Forty police officers were briefly held captive on Thursday night by residents of Mandalay Division’s Sintgu Township who were angered that the authorities had raided their village, opened fire and injured residents in a bid to halt a plough protest.
After some negotiations, the police officers were released unharmed, said Lt- Col Zaw Min Oo, deputy superintendent of the Mandalay Police Force.
The standoff started earlier in the day when about 200 farmers began a protest on Thursday morning by ploughing on land that they wish to reclaim. More than 6,000 acres of farmland in Sintgu Township’s Nyaungwun village was confiscated in 1991 by the Burmese Army.
Htwe Htwe Hlaing, a resident, said that roughly 50 police attempted to arrest the protestors, and fired warning shots in the air. However, the situation quickly turned ugly when the authorities directed gunfire at the villagers.
“We were just cultivating land which we are fighting to reclaim, and the police arrived in a truck firing shots in the air,” said Htwe Htwe Hlaing. “Later, they started shooting in our direction, hitting one villager in the leg. So we attacked them back using slingshots.”
Two women in the village were injured during the confrontation, she said. One, named Than Kyin Nu, suffered from a leg injury and was sent to Mandalay Hospital.
The villagers of Nyaungwun have been ploughing as protest for about two months; the initial group of protestors numbered at about 800. Thant Zin Htet, a farmers’ rights activist in Nyaungwun village, criticised the police for using violent force against the villagers.
“I see this as an act of brutality on the part of government authorities,” Thant Zin Htet said. “The police came to attack the villagers because they were no longer in a large group.”
However, Lt-Col Zaw Min Oo told DVB a different version of the events, saying that they were first attacked with stones and slingshots by villagers – which prompted the police to fire warning shots into the air.
“The villagers then tried to snatch a firearm from one of the police and it accidently went off in the scuffle, hitting a woman in the leg,” he said, adding that the villagers surrounded the police and held the officers captive.
“The situation was resolved after the district police commander and township government administrator went to negotiate with the villagers, with help from local monks,” Lt-Col Zaw Min Oo said.
He reiterated that the police did not use force when trying to stop the villagers.
“We tried to explain to the villagers that what they were doing was against the law, and that they should follow legal procedures,” he said. “But people only think about what they want without considering whether what they do is illegal or not.”
Lt-Col Zaw Min Oo said that the divisional police commander is currently monitoring the situation and will continue negotiating with villagers to alleviate the tensions in the area.