Myanmar govt denies crackdown claim by rights watchdog

A prominent farmers’ activist has appeared in court in what a watchdog organisation says is part of an escalating crackdown on land rights campaigners, the Thomson Reuters Foundation reported.

U Saw Maung Gyi, an activist from the 88 Karen Generation Student Organisation, appeared in court in the Kayin State capital, Hpa-an, on September 4, it said.

Police in Hpa-an said he had been charged with harbouring a member of an armed group, the foundation said.

U Saw Maung Gyi faces up to three years in prison if convicted, it said.

Watchdog group Human Rights Watch said he is a victim of “government intimidation” based on “trumped-up charges”.

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The case is part of a broader campaign targeting land rights activists, as corrupt politicians and businessmen connected to the military aim to push small farmers off their holdings, HRW said.

Political parties, especially in rural areas, are campaigning on land issues ahead of the November 8 general election, HRW’s senior researcher in Yangon, David Mathieson, told the foundation.

“If the military is connected to a land grab they will be reluctant to return it, regardless of who is in power,” he said.

The government denies a crackdown is taking place.

President U Thein Sein is working to resolve land rights disputes that occurred before his government came to power, a spokesperson said.

“There has been no con scation or grab cases during the tenure of U Thein Sein,” President’s Office spokesperson U Zaw Htay said in a statement to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“We have resolved about 60 percent of these land disputes [which started under previous governments] … by implementing laws and getting farmers to register for land titles,” U Zaw Htay said.

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