Minbya: Military Operation Command 9, or Sa-Ka-Ka 9, based in Kyauktaw has filed charges against three farmers from Palaepauk, also known as Balipauk Village, in Minbra Township in northern Arakan State.
The farmers were identified as U Maung Pu, U Ah Lone Maung, and U Kyaw Zan Rhwe, the elders of Palaepauk Village. Captain Wai Yan Phyo of MOC (9) is said to be the main plaintiff in the case that was filed against them in the township police station in Minbra.
“The army filed suit on 28 June against the three of us, because we are the elders in our village, in proxy for the villagers on charges that the villagers are illegally cultivating their own farmland. Captain Wai Phyo Yan is said to have come to Minbra Police Station and filed the case against us, but he has not charged the other villagers,” said U Maung Pu, on of the defendants in the lawsuit.
MOC (9) forcibly confiscated 415 acres of farmland owned by the farmers in Palaepauk Village in 2004 and has subsequently been renting the land back to the farmers for paddy cultivation at a price of 13 baskets of paddy per acre each season.
The farmers made an appeal to President U Thein Sein to return their confiscated land after the new civilian government was installed after elections in 2010.
“Our appeal to the president was made in September last year. All of our villagers had signed the appeal that requested the president return our confiscated farmland because we traditionally owned those farmlands and we are still dependent on that land for our livelihoods,” said U Maung Pu.
The township administrator is said to have arrived to their village in March this year regarding their appeal and told them that the farmland was no longer owned by the army; it was divided equally among themselves for their cultivation.
“After the township administrator told us, our village administrator also told us of the order of the township municipal department that asked us to collectively cultivate the farmland. Sp, we have already plowed the land with the 50 pairs of oxen for cultivation for this season, and the army has come and filed charges against us on allegations of trespassing on its land,” said U Maung Pu.
He said the three of them were arrested by the police just after charges were filed, but they were later released on bail.
“Minbra police arrested us on 28 June just after the case was filed and interrogated us. The township in-charge of the police started interrogating us and asking why we cultivated the land owned by the army without its permission. They will call us again for their investigation. And then our case will be submitted to the township court,” he said.
There are 20 farmers who have plowed their farmland that had been previously confiscated by the army. Many of the villagers are now worried that they will face more trouble when they are already suffering stringent poverty if they have to face charges by the army.