More than 30 farmers from four villages in Hlaing Tharyar township protested outside the Department for Human Settlement and Housing Development (DHSHD) on Bogyoke Aung San Road this week.
The farmers had been demonstrating for more than three weeks outside the office of Wah Wah Win Company, on the corner of Anawrahta and Sintohtan streets in downtown Yangon, before shifting their attention to the DHSHD office after getting no response.
They are unhappy that the company has allegedly backtracked on a compensation promise made following protests in the middle of the year.
“We demonstrated for 23 days [since Wednesday, October 31] in front of the [Wah Wah Win] office. We called on them to negotiate the complicated land issues in Hlaing Tharyar township but they took no notice so we moved to DHSHD in the hope that they could solve the problem. We decided to stay here until they solve the problem for us,” said Ko Kyi Shwin from Kyun Ka Lay village in Hlaing Tharyar township.
The land in Kyun Ka Lay, Kyun Gyee, Kan Phyu and Atwin Padan was confiscated by DHSHD more than two decades ago without compensation.
It was then sold to Wah Wah Win for the construction of Anawrahta Industrial Zone, but construction work at the site did not get underway until 2011, the farmers said.
In the intervening years they were allowed to continue farming in the area but last year workers from Wah Wah Win began destroying their fields and building fences on their land.
On Thursday, May 31, 35 farmers from Atwin Padan demonstrated outside DHSHD on Bogyoke Aung San Road and a second protest was held on Monday, July 2.
On Tuesday, June 5, about 70 farmers from the four villages, representatives from Wah Wah Win, and officials from DHSHD and the general administrative office met and negotiated compensation for the land. The farmers say that the company agreed to pay K3 million per acre.
“Wah Wah Win cheated us twice. They didn’t do anything, although they gave a pledge in front of government officials,” said U Shwe Kyaing, who lives in Kyun Ka Lay village and lost 23 acres to the project.
“They have not paid anything until now so we demonstrated again. Now we won’t accept any compensation, they [farmers] are ready to fight with them [Wah Wah Win] to get their lands back,” said U Win Cho, a land rights activist who is assisting the farmers.
Ko Kyi Shwin said he lost 63 acres to the construction of the industrial zone.
“We aren’t going anywhere until we get a commitment that they will stop their work on our farmland without our agreement. They are continuing their works and destroying our land – we have no other way to stop them,” he said.
Ma Cho Mar from Kyun Gyee village urged government officials to help the farmers.
“This land is our life; we can’t do anything without farmland,” she said.
But Wah Wah Win general manager Daw San San Win said her company negotiated several times with the farmers in 2011 and gave the compensation they requested, paying 35 farmers K3 million an acre between July 2011 and September of this year.
“We accept the farmers who are willing to negotiate but now they are asking for too much money – much more than we can afford. Some ask us to give K15 million an acre. Some are not willing to negotiate with us,” she said.
She said her company gave compensation out of sympathy and was not legally obligated to give the farmers anything.
“This project was implemented by our company and the government for mutual benefit. We implemented this project for a long time so why didn’t they ask at the time [the land was confiscated]?
“Our company doesn’t have any responsibility to pay compensation but we give it to them because we sympathise with them.”
She said the regular strikes outside here company’s office “could damage the country’s image” and were a “waste of time”.
“They should not do this … this situation should not be blamed on our company alone. We are trying to solve it as much as we can. We can’t do any more than we are now. If we give them the amount they ask, next time they will just ask for more.
“We want these farmers to work according to the law if they have right to posses these lands and we also want to solve [the dispute] according to the law. I think their actions, protesting in front of the company for many days, are just a waste of time.”