Land disputes will be resolved according to the law if negotiations fail to bring about a settlement, President U Thein Sein said last week.
Over the past 18 months, land has become a volatile issue, with many farmers complaining they have lost their fields to private and state organisations. Greater freedom to protest and publish articles about the issues has also seen long-dormant disputes enter the public spotlight.
Speaking at a press conference in Nay Pyi Taw on October 21, the president said in response to a question from The Myanmar Times that a negotiated settlement was preferable to arbitration in the courts.
“In some cases, it will have to be settled between four sides: the relevant ministry, the courts, the farmers and the plaintiffs. If not settled [through negotiation], they will have to proceed according to the law,” he said.
When pressed on whether farmers who, under existing laws, had illegally occupied land could expect any support from the government, the president said: “Though I am the president, I am not in a position to intervene in the disputes or to give advice on them. It just needs to negotiate until an agreement is reached between the two sides. If not, they will be dealt with according to the law.”
The press conference was the president’s first in Myanmar and attracted 128 journalists. It lasted about two hours and more than 20 journalists raised about 30 questions.
Topics discussed included land disputes, peace for Kachin State, the Rakhine conflict, whether the president would stand for a second term, amending the constitution, education, the future of the Myitsone dam, military cooperation with the United States and whether the democratic process could be reversed.
Most journalists said they were not particularly satisfied with the questions and answers because time was limited and the convenors tried to allow as many organisations as possible.
However, the press conference was significant in that it showed a level of respect for journalists lacking under previous regimes.
During the press conference, President U Thein Sein said that the activities of the government had been successful in part because of its collaboration with the media and he requested journalists to make the public aware of the government’s activities.
Translated by Thit Lwin