Karenni Farmers Handed Verdicts, Not Land

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Karenni farmers released from detention this week after being sentenced for time served in their protest against military-seized land remain dissatisfied with the ruling against them.

Nineteen farmers, equipment operators and land activists were sent home from jail on March 13 after a Demoso Township court sentenced them to 15 days’ imprisonment for violating Article 447 of the penal code on trespassing. The charges were brought by the Burma Army’s Artillery Battalion 360 when the villagers attempted to cultivate the land that had been taken from them.

Once the verdict was announced, some of those convicted stayed on to hear the rulings for their other charges, and, most importantly, on the status of their land. One piece of information that was not shared was whether the farmers will be granted access to their rotating farmland that the military now says belongs to the state.

Kalaw Mar is one of the Karenni farmers who was convicted this week.

“The judge didn’t say that we will get our rotating farm back. We don’t know where to work. We don’t know any other job. We only have this land. We have received this rotating farm from our ancestors. We don’t have another paddy field. There is nothing left in our hands. Everything is gone,” Kalaw Mar told Kantarawaddy Times.

She personally has lost more than 20 acres of her rotating farmland. Palyar Myar is in the same situation.

“We want to work on our old rotating farms. We have worked there for my entire life,” she explained.

A father of a farmer facing multiple charges, Lee Hpe said that while he is pleased that his son has been released from prison, questions of their future access to land and their survival loom.

“I want to ask whether they are going to return our rotating farm because we don’t have any extra land,” Lee Hpe said. “We don’t know whether they are going to return our land. I am happy for the release of my son, but we will have to become day laborers.”

Karenni farmer Ko Thomas, who was among those released from jail on March 13, said that they would send a petition to the respective authorities demanding that they sanction the return their farmland.

“We only have this land… We want to request that the authorities return our land as soon as possible,” Thomas told Kantarawaddy Times.

In addition to the 19 farmers whose verdicts were read on March 13, another 22 farmers were sentenced to imprisonment the same day in the state capital of Loikaw. There, Artillery Battalion 356 and LIB 250 prosecuted farmers from three villages, as well as land activists, charging them with violating five laws, including criminal trespassing, disturbing official duty and destruction of property, among others.

Artillery Battalion 356 and LIB 250 seized farms around the villages in question in order to build their camps on the land around 1990. They had allowed farmers to work on the confiscated land for years but stopped doing so in 2019. When the military erected a signboard and fenced in the land, the farmers still tried to cultivate the area. Charges were subsequently brought against them.

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