Mese Township Locals Say Govt is Using Trespassing Charges to Take Their Land

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Locals have objected to the prosecution of five people in Karenni State’s Mese Township for allegedly trespassing on forest land that the government says it owns.

The Karenni State government has announced plans to build a public park on the road outside of Mese town, leading locals to wonder whether they are being forced from their land plots for this reason.

Phyo Phyo Swe, who is among those facing charges from the forest department, said she purchased a ravine in the forest and filled it in with soil in 2012 to make it a usable land plot.

“Why did they seize my land plot? When we took this land, it was a ravine. Then we filled soil into the ravine. After everything was complete, they came to seize our land plot,” she told Kantarawaddy Times.

Kaung Myat Thu, who is also being prosecuted, said that his presence on the land—since 1998—pre-dates that of the government’s forest department. He and others have already planted bananas, cardamom and other crops on their land plots.

“There was no office for the forest department at that time. Now they have prosecuted me for trespassing on the government’s forest. Then they came to build buildings on my land plots during the prosecution,” Kaung Myat Thu said.

Those charged have attended three rounds of court hearings. Three have sent an open letter to the state parliament, leading the parliamentary committee which monitors complaints to come and observe the situation on the ground in Mese on November 16. They have tried to negotiate between those facing charges and the forest department.

There are reportedly 15 people who are using the forest land outside of Mese, but locals have questioned why five people have been singled out as “trespassers.”

Kantarawaddy Times is looking further into local allegations that the sister of Karenni State chief minister L Phoung Sho is among those who owns a land plot in the government’s forest area. She is not one of the five people being prosecuted for trespassing.

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