The Burmese authorities scrambled Wednesday to restore calm in a southwestern Burmese village a day after bloody clashes between police and protesting farmers whose land had been acquired by a private company.
One of the 28 policemen injured in the violence in Ayeyarwady division's Maubin township on Tuesday has died while two of 17 farmers who were shot and wounded by police after the protesters refused an order to disperse are in serious condition, officials said.
A curfew is still being enforced in the area but a group from the 300 odd farmers who protested are still staying put on the land and demonstrating, activists said. Police who opened fire on the crowd on Tuesday gave an assurance they would not use force.
"We and the police have been helping in the negotiations to calm down the situation," Aye Thaung, the Maubin township administrative chief, told RFA's Burmese Service.
He said his office has asked groups assisting the farmers to compile a report on their grievances over the acquisition by the company of the land more than a decade ago without compensation.
The takeover occurred when Burma was under the rule of the military junta, which gave up power in March 2011 to a nominally civilian government under President Thein Sein.
"We have asked them to write a report and send it to the divisional government as soon as possible. The divisional government said that it will investigate this and all parties meanwhile have to obey, and not break, the law," Aye Thaung said.
The land, which includes fish ponds, belongs to Orchard Agriculture and Animal Husbandry Co. owned by Myint Sein, reports say.
The protests began last Thursday, when several hundred farmers gathered near an artificial fishpond on 550 acres (222 hectares) of land in the village of Palaung in Maubin Township, the Irrawaddy online journal said.
Activists told RFA that some 1,000 acres (400 hectares) of land that used to be rice paddies had been confiscated by the company about 10 years ago, with half of it bulldozed and turned into fishing ponds.
Su Su Nway, an activist championing the cause of the farmers, called for "face-to-face" and "transparent discussion" among the farmers, local authorities and the company owner Myint Sein.
"We need to know that what Dr. Myint Sein could do for the farmers. The local authorities should mediate between the company owner and the farmers," she told RFA.
The company has reported to police that the the farmers had not only occupied its property but also damaged facilities and fishing in the ponds in the area, officials said.
The farmers, who claim the land has belonged to them for generations and that it was taken illegally without any compensation, refused to budge from the land until they receive "a guarantee from police that they will not arrest" those who took part in the protests, Su Su Nway said.
Ayeyarwady division Deputy Police Chief Tun Min told RFA that police had acted according to the law but added that there will be not be any further violent crackdown.
Police said they were forced to open fire on Tuesday after the farmers attacked them with sticks and knives.
Rights groups have expressed concern about a potential “land-grabbing epidemic” in the country emerging from decades of military rule.
Protests in northern Burma’s Sagaing division over land that farmers said was being confiscated for a Chinese-backed copper mine in the Letpadaung mountains drew nationwide concern after a brutal police crackdown in November.
Reported by Nay Rain Kyaw, Kyaw Zaw Win and Tun Myint for RFA's Burmese Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.