Farmers face seven years in prison for filling canal with dirt so they could cross it

Nineteen farmers in Kayah state face up to more than seven years in prison for filling a canal with dirt to create a crossing so they could tend land on the other side.

The farmers, who are from Dawsoshae village in Demoso township, were hit with several lawsuits from four army captains who argued they had damaged public property and trespassed on military land.

But the farmers say they and their relatives have been tending the land for more than 50 years – and the newly-built canal made it hard for them to access the area to make their livelihoods.

The military built a barracks on the roughly 200 acres of land in 2004 and the canal in August. The dispute with the farmers started shortly before the canal was built.

“The military built a canal that blocked the only way to their farms and the peasants tried to cross it by filling it with earth,” said Khu Toorae, chair of the Karenni Peasants Union.

His union said farmers had been working on the land for at least 50 years.

Captains Htay Myint Kyaw, Arkar Min Htike, Ye Htun Oo and Aung Myo Htun from the 360thArtillery Battalion have filed six cases against the farmers since July.

They are suing them under a law that forbids damaging public property and carries a maximum sentence of seven years, and a law against trespassing that carries a three-month sentence.

One farmer, U Paskworle, is named in all six lawsuits while others are named in up to four lawsuits for the same offence.

Nine of the 19 are now in custody while the others have been released on bail.

Major General Tun Tun Nyi from the military’s True News Information Unit defended the decision to sue the farmers.

“I am not up to date on the cases yet but we don’t do things beyond the limit of the law,” he said. “There must be a valid reason. The court agreed to hear the case because the lawsuits are legal.”

The villagers’ next hearing is scheduled for November 26.

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