Myanmar Police Arrest 10 Villagers After Clash Over Chinese Cement Plant

Cement_Protest2.jpg Villagers protest against the Alpha Cement Plant near Aungthabyae village in central Myanmar's Mandalay region, May 15, 2019.

Myanmar police fired their guns during a raid on a village in Mandalay region Wednesday and arrested more than 10 residents who had protested against a Chinese-backed coal-powered cement factory, a community official and locals said.

One villager was shot in the leg, and several police were injured by stones and slingshots when officers forcibly entered Aungthabyae village in Patheingyi township to arrest the residents, half of whom are minors, said village administrator Khin Maung Lwin.

Severla Aungthabyae residents are being pursued by police for their involvement in a clash with officers and employees of the Alpha Cement Plant during a May 2019 protest. The villagers had blocked factory vehicles from entering the area and demanded compensation for land they say they lost when an 18-foot-wide road was built as part of the construction work at the plant.

Some of the dozens of villagers involved in the protest either have been sentenced or are awaiting trial while in detention. Others who fled to avoid arrest are considered fugitives and are being sought by police.

“The police said they would release the children, so we are going to police station,” Khin Maung Lwin said.

Villager Shwe Ohn, who had been arrested days after the May protest, told RFA's Myanmar Service that the community had been surrounded by police and Alpha Cement Plant staff before additional arrests were made Wednesday.

“We were unjustly arrested,” he said. “I was shot in the leg and suffered a lot of pain.”

Four policemen were injured in the melee when villagers threw stones and used slingshots against them, local residents said.

Police reportedly will now file a lawsuit against the villagers, they added.

RFA was unable to obtain comments from police about the raid.

“The authorities should not resolve the problem this way amid concerns about the coronavirus around the world,” said activist Thein Aung Myint from Mandalay.

Myanmar had reported only three confirmed case of the coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, as of Wednesday.

“The residents were just trying to get back their confiscated farmland,” Thein Aung Myint added.

RFA was unable to reach Zarni Aung, acting chief minister of Mandalay region, for comment.

Villagers have continued protesting against the plant for months.

Some of those involved in the May 2019 demonstration reportedly had set four vehicles and part of the factory property on fire. Roughly 20 people were injured when police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the protesters.

On March 20, five villagers were sentenced to five years in prison each on charges of destroying a factory building and vehicles during the May 2019 protest.

The construction of the Alpha Cement Plant, a joint venture between Myanmar’s Myint Investment Group and China’s AnhuiConch Cement Company, began in December 2017. The plant is slated to produce 5,000 tons of cement a day.

Reported by Khaymani Win for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Khin Ei. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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