The value of property in Myanmar has been rising in recent months. At the same time, there are more and more reports of property owners losing control of their land. They say they are being illegally forced off their land. When that happens, they do not receive profits when the land is sold to developers.
There is development almost everywhere in Yangon. It is evidence of the government’s decision to open Myanmar to international business. But there are problems at an industrial development area near the city. The area is known as the Thilawa Special Economic Zone. It is a joint project between Myanmar and Japan for foreign manufacturers.
Thousands of people in the area say the military began illegally seizing their property ownership records more than 20 years ago. They say they were forced from the land after it became valuable.
Saw Min is among the villagers who say they had more than 320 hectares of farmland taken by the military. Her family was forced to move to a small building opposite her property. The farmland is now being developed for housing, and is said to be worth millions of dollars.
Saw Min is exploring every legal method to be paid for the land.
She says, “They claimed that we didn’t have legal ownership of the land and they forced us to leave. I cannot move from here. I don’t have another place to move to. So we keep defending our land by showing ownership documents, and sending letters to the chairman of parliament.”
The story is similar for thousands of other people. Myanmar’s president has promised that the government will investigate all reports of land seizures. But many rights groups say the government is not doing enough. So they are asking foreign companies investing in developments in Myanmar to help them. They want the businesses to do a better job of identifying who has the legal right to the land they are purchasing.
For now, the country’s property laws seem weak, and the future is unclear for people like Tamya Tay. She was displaced because of a development project.
She says, “I don’t know how to claim the money for my land. I don’t understand much about laws and my legal rights. I hope that I will get a payment when my neighbors do.”
Community leader Makon Suha is also not sure he will be paid for the land he has farmed for years. He says he lost nearly 20 hectares of land to the economic zone. He is urging a member of parliament to take the claims of the villagers to the Farmlands Investigation Committee.
He says “I don’t understand laws and land rights. That is why they are cheating on us as they wish. We, all normal citizens of Myanmar, are suffering a lot. Only friends of the military are doing well here.”
Land development and foreign investment are growing in Myanmar as the country opens up following years of military dictatorship. The land cases are a test for whether the country’s new economic policies will increase many people’s earnings -- or the earnings of just a few.
I’m Caty Weaver.
*Correspondent Steve Sandford reported this story from Myanmar. George Grow wrote the story for VOA Learning English. He also narrated and produced it. Christopher Cruise edited it.
Words in This Story
property – n. anything owned by someone such as land, buildings or goods
control – n. the ability to direct the actions of someone or something; the power to make decisions about something
industrial – adj. relating to any business that produces goods or services
development – n. growth; the act of creating something
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