MANDALAY—At least 17 people were wounded Wednesday morning when police fired rubber bullets during a crackdown on a camp set up by local residents protesting the construction of a coal-powered cement factory in Mandalay Division’s Patheingyi Township.
Two protesters were arrested during the clash, residents of Aung Thabyay village said.
During the clashes, some of the protesters set fire to the construction site. Protesters initially blocked the village road leading to the cement factory compound and refused to allow firefighters through. The road was opened by 11.30 a.m., however, after police and local authorities negotiated with the protesters to let the firemen in.
According to our reporters on the ground, two cars and three motorcycles were set ablaze and seven more cars were smashed by the protesters, leaving their windshields and doors broken. Some small fires were also set at buildings under construction inside the factory compound.
The Mandalay Division police chief was on the scene, directing the emergency response and the negotiations with the protesters.
Residents of Aung Thabyay village began their protest on Tuesday. They called on the Union government to intervene in the conflict, demanding that the Alpha Cement Factory, owned by China’s Myint Investment Co., be scrapped and that detained villagers be released. The factory is under construction in Aung Thabyay village, Patheingyi Township, about 37 km north of Mandalay City.
Villagers say the factory will be powered by coal and fear the damage it might do to the local environment and their livelihoods. They say the project has already taken over some communal grazing land and that most locals want it stopped.
According to the locals, the company conducted soil testing at the site in 2014 and bought 242 hectares from residents after securing permission to build the factory and mine a nearby hill for raw materials.
Local residents sent complaints to the divisional government in 2014, and the project was halted. However, construction resumed in 2015, prompting further objections from locals. In 2016 they staged a series of protests against the factory.
The protests escalated last year when the Department of Road Transportation announced plans to expand the village road connecting the cement factory with the main road.
Locals said they feared that the road expansion project would result in the seizure of their lands without any compensation, and opened the protest camp in their village in July 2018.
A total of 18 local residents are being sued or have been convicted under the Regional Road and Transportation Act and Peaceful Assembly Act, and for disturbing government officials. Three locals have already been convicted and are currently serving prison terms at Oh-Bo Prison in Mandalay. The remaining 15 are still facing trial at Patheingyi Township Court.
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