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Up to 1000 oil workers protesting against alleged duping by an oil company in northwestern Burma last week were attacked by riot police, with two left seriously injured.
The protests had been going on since 14 August when workers at the Cherry Yoma oilfield close to Sagaing division’s Kalay township complained they were being ripped off by the company, whose name has not been revealed.
Both riot police and company-run security were called by the company’s owner on 25 August to disperse the crowd.
“The company’s security arrived at the site and started attacking the protesters apparently to discourage more people from joining them,” said a Kalay local. “The protesters were punched, kicked and beaten up with sticks.
“Two people had their eyes badly injured and also went deaf. The protesters and their leaders fled the scene and their camps and belongings were destroyed.”
The oilfield in question was being hand-dug by locals under the contract of a cooperative company formed by business tycoons thought to be close to the Burmese government.
Burma’s oil capacity is low, and its refining capabilities poor: in terms of proven oil reserves it ranks 77 in the world, and is a net importer. But a small sector for informal diggers has emerged, who collect and sell to companies by the barrel.
The Kalay local said that the protests were sparked by the company’s decision to increase the size of barrels whilst maintaining the same buying price.
“The locals have to give the company an extra eight gallons for every barrel they sell, and a further two bottles for each eight gallons. They are only giving 50,000 kyat [US$50] per barrel.”
The company has apparently upped to price of purchase since the protests, but the local said that tension between the company and workers has remained.