Despite Political Progress, Tension over Land and Resources Continues in Burma

According to this New York Times article, one police officer was killed and dozens of people were injured on February 26 when villagers protesting land seizures clashed with security forces in Maubin, Burma. The protesters claim they were never compensated when their land was confiscated and sold to a wealthy businessman 17 years ago. According to Lt. Col. Tot Shwe of the police, “it is an old problem, but now it has exploded.”

Recent positive political reforms have granted Burmese citizens, journalists, and civil society organizations greater freedom to debate contentious issues – including land tenure and resources rights – and this protest is the latest event to highlight the visible tensions over the rights to land and natural resources in the country. In November, protests over the expansion of a copper mine turned violent and, 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”.

Addressing these issues is essential for reducing conflict and promoting peace and economic growth in Burma. As we noted in a previous commentary about the tensions between various stakeholders over land, mineral, and other resource rights as the country undergoes significant political reforms, the USAID Land Tenure and Property Rights Division is preparing to undertake an assessment with the intent of helping the Government of Burma assess tenure and property rights challenges and identify potential opportunities for addressing them.


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