BURMA MYANMAR : LAND GRABBING – Debate rages over origins of Thamee Kalay Village


A family whose’s house has been destroyed was leaving from the village carrying their belongings seen on 4 February (Photo-EMG)
A family whose’s house has been destroyed was leaving from the village carrying their belongings seen on 4 February (Photo-EMG)

HLEGU—Early on the morning of February 4, officials used force to remove the residents of Thamee Kalay Village in Sarbu Down Village tract, Hlegu Township, saying the villagers were living on the land of military forces. The government used a work force of more than 1,000 to destroy the village, which contained more than 150 households with more than 500 people.

People of all ages, including children and the elderly, had to abandon their homes without any chance of an appeal. Since then they have faced many difficulties in living, from a lack of sufficient food resources to serious physical and mental health challenges. After becoming instant refugees in just one day, many are experiencing nightmares.

National League for Democracy MP Phyo Min Thein (Hlegu Township), concerning the forced removal of the villagers, said that Thamee Kalay village was only created last year and thus was never an issue before that. So, public debate has erupted over whether it really existed or not.

In an interview with the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), Phyo Min Thein said that Thamee Kalay came into being early last year on the junction of four roads—Taikgyi, Phyugyi, Phaunggyi and Phayagyi.

“It is a tar paved road. On both sides of that road were lands owned by the military, which had seized the lands along the Bago Yoma Region until they reached and established Yemon military town and then connected the village with it. So, the land became military land and they (the military men) planted rubber plantations there,” said the NLD MP.

“In 2012 or 2013, there were rumours that the military had abandoned these lands in that area. So, the people from the neighbouring villages came to that place and buying and selling occurred. About 10,000 acres were sold last year. At the place near Lagunpyin Dam in Hlegu and Bago, the Thamee Kalay Village came into life. There was a man named Kyaw Kyaw who bought more than 200 or 300 acres in that village. From his acres, he gave about 50 acres to the people to establish a village.”

Phyo Min Thein said that whoever wants to take land is free to do so at random. Across from Lagunbyin Creek, he explained, there are privately owned rubber plantations and farmland. Some people who work at the plantations sometimes moonlight as land brokers. On the other hand, he added, the investors include former army captains who come to buy the land.

“When they [the people who work at the plantations] cleared the land, they charged the investors with a labour fee of about Ks 30,000 for normal clearing and Ks 50,000 for special clearing. In doing so, a village was founded. The village is not on the list recognised by the government, and during the 2012 election, the village did not exist. Kyaw Kyaw set up a village administration committee using his own ways. The village was established by him using the Administrator Law enacted by the Union parliament. It is a kind of village founded by him.”

Aung Ko, general administrator of Hlegu Township, agrees.

“Thamee Kalay Village did not exist in the past,” he said. “It was not named as a ‘village’ on the Ministry of Home Affairs list of towns and villages. The people who lived there only came after 2013.”

However, the residents say that Thamee Kalay was strongly established as a village because the presence of a charity-run school, a dispensary, a monastery, and a library indicate some of the key characteristics of a village.

“I’m 37 years old now. I was born here and I’ve always lived here. The village existed since the time I was born. My parents lived here, so we also lived here. We have had nowhere to go since our houses were destroyed, so we are taking refuge at the monastery,” said Chaw Su, a resident of Thamee Kalay Village whose house was taken down.

“I’ve been living at this village for 25 years. This Thamee Kalay Old Village existed in the past. Back then, the village was like a ‘Kayinsu’ village. We were scattered in small groups,” said Nilar, one of the evicted residents of Thamee Kalay Village.

Some families that had been living at Thamee Kalay Village for many generations claimed that their village had existed for several decades and that they had participated in a census.

“We have been living here since our mother lived here. I’m over 40 years old. We’ve been living here for many generations. Some have moved here in recent years. There are many villagers who have been living here for many years, like us,” said Ma Phyu.

Although there is disagreement between local residents and authorities over the existence of Thamee Kalay Village, the stone inscription on the nearby Lagunpyin Dam project says that Thamee Kalay Village really did exist. According to the inscription dated November 28, 2000, the dam project, which was completed in 2000 under the rule of the State Peace and Development Council, is located near Thamee Kalay Village in Hlegu Township.

Those sources would appear to prove that the village did not emerge in 2013 but has existed for 20 or 30 years, as the local villagers have said. The forced removal of a village that had existed for so long has attracted public criticism against the government. It has also harmed the dignity of the military, causing misunderstanding between the people and the Tatmadaw.

A public demand has erupted that the president and the commander-in-chief of Defence Services should launch an investigation into the case of Thamee Kalay Village.

There have also been calls for the legislative sector to intervene in this dispute. The most important thing is that humanitarian aid should be provided to the homeless. Resettlement plans should also be made for the evicted villagers with the use of public funds.

###This is social injustice. We seriously denounce the military for forcefully and unlawfully evicting the villagers of “Tha Mee Lay” village of Hle Gue township, Rangoon Division, Myanmar (Burma)

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