About 250 Nay Pyi Taw residents accused of squatting have agreed to demolish their homes rather than face prison terms but allege the legal process was unfair and gave them no chance to defend themselves.
The residents of Ookyay village in Pyinmana township were charged with squatting by the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation’s Settlements and Land Record Department (SLRD) in 2011 and have since appeared in court 30 times. SLRD initiated proceedings to evict the residents in 2008 after an adjoining 4-acre plot was confiscated because it was the site of an unregistered brickworks.
They said they only agreed to pull down their homes because of the “trauma and stress” and economic hardship the court case had caused.
About 200 homes were knocked down last week in Ookyay, and more than 50 in nearby Ohboe had already been demolished, residents said.
“When we went to the court, the plaintiff from Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation didn’t come. We haven’t seen the plaintiff at all during the whole 15 months. In the subpoena, we were told to defend ourselves. In reality, we were never given any chance and at the end, the judge returned a ruling to demolish the houses, saying we would go to jail if we didn’t,” said resident U Win Naing.
He said another Ookyay resident, a baker who is also named U Win Naing, was jailed two months earlier because he hadn’t demolished his home.
“There are four courts in Pyinmana but the decisions vary from court to court,” U Win Naing said.
“Settlements and Land Records Department say that if a home isn’t demolished, they will charge the head of the household. If the home isn’t demolished by the time the head of the household is out of jail, they’ll charge his wife. If the home still isn’t demolished, they’ll charge everyone in the household over 18 years of age. They won’t stop,” he said.
U Myint Lwin said he had agreed to demolish his house for the sake of his children.
“Almost every family in the village has school-age children, from primary school to distant [university] learning,” he said. “Being litigated like this and brought to trial for such a long time hurt us not only economically but also affected the students’ ability to study. They are no longer interested in learning. We demolished our homes only so that the case would be over,” he said.
“We had to make three trips to the township law office on the same day [that we demolished our homes] and were forced to sign a statement that we had voluntarily demolished our homes. Because we didn’t want to go to jail, we had no choice but to do it.”
Neighbours U Than Tun and U Than Hteik, who were also forced to demolish their homes, said they had purchased the land in 1974.
“We have lived here for more than 40 years. This is land where no crops can grow because it is hot, sandy soil,” they said. “We don’t have anywhere else to go.”Many of those forced to demolish their homes are living in the same compound with their possessions, while others who have been forced to move have relocated to plots just a few metres away, they added.
U Win Naing said he and other residents had paid municipal taxes on their buildings and land and possessed household lists.
“We bought the land as residential land in 1974 with a contract. We have Form 66 and a list of family members. We paid municipal tax and electricity tax. We have heads of 10 households and 100 households and even the village administrator lives here. But the administrator was the only one not charged.”
Copies of these documents were taken by Captain Aung Ko Latt from the Pyinmana Township General Administrative Office on July 7 but the township court later ruled that the homes should still be demolished because no orders were received from higher authorities.
“We want to keep living here. Because we don’t have any place to go after demolishing our home, we are living under a makeshift awning leant against a nearby tree. And if we have to move we should get a replacement plot within the municipal area of Pyinmana.– Translated by Thit Lwin