Soldiers threaten to torch villages and murder civilians as they order residents to abandon homes 

Soldiers ordered the residents of two Mandalay Region villages to permanently leave their land last week and threatened to burn down their homes and murder civilians if they failed to comply, locals have told Myanmar Now. 

About 40 junta troops arrived at the neighbouring villages of Ngwe Taung and Nyaung Wun in Singu Township on Friday and called a meeting with residents, a Ngwe Taung local said. 

“They told us that we had one week to move or they’d burn the village and shoot anyone who tried to escape. Some have alread​​y started moving,” he said. 

Residents of both villages have been locked in a dispute with the military over the land for several years. 

The military first seized land in the area “for farming and livestock purposes” in 1972, but the former army-backed home affairs minister Lieutenant General Ko Ko returned some of it in 2015 as part of political reforms that were extinguished by this year’s coup. 

Then in 2019 Captain Zaw Win Naing of the 121st Supply and Transport Battalion filed a lawsuit against over 100 farmers, claiming the military had given them 75 acres of land out of 2,091 acres that were disputed. Villagers had been building houses on land that had not been returned to them, he claimed.

The villagers filed a counter suit, but the case was never resolved, and has made no progress since the military’s February power grab. Now, the junta has decided to simply take back the land by force. 

“We had to agree because they had weapons,” said another local. “Some are now forced to live under teak trees and in the foothills. We’re in a really tight situation.” 

The military’s information department could not be reached for comment. An officer at the Singu Township court said he could not discuss the case because it was ongoing. 

A Mandalay-based lawyer who specialises in land ownership disputes said it was an “abuse of power” to force the villagers out of their homes while the lawsuit was still underway.

“It’s something they shouldn’t do but as we all know, the military does not understand or care about any law. They are just doing as they please,” said the lawyer.

During its reign from 2016, the National League for Democracy government was widely criticised for failing to check the military or stand up for villagers during land disputes, and it passed a controversial law that critics said would further enable land grabbing. 

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