Two people were killed while two others were seriously injured when police opened fire into a crowd in Shar Khae Gyi Village, Kyonepyaw Township, Pathain (Bassein) District, Irrawaddy Division, on Thursday evening.
“Kyi Thein, who was hit in the chest, died on the spot. Kyaw San Ngwe was hit in his head and died at Pathein Hospital. Win Than was hurt on his chest and neck, Kyaw Zin Thant hurt on arm. They now are hospitalized,” an eyewitness who did not want to be named told The Irrawaddy on Friday.
The injured were initially admitted to Hinthada Hospital but later moved to Pathein General Hospital.
Locals gathered in front of the village administration office on Thursday evening to demand justice for their fellow villager Ko Talote (aka Win Naing) who was allegedly beaten to death by workers from the nearby Wine Wine Lae Cooperation fish farming business.
“He was accused of destroying the water course of the Shar Khae Gyi fish farming lake and taken to the village administration office last night where [the workers] beat him,” said Tun Tun, a villager. “As soon as the villagers knew he was dead, they caused a dispute with the workers there. Later officers from A Htaung Police Station arrived, tensions rose and the police opened fire and four people were shot.”
When The Irrawaddy contacted A Htaung police station, an official said he could not provide any information at the present time as the investigation was still ongoing.
Disputes in the area have occurred since May when more than 100 locals from neighboring villages protested against the Department of Fisheries (DoF) bidding procedure for permits to use Shar Khae Gyi. Local fishermen claimed the process was unfair as they would lose their right to fish and so also their livelihoods.
Bidding was postponed at that time and locals were assured that they would have same rights as the private companies. Finally, Wine Wine Lae Cooperation won a permit to use Shar Khae Gyi for fishing, breeding and production.
“We are dissatisfied with the result as we believe there was bias at the auction, despite the promise from the DoF which said that we will get the same rights,” said a villager. “Their workers threaten us not to come near the area. Two from our village were beaten two days ago by them as well.”
Tensions between locals and the fish farmers have been escalating with villagers killed and suffering injuries. Locals say they want justice for the deaths and the right to fish in the area in the future.
Ayeyar Shwewar Company, reportedly own by Aung Thet Mann, son of the Lower House of Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann, formally owned a business in the area from 1998 until 2011.
According to local sources, the company used Burmese troops from Kyone Pyaw Township-based Battalion 36 to take care of security and stop locals fishing in the area. Soldiers frequently fired shots to scare away trespassers while those caught were reportedly beaten severely.
“We want justice for what happened to our friends,” added the villager. “We worry the same things will happen to us in the future. We want to live in peace and want to do fishing business in peace for it is all we know how to do. Otherwise, we will face difficulties trying to earn a living.”
Before 1998, local fishermen and fish farmers were taxed by the Ministry of Cooperatives to fish in the 78 square-mile lake. But since then Shar Khae Gyi has become under the control of the DoF which allocated permits by holding auctions for private fishery companies.