Kachin Locals Stand to Lose Land to Namjim Industrial Zone

Map of Burma-China joint industrial zone in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin state.

Locals have demanded an explanation as to why they are being dispossessed of their land by the Kachin State government in order to build the Namjim Industrial Zone.

The project, which is related to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, is located some eight miles northwest of the Kachin State capital of Myitkyina, along the historic Ledo Road. The Myitkyina Economic Development Zone Committee (MEDZC) and the Yunnan Tengchong Hengyong Investment Company (YTHIC) are the joint implementers of the industrial zone, which will be built on approximately 4,700 acres of land in Namjim village tract.

Burma’s Vice President (2) Henry Van Thio visited Namjim on November 15. Wei Linn, Kachin State’s planning and finance minister, explained that the state government would provide compensation to four people approved by the Union government for land lost to the initiative. Two more people, approved by the Kachin State government, would also receive compensation.

However, some 80 people who rely on the land in question for rotating agricultural practices, will face legal action for “invading” the territory and stand to lose access to the land they depend on for their livelihoods.

“This area was a ‘black area’ in the past. Nobody dared to come here,” Maran Kai Bu, a Namjim local, told KNG, referring to a term used by the government to describe land in territory administrated by ethnic armed organizations—in this case the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

Namjim was controlled for many years by the KIA’s Battalion 11. After the KIA’s 17-year ceasefire with the Burma Army broke down in 2011, multiple clashes occurred in the area, displacing some 1,000 people. Government forces seized Battalion 11’s headquarters in Kasung village in 2018.

“Nobody came to give us land documents. If [the government] would give us land ownership documents, we would take it,” Maran Kai Bu said. Because locals have not been granted the appropriate documents to fulfill the government’s requirements that prove land ownership, the land has been classified as “vacant, fallow or virgin” in accordance with Burma’s land management law.

The Kachin State government and the YTHIC signed a Memorandum of Understanding on May 8, 2018 to create the Myitkyina Economic Zone or the Namjim industrial zone. They are preparing to sign a Memorandum of Agreement in early 2020. The zone will include business projects connected to agriculture technology, transportation, processing, handicrafts, forestry, biomedicine, and tourism.

Namjim village headman Brang Di said that locals have little to no understanding of the initiative and want to be consulted by the Kachin State government about what is happening in their area.

“We don’t know whether this economic project benefits us. That’s why we want to know about it. After we know, we can decide whether to support it or to oppose it,” he told KNG.

Locals are also demanding compensation for land lost to the industrial zone, and have threatened to protest if they are denied this.

The Kachin State government has described the economic project as an effort to create new jobs, raise living standards, develop the agricultural and industrial sectors, and to increase foreign investment.

The Kachin State People’s Party (KSPP) released a statement last month calling for a halt to all mega projects in Kachin State until the civil war has stopped and peace is restored.

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