Protesters told not to behave ‘lawlessly’
VILLAGERS have been reprimanded over an unsanctioned protest staged outside the Mandalay Region government’s office last week. The Thabeikkyin township residents were seeking a meeting with the chief minister over gold mines they allege have encroached on village territory over the last few years with environmentally disastrous effects.
The Yehtwet villagers were summoned by the police and regional minister for security and border affairs on September 30. Instead of helping assuage the contentious land feud, the officials chastised the villagers for not obtaining prior permission, or even notifying the authorities of the five-person demonstration on September 27.
“We went to the government’s office after we were summoned. Authorities from the administrative office, senior police officers and the region minister for security and border affairs warned us not to wage an unauthorised demonstration again. They did not tell us they will help to resolve the village land dispute,” Ko Than Naing Oo, one of the Yehtwet villagers, told The Myanmar Times on October 2.
The villagers previously resorted to more extreme measures in the hopes of bringing attention to their cause. In July last year, around 100 villagers decided to occupy a military conglomerate-owned mine in a demonstration that quickly escalated after a police confrontation. Company property and vehicles were set ablaze and one protester was hospitalised with a gunshot wound.
But the more recent, and more subdued, Mandalay office protest was not completely without success. U Myo Thit, minister for natural resources and forestry, agreed to meet with the protesters and advised them to submit an official letter of complaint.
The dispute revolves around rampant gold mining the locals say has strayed beyond village property demarcation lines instituted by the Ministry of Home Affairs in 2011. Fortynine official mining companies and about 100 illegal mining enterprises operate in Thabeikkyin township. In Yehtwet village, military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings owns a micro gold mine, subcontracted out to Myanmar Sithu Company.
U Htay Kyaw, another resident of Yehtwet village, said the encroaching companies have now amassed around 70 acres of village land.
“We have submitted an official letter to get back the village land. The minister said he will help us within the bounds of his authority,” he said.
Region minister U Myo Thit told The Myanmar Times that the issue will require Union-level intervention.
“They [the Yehtwet villagers] cannot continue to behave so lawlessly as they did outside our office. We will have to solve this dispute rationally, step-by-step,” he said.
Ko Than Naing Oo said the region authorities would take down any fences that mining companies had erected on village land.
“We were told they would help us resolve the case. We will have to wait and see. If what they promised does not materialise, we will proceed by taking matters into our own hands,” he said.
“We don’t want these companies to get authorisation for what they are claiming is regional development. If locals had access to good job opportunities, it would lead to regional development,” he added.
– Translation by Thiri Min Htun