceful demonstrations. In the past, protesters have been arrested or shot.

Two months after the July protest, dozens of farmers crowded into the shabby, two-story home of a protest leader to sign and thumbprint petitions asking Zaykabar for more money.

“The farmers know their rights and dare to demand their rights,” said Htet Htet Oo Wai, a former political prisoner who has joined the fight over Mingaladon. “They didn’t dare do that kind of thing two years ago,” she said.

One of those farmers, Myint Thein, 56, pointed to a metal shed going up on the 15 acres his family used to Login to read more

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