By NAY AUNG | FRONTIER
MAGWAY — The Magway Region government has announced plans to form a commission to investigate the deaths of at least 26 villagers in a melee sparked by a dispute over farming land in Yenangyaung Township on July 23.
Most of the fatalities occurred when a boat capsized on the Ayeyarwady River during the confrontation between the residents of Phaye Kyun and Kantha villages over a disputed plot of 2.8 hectares (seven acres) on an alluvial island in the waterway.
The victims of the clash included a 13-year-old schoolboy and a 55-year-old man. More than 46 people remained missing as of July 27, officials said.
The dispute had its genesis in August 2017, when the government resettled the 30 households of Kantha village to a new site near the disputed land because their old village was threatened by riverbank erosion.
The disputed plot is on alluvial land, which is defined under the Farmland Law as an unstable area of sand that is flooded during the monsoon and prone to change shape.
In August 2018, the residents of Phaye Kyun village, about three miles from the disputed plot, complained to the General Administration Department in Yenangyaung Township that Kantha villagers were building houses on the disputed land, which is claimed by Phaye Kyun residents.
Phaye Kyun villagers were dissatisfied with the response to their complaint. The next month, village elders and others held talks with township GAD officials at a meeting attended by about 250 residents.
The meeting was inconclusive and Phaye Kyun villagers continued to push for a resolution. Between 2018 and 2019 they raised their concerns in two letters to the township GAD, and one each to the district GAD, the Magway regional government and to the Magway Region Minister of Border Affairs.
Regional government officials told a news conference in Magway town on July 26 that the residents of both villages had prevented them from surveying the disputed land.
Tensions between the two communities escalated on July 13 after Phaye Kyun villagers forcibly dismantled a house being built by Kantha residents on the disputed land. Kantha villagers responded by filing a complaint against the Phaye Kyun villagers at the main police station in Yenangyaung on July 14.
After Phaye Kyun villagers complained again to the township GAD about houses being built on the disputed land, the elders of both villagers were summoned and urged to end the dispute, the news conference was told.
The district administrator sent a letter to each village, calling on both sides to show restraint and avoid conflict, on July 23, the day the melee erupted.
Police have said that the investigation into the incident could result in murder charges.