Locals in Aung Myint Tha village in Myitkyina District have applied for access to more than 4,000 acres of land in what is now the N’khai Bum National Park to be used as a community forest.
The villagers were forced to relocate from their native Tang Hpre village to Aung Myint Tha due to the construction of the Myitsone hydropower dam on the confluence of the Irrawaddy River. The community forest is located near Tang Hpre, where they wish to return, but the new national park designation—approved by the National League for Democracy government in 2016—now prohibits them from living and farming there.
The villagers say they cannot grow crops or support themselves in the Aung Myint Tha area, but the community forest area is where they had traditionally cultivated rotating farmland.
More than 300 people signed the request to reclassify the area of N’khai Bum National Park near Tang Hpre as a community forest.
“Everybody knows that the government approved [the creation of] the N’khai Bum National Park, but the respective officials have yet to explain anything about it to the people,” local man Tu Hkawng told KNG. “Some of the local people’s farmland is located in the N’khai Bum National Park area. They grew many plants in the area; they don’t want to lose them.”
He added that villagers had consulted with a lawyer who is an expert in land issues, and collectively decided that the best course of action would be to apply for community forest recognition with the Myikyina District forest department.
Naing Naing Tun, head of the department, said that a decision had not yet been made regarding the demand, and that higher-ups needed to make the call.
“We haven’t built a buffer area. We have to investigate whether we can make the community forest area. We have to be sure. If we can give them the community forest area, we have to report it to the levels above. We need confirmation from the Director-General of the Union’s forest department,” he explained, adding that the department had yet to meet with locals.
The previous Thein Sein-led government started the process of making the N’khai Bum National Park on more than 70,000 acres of land.