YANGON - At least six people were arrested yesterday as Yangon authorities startฌed to clear a huge slum on the city’s northern fringes, as bitter competition for land in Myanmar’s commercial capital intensifies.
Armed police escorted hundreds of local authority workers wielding bamฌboo sticks, rakes and saws as they descended on the shantytown in Hlegu township – the first major forced evicฌtion under the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Furious occupants screamed at the workers as they started pulling down bamboo houses early yesterday morning.
“You idiots ... You are all evil. How dare you do this?” cried one woman.
Many directed their anger at Suu Kyi’s administration, accusing it of conฌtinuing the kind of land evictions that were common under military rule.
“The government is useless and we were wrong to use our fingers to vote,” one man shouted.
“The government is always afraid of the army. How can we rely on the govฌernment?”
An AFP journalist saw five men and one woman being hauled into police vans for trying to stop the clearฌance.
Local reports said the slum, around 45 kilometres northeast of Yangon near the highway to Mandalay, was home to 4,000 houses.
Soaring rents and rapid urbanisaฌtion have forced thousands of people into Yangon’s shantytowns, which are thought to house 10 to 15 per cent of the city’s population.
Myanmar’s former military governฌment regularly confiscated land during its five decades in power, especially in rural areas, and staged mass evictions in many cities.
Competition for land has intensified since 2011, when the junta ceded power to a quasicivilian administration that threw open the doors to international investors.
The government which took power last year has vowed to tackle the issue and in May 2016 announced plans to evict Yangon’s hundreds of thousands of squatters. “This land is owned by the government,” Myat Marlar Htun, local MP from Hlegu township, said yesterฌday.
“Most of the slum people here now arrived within a year, some in a few months.”
The slums will be replaced by new highrise housing development – one of a rash of new projects springing up around the city – said a former city official, who asked to remain anonyฌmous due to the sensitivity of the issue.
Yesterday’s clearance is the second time in a year and a half that squatters have been kicked out of Hlegu.
Worker rights activist Ma Myo said many of the people who returned were unscrupulous dealers who had tried to grab the land for profit.
Squatters have no legal rights in Myanmar. International standards are supposed to guarantee compensation in the case of eviction but they are not enforced.
Published : June 12, 2017