Tension over Land and Mineral Rights in Burma

Recent stories in the Globe and Mail, the Telegraph, BBC and the International Herald Tribune all highlight the significant tensions in Burma between various stakeholders over land, mineral, and other resource rights as the country undergoes significant political reforms. Though the reported details vary, communities in the Sagaing region are resisting attempts by the government to relocate them to allow expansion of mining operations by Wanbao Mining, a Chinese company. An estimated 7,800 acres of land were due to be expropriated for the expansion, requiring extensive forced evictions. According to the reports, the expansion would require the resettlement of approximately 26 villages.

The extensive reporting on the copper mine controversy, both in the international and Burmese press, as well as the on-going protests and advocacy by civil society organizations and citizens against the resettlement, reflect the sweeping positive political reforms taking place in Burma. A National Dialogue on Land Tenure and Land-use Rights recently convened in Rangoon, exemplifying the expanding political space for debate. Nonetheless, communities and advocacy groups claim that the government’s methods are heavy-handed.

According to the BBC, “Between 20 and 30 protestors, many of them Buddhist monks, were injured, some with severe burns after the camps were set alight” while The Globe and Mail opened its story with the headline, “Myanmar security forces assault protestors”. People in the affected villages also claim that the government used intimidation to coerce people to agree to terms that they did not understand. According to the BBC, one villager recounted the process of discussions with government representatives: “One of the farmers said he did not accept the deal – then they arrested him and they threatened us. We were all afraid, so we agreed to the deal, but they made us sign a contract we did not understand.”

The USAID Land Tenure and Property Rights Division will be undertaking an assessment in February, 2013 with the intent of helping the Government of Burma assess tenure and property rights challenges and identify potential opportunities for addressing them. As the Government of Burma expands its political and economic reforms, the use of more transparent, participatory, and equitable processes that recognize and respect citizen’s land and other property rights will be an essential step for reducing and mitigating conflicts and promoting economic growth.


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