Authorities crack down on Myaing oil workers' protest

Jan 12, 2009 (DVB), At least one person was wounded and four arrested on 8 January when security forces cracked down on workers protesting against the takeover of oilfields in Vaheen village in Myaing township, Magwe division.

The dispute arose after the Kaung Zaw Hein oil company was granted the contract to operate the local oilfield and extract oil in the area for three months from 1 January.

Under the previous contractor, Thida Swe, the sister of Magwe divisional commander Phone Maw Shwe, local business owners had invested about 6-10 million kyat in oil extraction and employed several hundred local workers.

When the Kaung Zaw Hein company took over the contract, they evicted the local businesses and prohibited them from operating in the oilfields, a local resident said.

"The company confiscated all the private oil wells and banned them from selling oil," the resident said.

"They set the price at whatever they liked and the workers did not receive money, only slips."

On 8 January, business owners and about 200 of their workers mounted a protest against the company's actions.

By the time the soldiers came to the scene the crowd had swelled to 700. Protestors were violently tackled by soldiers, police and firefighters, the local resident said.

"The company summoned soldiers from [Light Infantry Battalion] 257," the resident said.

"Sixteen gunshots were heard. One person called Ma Win Mar was hit by a bullet."The resident said Win Mar had not dared to seek treatment for her injuries as she was worried she would be arrested.

A car owned by the company and around 100 barrels of oil were destroyed in a fire which broke out shortly afterwards.

Four young villagers named Yeh Htut Win, Yazar Aung, Myo Aung and Than Shwe were arrested the following morning on suspicion of arson and taken to Pakokku police station.

However, locals disputed the authorities' account of the fire and claimed the oil drums had burst into flames when they were hit by the security forces' bullets.

The Kaung Zaw Hein company and Vaheen village police station declined to comment on the incident.

An official on duty at Pakokku police station said the four detained villagers were not being held on the premises.

Many workers from across Burma, including from Lashio, Muse, Tavoy and Moulmein, have come to Magwe to find work.

Reporting by Naw Say Phaw

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