Much is in dispute surrounding nearly 2,000 acres of farmland in the ethnic Pa-O region of Hsi Hseng Township in southern Shan State, but native farmer Moe Bae is sure of two things: the land is owned by local farmers like her, and the military took it by force.
The 58-year-old is among more than 200 farmers who have been growing crops on over 1,900 acres (about 770 hectares) of farmland in the area since the early 1990s. Until early last month, the Pa-O farmer tended nursery corn and paddy on 8 acres of land she owned in Naung Kyaw Village-tract. But on May 17, soldiers came and destroyed many of the seasonal crops in the surrounding fields, including hers, claiming that nearly 2,000 acres of land in at least six villages in the area was military property.
Adding to the farmers’ dismay, in the same month the soldiers seized 29 hand-held tractor plows and filed complaints against nearly 30 farmers, including Moe Bae, suing them for trespassing under Article 447 of the Penal Code. Article 447 states, “Whoever commits criminal trespass shall be punished with imprisonment … for a term which may extend to three months, or with a fine which may extend to 50,000 kyats [about US$36], or with both.”