Pro­test­ers told not to be­have ‘law­lessly’

The Myanmar Times - - News - SI THU LWIN sithul­win@mm­times.com

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

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