BURMA: Farmers lodge new complaint against army-owned company over caustic soda factory


Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAC-234-2011
ISSUES: Land rights, Right to food, Rule of law,

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has obtained details of a new complaint lodged by a group of farmers against the construction of another caustic soda factory in Kanma Township of central Burma. The factory project is an investment of an army-owned holding company. After a group of farmers in a neighbouring village made legal complaints against the construction of another such factory, they were attacked and charged with criminal offences (AHRC-UAC-073-2011). Now company officials, who are retired army officers, have announced that they will force farmers from their land for yet another factory. The farmers are vigorously opposing the new factory and have petitioned against it. They are calling for international support. The AHRC is especially concerned that in this case also the farmers will be subject to physical and legal threats because of their efforts to oppose the project.


On 16 September 2011 the administration in Wegyi Village Tract, Kanma Township called farmers to a meeting to discuss the construction of a caustic soda and PVC factory in the tract. At the meeting, the farmers unanimously opposed construction of the factory, stating that they wanted to continue using their ancestral lands peacefully as they had done throughout their lives. Nonetheless, the local administration head said that the lands belong to the state and whether the farmers liked it or not the project would begin in October.

According to the farmers, the company has prepared a report on the project in which it has falsely stated that the farmers have agreed to the project. They have sent letters to the government and company officials to make clear that they oppose the project, but so far they have not received any favourable response. Rather, at a meeting on September 22 they heard from one of the retired army officers running the project that the plans are complete and the work on the factory will start soon. Another of the former army officers present at that meeting had earlier verbally threatened farmers opposing the nearby project, which is already under construction, after which the farmers there had been physically assaulted and charged with criminal offences. Therefore, the farmers are justifiably concerned that if they oppose the project, as they are now doing, not only will they be unsuccessful but they will also be targeted for various types of retribution.

Further details of the case are in the sample letter below: your action is required to address the issues both of forced confiscation of land and also the assault and criminal case against the farmers.


As noted above, this complaint follows another recent case over the same project in the Kanma area, on which the AHRC has already issued an appeal: http://www.humanrights.asia/news/urgent-appeals/AHRC-UAC-073-2011.

We are pleased to inform that after the Sissayan case obtained widespread attention, the court hearing an appeal against the conviction of the farmers charged with false offences released them all on reduced sentences, although it did not overturn the convictions from the lower court. However, the project that they had been opposing, which led to the criminal charges against them, is still continuing, hence the new complaint from the farmers at Htaukma.

Recently, growing public pressure in Burma brought a halt to plans for construction of a huge dam on the Irrawaddy River, in Kachin State, near the border of China. The public advocacy around this issue both in Burma and abroad shows that the government in shifting to a semi-elected parliamentary form rather than overt military dictatorship is more susceptible to advocacy on projects affecting citizens’ livelihoods than it was in the past. At the same time, the number of such projects is accelerating rapidly as the country increasingly adopts a free-market model of the sort found in its neighbours. However, in the absence of the rule of law and with institutions that are ubiquitously corrupt, military-business interests set on pushing ahead with such projects face very few obstacles, and farmers like those in Kanma also have few avenues to oppose these projects. Hence, public advocacy on their behalf is especially important.

For more commentary on these and other human rights issues in Burma, visit the Burma page on the new AHRC website: http://www.humanrights.asia/countries/burma.

The AHRC Burmese-language blog is also updated constantly for Burmese-language readers, and covers the contents of urgent appeal cases, related news, and special analysis pieces.

Please write to the persons listed below to call for the factory project to be stopped until the farmers in Htaukma have been fully consulted, and for whatever decision is taken on the project to reflect their wishes. Also please urge that special attention be paid to the farmers’ wellbeing so that the former army officers running the project do not use their power to intimate, threaten and assault them as has been the case in neighbouring Sissayan. Please note that for the purposes of the letter Burma is referred to by its official name, Myanmar.

Please be informed that the AHRC is writing separate letters to the UN Special Rapporteurs on Myanmar and to the regional human rights office for Southeast Asia calling for interventions into this case.

To support this case, please click here: SEND APPEAL LETTER


Dear ___________,

MYANMAR: Farmers make new complaint against army-owned company’s factory project

Names of complainant farmers: On behalf of 88 farmers who have signed a petition against the project
1. U Win Kyi, farmer, resident of Htaukma village, Wegyi Tract, Kanma Township, Thayet District, Magway Region, Myanmar, holder of land in plot 281
2. U Htun Ngwe, farmer, resident of Wegyi village, Wegyi Tract, Kanma Township, holder of land in plot 279
3. U Win Htun, farmer, resident of Htaukma village, Wegyi Tract, Kanma Township, holder of land in plot 281(A)
Names of officials involved:
1. Major Win Myint, retired, now official of Myanma Economic Holdings Ltd.
2. Major Myo Swe, retired, Myanma Economic Holdings Ltd.
3. Major Htut Khaing, retired, Myanma Economic Holdings Ltd.
4. Captain Win Kyi, retired, Myanma Economic Holdings Ltd.
5. U Khin Zaw, businessman linked to Htoo Companies Group
6. U Win Oo, village tract administrator, Wegyi Village Tract

I am writing to you on behalf of a group of farmers in Myanmar who are calling for support in their struggle to protect their ancestral lands against the incursions of an army-owned company, Myanma Economic Holdings Ltd. The company is attempting to construct a factory on their lands against the farmers’ wishes. It has already constructed a factory on lands of a neighbouring village, and has used various methods there—including the law courts and physical attacks—in its efforts to crush protests from among the farmers opposed to its activities. I am therefore gravely concerned that it will use the same unlawful methods against the farmers in this case in order to push ahead with its project.

According to the information that I have received, the Wegyi Village Tract Administration called for a meeting of farmers on 16 September 2011 to discuss the construction of a caustic soda and PVC factory in the tract. At the meeting, the farmers unanimously opposed construction of the factory, stating that they wanted to continue using their ancestral lands peacefully as they had done throughout their lives. Despite this expression of sentiment, the local administration head, U Win Oo, said that the lands belong to the state and whether the farmers liked it or not the project would begin in October. The farmers also state that the company has prepared a report on the project in which it has falsely stated that the farmers have agreed to the project.

The farmers were told that on 22 September 2011 government officials would come to hold a meeting at the Htaukma Primary School to discuss the project. Therefore, farmers arrived on the morning to attend the meeting and express their grievances, but when they arrived they instead saw a noticeboard for a donation ceremony for the school facilities. The six officials listed above attended the ceremony and gave donations for the school. Then Captain Win Kyi (retired) told the gathering that the project to start the next factory would begin shortly, that it would take about 30 months to complete, that land had already been surveyed and identified and that it would be taken for that purpose, causing alarm among the farmers present.

I am concerned that although the farmers have made clear that they do not wish to give up their lands for this project, officials of the army-owned company running the project have made clear that they will be compelled to do so.

From prior experience it is also clear that the retired army officers running these projects will use whatever methods they have available to force the farmers off their lands. Their company has already forcibly taken land belonging to farmers at the neighbouring village of Sissayan, about 1.5km away from Htaukma, and the construction of the factory there has not only resulted in loss of land where the factory itself is located but has caused damage to the surrounding area, where the company has built roads and buildings. Consequently, farmers have lost land, and have had crops and irrigation canals and dykes damaged and destroyed. When farmers there opposed the project, one of the four former army officers who attended the ceremony at the school on September 22, Major Win Myint (retired) allegedly threatened them that, “If a parent scolds children verbally and they don’t listen, then the stick is necessary.” Consequently, when the Sissayan farmers brought a legal case against the company, not only was thrown out of court but also the farmers were assaulted, and charged with and convicted of fabricated criminal offences. On appeal to a higher court, the lawyer for the farmers succeeded in having the sentences reduced and the convicted men were released, but not acquitted of the charges, and meanwhile the factory project has continued.

Consequently, I urge the relevant authorities in Myanmar to order the suspension of this project and for a full re-examination of the facts and issues to be conducted, to ensure that the voices of the farmers in the vicinity are really heard and that their rights are fully protected. I note that recently the government heeded the many calls around the country for the suspension of the Myitsone Dam project in Kachin State, and I sincerely believe that if it is possible for the government to bring a halt to such a large project then the question of a caustic soda factory under control of former army officers should be comparatively easy to address, in the interests of the people whose livelihoods depend upon proper management of the land affected.

I would also like to take this opportunity to express my concern that as Myanmar moves towards a market-oriented economy but its legal system is not adapted or strengthened in response, these types of cases will become more and more common. I am particularly concerned at how the case shows the nexus between military and economic interests in Myanmar, and at the inability or unwillingness of the courts to distinguish between these interests. For these reasons, I urge that everything possible be done to protect the farmers in this case, and in other cases like it.

I am also aware that assaults and counter-criminal complaints are common in cases where people in Myanmar have the tenacity to lodge cases against powerful officials or companies. I especially urge that the police and other relevant officials in Kanma Township are mobilized to provide security for the farmers in this case, not pose a threat to their security, and that in the event of physical attacks on the farmers that they investigate and hold the perpetrators to attack, rather than pursue the victims of attack, as in the Sissayan incident.

Yours sincerely,


1. U Thein Sein
President of Myanmar
President Office
Office No.18

2. U Hla Min
Minister for Home Affairs
Ministry of Home Affairs
Office No. 10
Tel: +95 67 412 079/ 549 393/ 549 663
Fax: +95 67 412 439

3. U Tun Tun Oo
Chief Justice
Office of the Supreme Court
Office No. 24
Tel: + 95 67 404 080/ 071/ 078/ 067 or + 95 1 372 145
Fax: + 95 67 404 059

4. U Hpone Maw Shwe
Chief Minister
Magway Region

5. U Myint Hlaing
Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation,
Yarza Thingaha Road, Naypyidaw,
Tel: +95 -67-410004 (or) +95-67-140130

6. Dr Nur Hassan Wirajuda 
ASEAN Secretariat 
70A Jl. Sisingamangaraja 
Jakarta 12110 
Tel: +6221 7262991, 7243372 
Fax: +6221 7398234, 7243504

Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme 
Asian Human Rights Commission (ua@ahrc.asia)

Document Type : Urgent Appeal Case
Document ID : AHRC-UAC-234-2011
Countries : Burma (Myanmar),
Issues : Land rights, Right to food, Rule of law,