Long-term settlers in Thanlyin are latest to face military eviction

Since word arrived that the military were coming to clear his settlement, Ko Htway has been frenetically searching for a new home for his wife, his child, and his modest fuel shop. 

Business had been going well; for the first time since the coup, Ko Htway’s income was allowing him to provide food and necessities for his family.

He never expected this respite to end so soon. Now, after being handed his notice from a ward administrator, he has been thrown into panic. He cannot stop sighing, he says, and thinking of a place to go. 

Since he has no savings to rent a home, Ko Htway says he has decided to wait until tomorrow, the day that those in the settlements had dreaded, in the hope that the authorities will change their minds.

On Monday, Ko Htway was one of hundreds living in makeshift accommodation on the side of Thanlyin Road to have received an eviction letter. In it, the Township bluntly spelled out that everyone was to pack up and leave by October 28.

“That is nonsense. How am I supposed to move my business and home within three days? I have no idea what will happen tomorrow. All I can do is wait and see. I will decide what to do then,” Ko Htway, who has been living in the Thanlyin settlements for eight years, told DVB. 

Yesterday, an official notice outlining the local authority’s plan of action in removing squatter settlements beside the Dagon-Thilawa Road appeared out of the blue, spreading like wildfire from the Thanlyin Myin Kwin Sone Facebook page (a local information sharing group for Thanlyin, a developing industrial township located across the Bago River from the city of Yangon). 

The news soon turned into a nightmare for the neighborhood. 

The junta-backed Township General Administration Department of the Southern District of Yangon then issued its letter condemning the squatters, ordering the removal of the homes and businesses squatting government owned land under section 133 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

On the morning of October 26, a group which included an engineer from the Department of Bridges, a Construction Ministry rep, local administrators, and, differently, a troop of soldiers, arrived in two military trucks and a private vehicle. 

The group parked up in front of the settlement’s dry goods stores and forced owners to sign a document committing them to leave within three days. In signing, the small business owners agreed to the Township’s accusation that residents of the settlement were threatening the public’s peace, health and security.

“Especially at this time, with so many people facing so many problems, it is difficult to find a new place. Last year, we received a notice letter but ultimately nobody was removed. At the time, we sent a petition and continued doing business. This time, it won’t be so easy; the military are involved. The Township has brought soldiers and police.”

Despite this, Ko Htway says he had heard rumors that a new petition will be sent.

Over 200 households have been located beside the No.2 Thanlyin Road for almost a decade, many of whom run small businesses; over 50 dry food stores, fuel shops, and tea, coffee, and palm wine sellers line the road, a source of both shelter and sustenance for local farm laborers from the surrounding fields of Thanlyin.

Under the NLD administration, squatters in the area had negotiated a deal with regional Hluttaw MPs that allowed them to remain in the settlement. Sources said that there had been no new plan to turn away its residents, and that the move is a knee-jerk order from the military-backed authorities.

“The settlement was started by street food vendors who had camped to provide sustenance to the large number of trucks and lorries that pass along the Thanlyin Road. Before the shops arrived, the area was infamous for robberies and crime as it was deserted and dark. Now, I’m afraid that situation will return,” one Thanlyin resident said. 

Local authorities, backed by armed security forces, say they will initiate the clearance at 5 a.m. tomorrow morning.

“I have no place to go. We live beside the road as squatters because we couldn't afford to stay in permanent lodgings. I heard they will destroy everything with bulldozers tomorrow—I have no options if they force us to leave here,” said U Maw (a pseudonym), a husband and father who has operated a food stall beside the road for five years.

Many squatters are now collecting their belongings and leaving their homes for fear of being charged by the military.  

The evictions come as both the junta and military-backed landowners look to reclaim land in Yangon that has long been inhabited by those living in temporary shelters. Notable settlement clearances are currently underway in Hlaingtharyar, Shwepyithar, and Dagon Seikkan township.

As DVB has reported, squatters living under the Bayintnaung No.2 Bridge and along the Yangon-Pathein Road in Hlaingtharyar were recently forced to leave areas that had provided homes to hundreds of families for decades. Many of those living in the areas are manual workers; sanitation workers, trishaw drivers, and fishermen who congregated in Hlaingtharyar in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis.

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