Burma Gov’t Failing Ethnic People, Says Karenni Politician

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The leader of an ethnic Karenni political party has cited the ongoing struggle between farmers and the Burma Army over control of land in Karenni (Kayah) State as evidence of the Burmese government’s failure to uphold the rights of ethnic people.

“I think they [the government] are just exerting control over ethnic rights. They have failed to implement the policies that ethnic people really want,” said Sai Naing Naing Htwe, the chairman of the Kayah State Democratic Party (KSDP).

There are currently a total of 17 Karenni farmers facing legal charges laid against them by the Burma Army in several different land disputes in the state.

So far, said Sai Naing Naing Htwe, no government official or lawmaker has spoken up on behalf of the farmers, who have been accused of trespassing on public lands or damaging public property for trying to reclaim land seized from them by the army.

According to Sai Naing Naing Htwe, the government’s new Vacant, Fallow and Virgin (VFV) Land Management Law is inappropriate in ethnic areas because it doesn’t recognize the customary land ownership practices of ethnic people.

In effect, he said, it is merely a tool used to bully farmers.

The law was opposed by most ethnic parties in both the upper and lower houses of the Union parliament. The KSDP said that the passage of the law showed that the government was blind to the needs of ethnic people.

According to a recent report by the Kayah Earthrights Action Network (KEAN), the introduction of the VFV Law is just the latest instance of the Burmese government failing to recognize the reality of life in ethnic areas and the rights of ethnic people.

“The government needs to observe the situation on the ground before it introduces new mechanisms. But it failed to do this,” said Hpoe Sewt, who works with KEAN, told Kantarawaddy News.

The report, published in August 2019 and titled “Federal Land Governance: Haze Still Shrouding the Land Sector in Myanmar,” warned that ignoring the rights of ethnic people, including their right to govern land ownership according to their own customs, could have an adverse impact on efforts to build a future federal union.

The Burma Army and various government departments have routinely seized land in Karenni State since the early 1960s, when the military first seized power in the country, the report says.

Private companies have also been guilty of the same practice in the years since Burma’s military rulers abandoned socialism in the early 1990s.

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