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

US, China Have Dueling Definitions of Cybersecurity

Analysts say attribution or or proving that a particular individual or government is responsible for a hack, is a daunting task More

Snowden: I'd Go to Prison to Return to US

Former NSA contractor says he has not received a formal plea-deal offer from US officials, who consider him to be a traitor More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
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.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs