Golden Land

As Burma opens its door to the outside world, land issues have surfaced as one of the focus points during the political transition. Under the previous government, land was frequently confiscated from farmers with little or no compensation and given to people within the former regime and those who collaborated with the military. With the opening of the country, land issues explore how the new government will handle investments, demonstrations, and political disagreements after nearly 50 years of totalitarian rule. Though farmers in Burma have recently been able to protest against profuse land grabbing that occurred under the former regime, it is a practice that is still manifesting under the new government, which has recently opened to global investment. Land seizures are happening in both cities and in the countryside by private companies, the government and the well connected. New Special Economic Zones meant to boost the country’s production and help grow its economy have been put in place, along with a rise in land prices, land grabbing, and a lack of proper compensation, if any. In light of these occurrences, people throughout the country have found themselves homeless, due to unclear land laws left over from the previous regime. The new Foreign Investment Law, allows 100 per cent foreign-owned companies to invest in Myanmar, and under the current Farmland Law, the state remains the sole owner of land in the country, and holds the right to decide upon its use. A revised Foreign Investment Law is currently waiting approval by the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw. In December of 2014, the government will put in effect a new land use policy. Yet, most people in rural Burma think it focuses more on development and investors rather than on proper handling of land under democratic terms. Those affected feel there is lack of support for small-scale farmers who make up the majority of the country’s population. How Burma balances its land laws while being open for investment is a test for the government and what direction the country will head toward.

Photography, Journalism, Photojournalism
Yangon, Burma- November 11, 2012: Graffiti with the famous quote by Leo Tolstoy is often seen tagged on Yangon walls since the country underwent a political transition. Burma has recently opened its doors to international investment, but unclear land laws with few changes remain in place, which are left over from the days of military rule.
Yangon, Burma - February 14, 2014: People sell there wares outside a new building on Anawrata Street in downtown Yangon. Previously, tenants living in an older building at the location were forced to move and complained of improper compensation after a development company wanted to build on the land.
Yangon, Burma - March 7, 2014: Land grab victims from Michaung Kan in eastern Yangon have been testing their new freedom to hold protests.  They have formed a long standing sit-in at their protest camp, as well as sending petitions to the government. Their land was confiscated many years ago by the former military government.
Thanhlyn Township, Burma - February 11, 2013: A farmer in the designated Thilawa Economic Zone works in his field. New Special Economic Zones meant to boost the country’s production have been put in place, along with a rise in land prices, land grabbing, and a lack of proper compensation.
Thanhlyn Township, Burma - February 11, 2013: A sign for real estate purchase in Thilawa is seen on the road to Burma's first fully functional economic zone. Japan’s Thilawa SEZ Company Ltd. signed a joint-partnership agreement with Myanmar Thilawa SEZ Holdings Public Ltd. to develop the area. Burma has recently opened its doors to international investment, but unclear land laws with few changes remain in place. Though military generals gave up some of their power since 2011, land seizure has not stopped. Many farmers in Thilawa complained their land was confiscated from them without proper compensation.
Thanhlyn Township, Burma - Febuary 11, 2013: A farmer carries water to her home in the Thilawa New Economic Zone. Japan’s Thilawa SEZ Company Ltd. signed a joint-partnership agreement with Myanmar Thilawa SEZ Holdings Public Ltd. to develop the area. Burma has recently opened its doors to international investment, but unclear land laws with few changes remain in place. Though military generals gave up some of their power since 2011, land seizure has not stopped. Many farmers in Thilawa complained their land was confiscated from them without proper compensation.
Alawun Sut, Burma - February 11, 2013: A farmer in Alawun Sut, a village in the new Thilawa Econmic Zone sits inside his home with an eviction notice posted outside. People of the village were threatened with having their homes bulldozed. Their land was confiscated by the former military government, but they were allowed to rent the land for farming. The land is meant to be used for development by a private company, but farmers complained of unfair compensation.
Thanhlyn Township, Burma - Febuary 2, 2013: A new housing project in Burma's Thilawa Economic zone, which is the first functional economic zone in the country. Japan’s Thilawa SEZ Company Ltd. signed a joint-partnership agreement with Myanmar Thilawa SEZ Holdings Public Ltd. to develop the area. Burma has recently opened its doors to international investment, but unclear land laws with few changes remain in place. Though military generals gave up some of their power since 2011, land seizure has not stopped. Many farmers in Thilawa complained their land was confinscated from them without proper compensation.
Hlaingtar Township, Burma - February 9, 2013: Roughly 600 people descended on vacant land in Hlaingtar Township and began building homes. Tensions rose and a face off against police and officials occured. The people began building homes on the land owned by a construction company, because many stated they previously had their land taken or their homes demolished by the former military regime and were left homeless.
Hlaingtar Township, Burma - February 9, 2013: The woman in the photo said she was left homeless after having her home demolished for building developments in another township; she was offered no compensation. She said she had no where to go so she joined roughly 600 other people to build a home on vacant land owned by a construction company. The end result was a face off between police and officials.
Yangon, Burma - April 22, 2014: Farmers meet with Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League of Democracy to voice their concerns and ask for assistance regarding land that had been confiscated. Burma has recently opened its doors to international investment, but unclear land laws with few changes remain in place. Though military generals gave up some of their power since 2011, land seizure has not stopped.
Yangon, Burma - January 17, 2014: Roughly 500 farmers from throughout Burma—from six provinces and states staged a protest to call for the return of land taken under the country’s military regime and for trespassing charges not to be used against farmers who were forced to give up their land. The government had declined their request to protest, but the farmers went ahead with the campaign, two protest leaders were later charged for organizing the peaceful demonstration.
Yangon, Burma - January 17, 2014: Roughly 500 farmers from throughout Burma—from six provinces and states staged a protest to call for the return of land taken under the country’s military regime and for trespassing charges not to be used against farmers who were forced to give up their land. The government had declined their request to protest, but the farmers went ahead with the campaign, two protest leaders were later charged for organizing the peaceful demonstration.