Burma’s Mon State is rich in rubber – it has been the locals’ main source of income for generations.
But since 2009, thousands of hectares of rubber plantation have been cut down to make way for a road project.
The project is run by the powerful armed wing of the New Mon State Party.
Many locals were forced to cut down their trees.
About 50 workers are repairing the 35 kilometre long road that connects Wa Sar Laoi village to Mudon city in Mon state.
The project is run by a committee backed by the New Mon State Party, the local ethnic armed group.
The party argues that people will benefit from the road.
But 52-year-old Ma Ong Kyi lost part of her 100 hectare rubber plantation because of the road project.
"Our land was taken away when they started the road project a few years ago. Now they tell me to cut down 100 rubber trees to extend the road. What else do we have for our livelihood?”
Rubber plantations are the main source of income for locals.
But a total of roughly 6,000 hectares of rubber plantations has been cut down to build the road.
Like 42-year-old San Yin, many are too afraid to speak up.
“They are soldiers... we do not dare complain. We might be arrested if we do.”
In rural areas like Mon State, the Burmese are still largely ruled by armed groups.
The New Mon State Party’s armed wing is believed to have about 1,000 troops in the hills of southeast Burma.
In the past, locals supported them, believing that they were fighting for the people.
But San Yin has started to change her mind.
“We have to pay a lot money to armed groups for many purposes; for security fees, to repair roads, and an annual tax to the group. They never tell us how much money they get. Some of the money went into their own pockets."
Many say land was taken away without compensation.
But a spokesperson for the New Mon State Party, Nai Talanyi, claims that people support the road project.
"We have been consulting the villagers. They already knew that their plantations would be cut down for the roads. Our local administration didn’t inform us that there were objections from the villagers. So we don’t know anything. We don’t have a budget to compensate the rubber plantation owners.”
The New Mon State Party also received some grants from the government for the development project during the signing of the peace deal last year.
But it’s unclear how much they got and whether it’s being used for the benefit of local people or not.
A Member of Parliament for Mon State, Banyar Aung Moe has been urging the government to take over all the development projects in order to secure people’s rights.
Nay Myo Wai is a local land activist.
"Nationwide, land has been taken away by state military-backed companies, the army itself or ethnic armed groups. We don’t have the capacity to fight for those people whose rights were violated by the armed groups. We’re still struggling to fight against government violations. The state government should behave better than the ethnic armed groups because they’re the ones who are in the international spotlight.”
Most of the complaints, he says, relate to the army.
In 2003, Mon human rights groups reported that the army confiscated more than 1,600 hectares of land from farmers for military purposes and barracks.
The New Mon State Party also took several hectares of land but no one is sure exactly how much.
But for 32-year-old farmer Htaw Mon, the main question is still unanswered.
“Many people are wondering why the road committee needs to widen the road when the existing roads were not properly constructed? We would be happy if the road was built using the existing space. But all of us are too afraid to complain about it.”
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