By NAW DWE EH KHU / KANTARAWADDY TIMES
Nearly 300 people turned out on Monday for a court hearing in the case of 15 farmers from the village of Dawsoshay in Karenni (Kayah) State’s Demoso Township who are facing charges of trespassing on land seized from them by the Burma Army.
Many of those who attended the hearing, who included farmers and members of local civil society organizations from Demoso and Hpruso townships, said they had come out in a show of support for the defendants.
“Well, we are farmers, just like them. Even though we can’t help them, we want to show our support,” said a farmer from Hpruso Township who spoke to Kantarawaddy Times.
The farmers from Dawsoshay have been locked in a longstanding dispute with the Burma Army’s Artillery Battalion 360 over ownership of the land, which was first seized more than a decade ago.
“Our graveyard is located there. There are other religious sites in the area. This is our inherited land. Our ancestors lived in this area for many, many years, and they also died here. We cannot yield to them. We will try to get our land back. We have nothing to eat. In this case, we won’t retreat,” Sor Reh, one of the defendants, told Kantarawaddy Times.
Even after the army seized the land, the farmers were allowed to continue using it to grow crops until this year, when the new battalion commander changed the procedure.
According to the Dawsoshay farmers, they now need to ask permission from army officials before they can plow on the farmland.“Our people need this farmland. It’s impossible for them to live without it. We will seek justice and truth under the law,” said Khun Thomas, another defendant in the case.
A total of 17 Karenni farmers are facing charges in the case. Of these, 11 have been accused of violating Section 447 of Burma’s Penal Code, which deals with trespassing on public lands. Two others have been charged under Section 6(1) of the Public Property Protection Act, and another four face charges under both laws.
Three more Karenni farmers are facing similar charges by the Burma Army in Loikaw Township. Of the total in both townships, nine are being held in prison in Loikaw.