Burma

Police to File Charges Against Cement Factory Protesters

By De Hlaing Winn 3 June 2019

MANDALAY—The Mandalay Region Police Force will arrest and take action against all those involved in a violent protest on May 15 against the construction of a cement plant project near the village of Aung Thabyay in Patheingyi Township, Mandalay Region, according to region police force chief Police Brig-Gen Sein Lin.

“Between 50 and 100 [protesters] are involved,” the police chief said at a press conference on Sunday.

“We police are to act in accordance with the law. As the project and the company are legal, the farmers can only oppose the project in line with the law. If they act anarchically and lawlessly, action will be taken against them in line with the law,” said Police Brig-Gen Sein Lin.

Since 2018, the township general administration, police and the company have opened 12 cases involving 54 individuals, 12 of whom have been arrested.

The US$200-million Alpha Cement factory is being implemented by China’s Myint Investment Co. near Aung Thabyay with the approval of the Myanmar Investment Commission. The project is to be operated on electricity from a coal-fired power plant.

The project was approved in 2012 but suspended since then due to opposition from local residents. The Mandalay Region government reviewed the project, and gave the green light to its resumption, saying it is in line with the law.

Locals said that they are protesting against the project over environmental and health concerns.

Project manager U Win Hlaing suggested that protest was instigated by an individual.

“We bought the lands from owners in 2014. They accepted [the price we offered] and signed the purchase deals on their own volition. Protestors are not complaining about land [compensation],” he said.

Since May 14, residents of Aung Thabyay blocked the road leading into the village and staged a sit-in protest, calling for the termination of the project and the release of the detained villagers who were arrested regards to the previous protests against the project.

Tensions arose as officials from the township general administration department and security police came and asked the villagers to leave. At around 4.30 a.m. on May 15, 150 police used rubber bullets and tear bombs to disperse the crowd.

“We didn’t want that to happen. We have reported to different levels of authorities about our grievances, and we have had to do this because they didn’t care. Some of the villagers were injured in the clash,” said Aung Thabyay resident Ma Yin Yin Aung.

Police Brig-Gen Sein Lin said the crowd constituted an unlawful assembly.

“There were people in the crowd who we had to arrest. When we went there to make the arrests, they blocked our way by lighting fires and shooting at us with slingshots. The crowd was out of control and we had to fire warning shots. Rubber bullets only cause injuries in close-range shooting, so no protestor was injured. Even if they were injured, it would be with minor injuries.”

Following the clash, locals went into the site of the factory and set vehicles on fire. Two vehicles and three motorbikes were burnt with damage caused to some buildings, according to police records.

“We are only arresting key suspects and those manipulating [the protesters] from behind,” said Police Brig-Gen Sein Lin.

Over 50 police have been deployed at the site to provide security following the incident.

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