Saturday, April 25, 2009

Student report slams Burmese military’s ethnic land grabs

By Violet Cho: Pacific Media Centre

Three Burmese ethnic youth and student organisations in Thailand have strongly condemned the military regime’s policy of increasing militarisation and seizing land without compensation.

The forced land confiscations cause widespread problems for civilians throughout Burma, the movements say in a new report.

The report, titled "Holding Our Ground" - documented by the All Arakan Students’ and Youths’ Congress, Mon Youth Progressive Organisation and Pa-O Youth Organisation, says military government mismanagement and militarisation of ethnic lands causes daily suffering for Burmese citizens who do not have enough food and water or enough income to provide education for their young.

According to the report, the regime has confiscated lands for house barracks, outposts and training sites for the troops.

The seized lands are also being used for farming and gardening in order to supplement rations and generate additional income for the troops.

The land grabbing from civilians has increased drastically due to a policy of self-reliance whereby the Burmese army must produce its own food and obtain basic materials.

Aung Marm Oo, chief author of the report, said: “The abundance of natural resources and biodiversity, together with the presence of rebel groups, have seen these three areas suffer a high level of land confiscation as part of the SPDC’s [“State Peace and Development Council”] policy of increased militarisation and the exploitation of natural resources for profit.”

Another reason for land confiscation is government construction and so-called development projects of building dams, mining and destruction of the forest for building roads.

Forced labour
These projects often use forced labour and have disastrous environmental effects in many areas.

Burmese troops have set up their posts in civilian lands to protect international corporations that are working in Burma.

A villager from near Kyauk-phyu township in Arakan state, in western Burma, said: “The army is based there not for waging war but for guarding foreign companies involved in oil and gas exploration in Arakan coastal areas.”

The military regime policy of increasing troop deployments has caused many ethnic villagers to flee, abandoning their land and property. Consequently, tens of thousands of people are fleeing Burma in search of a better life.

The Burmese military is constantly expanding to sustain the continual growth of the regime’s power.

Military infrastructure is developed while civilian needs are repeatedly neglected.

The obsession with increasing the size of Burma’s army is underlined by the fact that in the period 1993-2004, 29 percent of central government spending went on defence, while the corresponding health and education figures were only 3 percent and 8 percent respectively.

Today, the SPDC Army numbers around 490,000; having more than doubled in size since 1989. There are an additional 72,000 people in the Myanmar Police Force, including 4500 in the paramilitary police.

This corresponds to roughly one soldier for every 100 citizens, despite Burma facing no external enemies.

Violet Cho is the Asian Journalism Fellow at AUT’s Pacific Media Centre.

Irrawaddy magazine
Holding Our Ground report

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