Villagers Plan to Sue Police After Clash at Mandalay Gold Mine
By Zarni Mann 15 July 2015
MANDALAY — Residents of Yay Htwat village in Mandalay Division’s Thabeikkyin Township said Tuesday that they plan to file a lawsuit against police and local authorities who they claim are responsible for a violent altercation last week in which one man was shot and several others were injured.
The clash on July 6 between police and angry locals was the result of a land dispute at the site of a gold mine near Yay Htwat village, where police fired warning shots to disperse the crowd.
In the aftermath of the clash, which saw more than a dozen local residents and police officers injured and property damaged, a criminal complaint was filed against seven villagers at the township police station. Charges under three articles of Burma’s Penal Code, including vandalism and arson, are alleged.
According to local authorities, three trucks and two cars were damaged in the altercation while nearly a dozen motorbikes belonging to police and local officials, as well as an office building belonging to Myanmar Sithu Company, were reportedly set on fire.
But the villagers facing charges denied any wrongdoing this week, claiming that they were in fact victims of local authorities’ negligence.
“Actually, the police were occupying the gold mine and shot at us first. If they did not shoot, the clash may not have occurred. We are planning to sue them for acting lawlessly,” said Tun Hla, a village elder, at a press conference in Mandalay.
The villagers say the gold mining project, registered under the Myanmar Sithu Company, is encroaching on village-owned land.
“We’ve complained several times to local authorities to stop mining near our village, but we have received no response. So, some youth stood guard in the area to prevent mining and the company thought we were trying to steal their gold or trespassing in their area to search for gold,” Tun Hla added.
The land dispute in Yay Htwat village first emerged earlier this year, when Myanmar Sithu Company began operations in the area. Locals have complained that some of the project area lies on public land where local small-scale miners sometimes search for gold. In May, angry locals staged a protest and urged local authorities and the company to cede back project lands located in the village.
Yay Htwat villagers also complain that security personnel from the company had in the past threatened locals.
“Some men with swords used to wander in the village and threatened us and warned us not to go near their company site. We informed the police and the authorities but they took no action,” said May Lwin, another village elder.
“That’s why we are planning to sue the police and the local authorities for failing to protect us, and instead harming us and shooting at us. If they had not ignored our complaints since the beginning, there would have been no clash like this,” she added.
The Yay Htwat village head said the clash occurred after security personnel from Myanmar Sithu Company arrested a youth named Pyar Chone without legitimate cause.
“We were on our way to ask the company to free him. And we saw the police marching toward us and a company building was burning,” said village chief Kan Htay.
“Then, the police opened fire and Chit Khae was shot in his knee. Some villagers threw stones toward them and ran back to a safer place. But we don’t know how the company building and vehicles caught fire,” he said.
According to local residents, the gunshot victim Chit Khae is awaiting surgery on his knee at Mandalay Hospital.