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7 Sep 2015

Thomson Reuters Foundation

Myanmar: Prominent land rights activist appears in court

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"Myanmar activist in court as land crackdown deepens, rights groups say", 4 Sept 2015

A prominent farmers' activist in Myanmar appeared in court...in what watchdog organisations say is part of an escalating crackdown on land rights campaigners. Saw Maung Gyi, an activist from the 88 Karen Generation Student Organization, was accused of habouring someone from an armed group...If convicted, Saw Maung Gyi faces up to three years in prison. Human Rights Watch said he is a victim of "government intimidation" based on "trumped-up charges". The case is part of a broader campaign targeting land rights activists, as corrupt politicians and businessmen connected to Myanmar's powerful military aim to push small farmers off their ancestral territory, the rights group said. "Land rights issues have become the number one national issue," David Mathieson, senior researcher with Human Rights Watch (HRW) in Yangon...[said]...While powerful businessmen and military officials are responsible for most of the displacement, foreign investors from China, Thailand, Japan, India and South Korea often benefit from land grabs, using the territory as a base for infrastructure projects, manufacturing, plantations or mining, Mathieson said. One example is in Tanintharyi region in Myanmar's south, where palm oil plantations are expanding, said Jennifer Franco, a researcher with the Transnational Institute..."At least in the initial phase, it's less about deals with foreign companies and more about deals with domestic elites...I think there is a lot of potential for the arena of land conflicts to get worse before they get better."