Land Management Under Federalism: Not Possible Under Current System

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By Soe Hteik Aung/Kantarawaddy Times

Practising land governance that adheres to the principles of federalism isn’t possible under current land laws, says a Karenni environmental group.

Saw Eh Say, from Kayah Earthrights Action Network (KEAN), says it’s only possible if the current land management system is “overcome.”

Land stewardship under federalism isn’t just for Karenni State, he says. “It’s for the whole country.”

Federalism allows specific regions, states and ethnic groups to manage their own land, Saw Eh Express explained, but under the current system all of the land is controlled by the central government.

The Karenni State Farmers Union (KSFU) wants Parliament to enact a federal land law.

During a press conference last year on land policy, the government ordered Karenni civil society organisations (CSOs) to remove signs that stated “there is no vacant, fallow and virgin in Karenni State.”

The CSOs’ statement was about the government’s amendment to the Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Lands Management Law, which requires unregistered landowners to apply for 30-year leases from the government, or face trespassing charges. Most of the land affected by the amendment is in ethnic areas where customary land systems have been in place for generations.

Last year, the Tatmadaw convicted farmers for trespassing and farming on land idle since it took it in the ’90s.

The Demawso court found 19 farmers guilty of criminal trespassing in mid-March after they challenged the Tatmadaw for confiscating their land. They received fines of 10,000 kyat (US$7) or 15 days in prison. Others were sentenced to six months hard labour.

Farmers who were already detained had their time served deducted from their prison sentence. Others opted to pay the fine.

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