Eye witnesses told the Kachin News Group that the Yuzana employees intentionally damaged the road which served as short cut connecting their hill top farms, on November 14 in broad daylight as angry farmers looked on.
Local residents believe that the firm opted to rip up the road because it was used to circumvent Yuzana controlled roads and a Yuzana run checkpoint where local farmers have to pay K3000 to cross. The road which is three miles away from their village was also quicker and more direct than using the Yuzana road on the other side of the village which followed the old Stillwell Road and has many twists and turns.
“We opened the road which was blocked by them [Yuzana] and now they are worrying about not being able to collect money from us anymore so they destroyed it,” Hukawng farmer Lagau Gun told the Kachin News Group.
Yuzana staff, who were ripping up the road, told villagers that they were acting on orders issued by their superior, U Mya Kyaw, who is in charge of the lucrative local Yuzana checkpoint. The villagers told the media that they are angry with what Yuzana did and that they plan to protest.
The Yuzana company led by Union Solidarity and Development Party MP U Htay Myint, a close ally of retired General Than Shwe, is no stranger to controversy in the Hukawng Valley where, beginning in 2006, the firm with the support of Major General Ohn Myint, then northern military commander, expropriated thousands of acres from small-scale farmers to make way for large-scale sugar cane and tapioca plantations. U Htay Myint and U Ohn Myint were both elected to Myanmar's parliament in 2010.
More than 200,000 acres of land has been seized by Yuzana in the Hukawng Valley over the last seven years, according to a report issued by Kachin Development Networking Group. Farmers who lost their land did not receive proper compensation after Yuzana stole their land, according to Daw Bawk Ja, a land rights activist and politician who currently serves as the National Democratic Force’s Kachin State chief. Daw Bawk Ja has helped the farmers try and sue Yuzana to get their land back.
In 2001, General Than Shwe’s military regime in collaboration with the US NGO Wildlife Conservation Society or WCS officially created a large tiger reserve in the Hukawng Valley. In 2004 the Myanmar regime, with the public endorsement of WCS extended the tiger reserve’s total area to include the entire valley of 21,890 square kilometers, creating what has been claimed is the largest tiger reserve in the world.
Environmentalists and critics of the Myanmar regime have called the tiger reserve a complete sham. They point out that since 2004 the central government has actively encouraged large scale gold mining and monoculture plantation farming to take place in much of the valley.