Forced Relocation

   (Internal Displacement)
   The prevalence of forced relocation of urban and rural residents in Burma since 1988 reflects both the strategic and economic priorities of the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC; after 1997 known as the State Peace and Development Council) and the lack of firm legal guarantees of property rights. In precolonial times, Burma's land was considered the property of the king, and postindependence constitutions have asserted that land rights rest ultimately with the state. The most extensive forced relocations have occurred in ethnic minority areas, in connection with the Tatmadaw's counterinsurgency operations. In the mid-1990s, at least 300,000 persons in eight townships in central Shan State were forced to leave their villages and resettle in military-controlled sites that resembled the "strategic hamlets" of the Vietnam War. This policy was an application of the "Four Cuts," designed to eliminate popular bases of support for insurgents, in this case the Shan State Army. Relocation of villagers on a large scale has also occurred in Karen (Kayin), Kayah (Karenni), Mon, and Arakan (Rakhine) States. Urban forced relocation, involving mostly Burmans, can be traced back to the Caretaker Government of 1958-1960, which moved some 170,000 squatters and other poor people out of central Rangoon (Yangon) to new townships in Thaketa and North and South Okkalapa. After the SLORC seized power, several hundred thousand people (no exact figure is available) were moved from downtown Rangoon to other new towns, such as North and South Dagon and Hlaing Thayar, located beyond the old city limits. Most, though not all, of these moves were involuntary. The government took the measure to ensure that popular uprisings like Democracy Summer would not recur, since not only squatters but communities where protesters were sheltered, including people living in substantial housing, were singled out for relocation. In another case of relocation, the Main Campus of Rangoon (Yangon) University, a center of protest in 1988, has been largely closed down, and most undergraduates pursue their studies at distant outlying campuses, such as Dagon University, a policy designed to keep concentrations of students distant from city residents.
   Construction of new highways and other facilities under the sponsorship of the Yangon City Development Committee has resulted in additional relocations; as highways are widened and improved, adjacent houses are torn down and replaced with multistory structures. City residents living on prime land slated for development by private but junta-connected firms have little or no legal recourse to prevent destruction of their neighborhoods. Similar situations exist in other large urban areas, such as Mandalay, and in smaller communities such as the village located within the ruins of Pagan (Bagan), which was closed down by the authorities in 1990, its residents forced to move to an undeveloped area, to improve access to the archeological area.
   Victims of forced relocation often find that the areas to which they have been moved lack such basic amenities as water, suitable croplands, and transportation. In minority regions like Shan State, people who leave resettlement areas to retrieve food stored in their old villages have sometimes been shot by the army, which regards areas cleared of inhabitants as free-fire zones. The exact number of internally displaced people is not known, but it has been estimated by international agencies at from 600,000 to one million. Because of the lack of physical and economic security, many become refugees in neighboring countries.
   See also Human Rights in Burma.

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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