News / Asia

    Burmese Investment Boom Fuels Worries Over Land Grabs

    Burmese farmers look at police from inside a monastery in protest against the seizing of farmland across 26 villages for a copper mine project in Sarlingyi Township, September 12, 2012.
    Burmese farmers look at police from inside a monastery in protest against the seizing of farmland across 26 villages for a copper mine project in Sarlingyi Township, September 12, 2012.
    Ron Corben
    The opening of Burma’s economy to foreign investors is leading to conflicts over land confiscation, as politically-connected businessmen seize agricultural lands for development projects. The problem has led to the government’s creation of a commission to deal with mounting complaints. A $50 billion special economic zone in southeastern Burma is the latest area of concern.
     
    Seized land

    In Burma, all land is nominally owned by the state, leaving small-scale farmers without legal land titles.
     
    Over the years, businesses with connections to the country’s military government were able to seize land from farmers and villagers, mostly to build lucrative mining or agricultural projects. Many of those who lost their lands received little compensation.
     
    Now, as the government considers new laws to attract foreign investors, activists say there has been a rash of land seizures with up to 3.6 million hectares being taken by government, private companies and the military as the economy prepares for more foreign investment.
     
    “One of the things that we’re seeing coming up all over Burma is land problems - seizures of land - unauthorized taking of land - by well connected wealthy people. Burma is starting to see similarly in areas that previously were not considered to be very important," explained Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia director for U.S.-based Human Rights Watch. "All of a sudden they are starting to look vulnerable and people with connections are displacing farmers and others.”
     
    Burma’s Army, which has a long history of land seizures, is also accused of continuing to grab land in ethnic areas. Khin Ohmar is spokesperson for the rights group Burma Partnership, who says the moves are fueling suspicion about the army’s plans. “We’ve been getting reports of the army taking the large [amounts of] land in ethnic areas - building the army camps," he said. "So the question comes, why are they building the new army camps in the democratic climate; democratic transition?”
     
    Villagers speak out

    While activists say the problem is worsening, there are signs that the government is responding to the issue through the creation of the land commission under the Office of the President.
     
    Kevin Woods, a researcher with Amsterdam-based Transnational Institute, says the commission illustrates the new “political space” that allows protestors to file complaints -- in stark contrast with the past.
     
    “It was never possible before for villagers to speak out about this or else they would disappear. And suddenly now it’s possible - not of course without intimidation from authority figures, but people are not disappearing from raising these issues and it’s having a kind of domino effect in terms of other villagers,” stated Woods.
     
    Displacement risk, land confiscation

    Of particular concern is the $50 billion, 250 square kilometer Dawei Special Economic Zone in southeastern Burma. The project, strategically located to link to Thai transport routes, has been a key initiative for Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
     
    Transnational Institute in its latest report says the Thai-backed project is putting more than 30,000 people, 20 primary schools and numerous temples, at risk of being displaced.
     
    The Dawei Development Corp says it has new accommodations for those displaced along with lump sum payments. But residents fear a loss of their livelihoods.
     
    The Institute’s Woods says new land laws and foreign investment laws will leave small scale farmers vulnerable in government moves to set up a “land market” in Burma. “You have created a situation that could potentially eliminate the livelihoods of 70 per cent of the country’s population which are small holder farmers. When we talk about progressive laws, the country has literally put their land up for sale when the vast majority of people are directly reliant about that for their livelihood.”
     
    But Asian Development Bank (ADB) economist Alfredo Perdiquero says while land confiscation is a concern there appears to be some progress in dealing with the issue.
     
    “The situation will improve for several reasons. You can see already people are starting to become more aware of their rights. The media is more open. So when there is some land confiscation - which is very unfair - this comes up in the media. Even in the north you hear stories of Chinese investment which is already providing much more significant compensation for land per acre than used to be,” Perdiquero noted.
     
    Analysts say the issue remains a key test of the Burmese government’s ability to entice foreign investment and create a government body to address the complaints of the country’s citizens.

    You May Like

    Clinton, Trump and the 'Woman’s Card'

    Ask supporters of Democratic front-runner in US presidential campaign, and they’ll tell you Republican presidential candidate is playing a dangerous hand

    Russian Censorship Group Seeks Chinese Help to Better Control Internet

    At recent Safe Internet League forum in Moscow, speakers from both nations underscored desire for authorities to further limit and control information online

    Video Makeshift Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Free classes in Islamabad park serve a few of the country’s nearly 25 million out-of-school youths; NGO cites ‘education crisis’

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Nga Aung
    October 23, 2012 6:51 AM
    Former Military Bureaucrats are taking over the lands unfairly ,by this way they can blackmail the next democractic government. Former Lands owners will be noisy and make new government to be crisis. They will laugh . Actually they have no actual Economic Idea by rightway. They can do unfair robbery economy by weapon.
    Please stop your brutal behavior. Most of the foreign debt were in your foreign accounts. Very shameful for paying from Japan.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora