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At least one person was shot and five individuals arrested on Thursday during a police crackdown on local villagers who have been ploughing confiscated land in protest near the controversial Latpadaung Copper Mining Project.
About 100 locals, who have been ploughing the confiscated land in the area for three straight days, began working on property owned by Sete resident Yi Yi Win and Mogyopyin resident Win Kyat on Thursday morning before being stopped by dozens of police.
After a quarrel broke out between villagers and police, authorities arrested three villagers and two activists, according to a DVB reporter on the ground Tin Mar Swe.
“The police beat up Ko Thu from Rangoon, who was filming the event, the Public Assistance Network’s Aung Soe, and three villagers,” said Tin Mar Swe.
“The villagers then demanded the release of the five, but the police refused and were preparing to disperse the crowd using the water cannon [from a fire truck]. The [villagers] then began hurling rocks at the police, shattering their riot shields and they retaliated by firing into the crowd with their guns.”
According to the reporter, the weapons were likely loaded with non-lethal ammunition.
“They’ve been attempting to stop us for days but we told them we’ll just keep ploughing, as this is our land and we don’t wish to sell it or accept compensation so they turned back. But today, they are treating us like rioters,” said one local villager who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“Article-144 is in place in the whole region, but we just want to work on our land. We will continue our fight.”
In accordance with article-144 of the country’s penal code, gatherings of five or more people in the streets are prohibited between 6pm and 6am.
According to local Maung Naing, the protests began gaining momentum after authorities prevented a local from ploughing his land on 19 April.
“[Win Kyaw] went on ploughing the land but was forced to leave by about 50 [officials]. So [on April 23] around 100 [locals] rolled in with more than 30 pairs of cows to Win Kyaw’s farm and ploughed the land.”
According to Maung Naing, Win Kyaw never sold his land, but he had allowed the mine to use his property for a three-year period.
“Now the [companies] want to completely pay him off and take the land, but he is refusing. He went to work on the land to resume his farming career and they stopped him,” said Maung Naing.
“We, as fellow farmers, sympathise with him and also don’t want to end up like him so now we’re demonstrating by ploughing the land together.”
Locals and activists have been calling for the closure of the Latpadaung Copper Mine – a joint venture between the military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings and Wanbao, a subsidiary to a Chinese arms manufacturer, which they claim is responsible for the confiscation of about 7,800 acres of farmland in total and displaced farmers from 66 villages.
During a pre-dawn assault on 29 November, riot police used water cannons and fired tear gas canisters containing phosphorous to disperse protesters.
More than 100 protestors were injured during the raid, most of whom were monks who suffered from serious burns.
“The military-owned U Paing [UMEH] is basically showing that they can do anything they want. Previously they used fire bombs and now they are shooting at protesters,” said activist Han Win Aung.
“They are exploiting the fact that the locals villagers don’t have a lot of people who would stand up and defend their rights.”
The controversy surrounding the Latpadaung mine has highlighted the rise in land grabs in Burma, as the country’s quasi-civilian government struggles to deal with the army’s continued dominance over the Burma’s economic affairs after decades of military rule.