Officer dies as police fire on farmers
A policeman was killed and more than a dozen farmers wounded – some by gunfire – in a protest over land ownership in Myanmar’s Delta region on Wednesday.
A further 26 police were injured during Tuesday night's demonstration, where farmers demanded the return of 202 hectares of land in the Irrawaddy Delta which they say was seized by the military government in 1996.
Around 300 farmers have been protesting against the alleged land grab since last week and have vowed to continue until the land is returned to them by the private company that bought it from the former junta.
Similar demonstrations have taken place across the country since 2011, when the repressive junta was replaced by a civilian government. Parliament has been tasked with solving hundreds of resurgent land disputes.
Tuesday night's clashes in Maubin township were the most serious since a crackdown on a protest camp at a copper mine in November left scores injured.
"The policeman died while getting treatment in Yangon because of a stab wound," a police official in Maubin said on condition of anonymity.
"We didn't want to harm civilians ... so we acted with restraint. That's why many police were injured," he said, adding that officers only fired warning shots.
Activists painted a different picture of events, saying at least 14 farmers were hurt, including three from bullet wounds, as police sealed off the area and opened fire.
"The police fired more than 100 times. We did not think they would be so cruel," said activist and local farmer Tun Naing.
He added that farmers had been trying to secure the return of land seized from six villages in the area and sold to a livestock company that has kept it idle.
“We were never paid compensation when the authorities confiscated these lands from us, saying all of these would be for industrial use by the government," he said.
“Instead, the authorities sold them off to a private company. We now want to get back our land and grow rice again.”
Under the military government land was routinely appropriated across Myanmar without explanation or compensation and handed out to "cronies" for their own use or sold on to private companies.
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