Zaykabar defies order on farmland

By Noe Noe Aung
Volume 32, No. 626
May 14 - 20, 2012

Farmers from Shwenanthar village in Mingalardon township hold a meeting on May 10 before attempting to plough fields at the centre of an ownership dispute with Zaykabar company.
Pic: Ko Taik

CONSTRUCTION company Zaykabar last week defied government instructions to stop destroying embankments on farmland at the centre of an ownership dispute in Mingalardon township, one day after farmers were prevented from ploughing the fields.

In a dispute that dates back to early 2010, farmers in Shwenanthar village allege Zaykabar tricked them into giving up land tenure rights to about 800 acres that the company plans to use to build an industrial zone.

“Zaykabar restarted bulldozing the farmland on the evening of May 10. And they continued today as well. They have about 30 security guards around the farms so the farmers can’t do anything,” an assistant of U Nay Myo Wai, a politician who has been assisting farmers embroiled in the dispute with Zaykabar, told The Myanmar Times on May 11.

“We told the village administrative office and also the Mingaladon township office about it. The farmers are planning to plough their land because Zaykabar didn’t obey the authorised person,” he added.

U Tun Tun Oo, an administrative official from Shwenanthar village, said Zaykabar had been instructed to stop work but ignored the order.

“Officials gave two official notices to Zaykabar to stop implementing Industrial Zone 4. But they didn’t obey them,” he said.

“Now U Nyein Htwe, the authorised person for Mingalardon township, has gone to Nay Pyi Taw and I don’t have the authority to stop [Zaykabar],” U Tun Tun Oo said. “I have to wait for the order from senior officials. I have already reported this case to the township administrative office.”

Earlier this month the Shwenanthar farmers announced their intention to begin farming the disputed land and on May 10 about 200 farmers gathered beside fields owned by U Kyaw Myint, a local farmer.

In an adjoining field, also owned by U Kyaw Myint, a manager from Zaykabar and more than 30 security guards with heavy machines started destroying the embankments on the disputed land. However, a potentially nasty clash was avoided when township officials arrived and persuaded both the farmers and Zaykabar to desist.

“This farm is owned by U Kyaw Myint but the authorities have not yet given permission for contract farming [in this field] for 2012-13. So I want you to wait for contract farming to be officially approved. Farmers still have time to apply to farm these lands. And as soon as you have the contract to farm the land, you can plough,” U Nyein Htwe, the official from Mingaladon township general administrative office, said on May 10.

“We will stop [Zaykabar] as well. These lands are still in the middle of argument. I have responsibility to stop the company destroying the farmland,” he said.

The Shwenanthar farmers said afterwards that they were determined to prepare fields for the monsoon paddy season and would apply to the authorities for permission.

“It’s time to farm, the rain will come soon. I farmed on this land for about 20 years until 2010. I knew these lands were not owned by Zaykabar, they are still farmland. So we are going to farm our land,” said U Kyaw Sein, who owns about 50 acres in Shwenanthar.

The dispute dates back to February 2010, when the company acquired 845 acres from 71 households with the help of two government officials in the village. About 100 acres remain in the hands of residents.

As The Myanmar Times reported in February, some of the farmers received K300,000 each in compensation but said that they were tricked into accepting the money by the two officials.

U Nay Myo Wai, the head of the Peace and Diversity Party who has assisted the farmers throughout the dispute, said the farmers were still the official owners of the land.

“I have agreed to obey the request of the authorities to stop the farming because I want to know whether we are really living with the rule of law,” he said.

“Three weeks ago, we sent a letter to [Department of Human Settlement and Housing Development] asking whether Zaykabar had a permit from the government to establish an industrial zone here. The assistant director of DHSHD, Daw Khin May Aye, responded on May 3 that DHSHD has not given any permission to Zaykabar to build an industrial zone on the land in Shwenanthar village. So this is still farmland,” he said.

The Zaykabar official, U Myint Zaw, declined to comment when approached by The Myanmar Times on the morning of May 10.

But at a press conference in February, officials from Zaykabar, which is owned by U Khin Shwe, an Amyotha Hluttaw representative, denied the farmers’ allegations.

The company’s general manager, Daw Mi Mi Thein Tan, told reporters on February 14 that the industrial zone project had government support.

“After March 2011 we continued our project with the permission of the government. And we got that permission through the government procedure,” Daw Mi Mi Thein Tan said.

Another company official said the project had the backing of the regional government and also involved the Ministry of Construction and DHSHD.