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Ma-Ubin residents said riot police incited the violence that led to rioting in the Irrawaddy Delta township on Tuesday night, while a government media outlet blamed protestors for attacking police officers.
Dozens of people were injured and one police officer was killed after villagers and police clashed as locals demonstrated against the confiscation of more than 1,000 acres of land by the former military junta.
Local Aung Latt from Palaung village said the demonstrators fought back against police after authorities began assaulting female bystanders.
“They beat up three women at the front so we lost tolerance and defended ourselves,” said Aung Latt. “We don’t care if we die, but we’ll get the [land] back.”
Based on video evidence of the assault on the women, DVB was able to verify Aung Latt’s account.
“They came to attack first so we had to defend ourselves,” said Tin Tin Nwe, who was preparing food for the protestors after demonstrations began last week. “They raided us first, fired at us and beat us with sticks.”
The 32-year-old villager from Adate miscarried after being assaulted by police.
“We have nothing – we are poor and suffering – and want to get back to farming. That’s why I joined,” said Tin Tin Nwe. “I want to be able to make a living appropriately — something more than surviving on odd jobs on a daily basis.”
In today’s Burmese edition of The New Light of Myanmar, the state mouthpiece said protestors refused to negotiate with police and then assaulted authorities with weapons, according to a translation posted on the Irrawaddy news website.
“About 150 people, who held sticks, knives, arrived back in the area. Police and security forces who already took control of the area deterred them, but they did not listen and clashed with police,” read the report. “Because of this, two officials and 28 security forces were injured.”
However, a local officer on the ground said the police were ordered to negotiate with the protestors, but after talks failed they moved in to disperse the crowd.
“On that day… our supervisors told us to negotiate. Around 6pm, negotiations failed and we went in to clear them out – and we clashed,” said police private Aung Naing Soe, who was injured during the violence.
“When we are ordered to go – then we have to go. They tell us to sit, then we sit.”
According to Displacement Solutions director Scott Leckie, arbitrary land confiscation has been frequent in Burma for decades and urgent measures are needed to avoid future protests and outbreaks of violence.
“This latest in a series of peaceful land rights protests that have ended in violence and serious injuries again shows the intensely sensitive nature of the land question in Myanmar [Burma] today,” said Leckie.
“Clearly, neither the hastily adopted land laws nor the new parliamentary bodies formed to look into land questions are sufficient to provide the land justice that people throughout the country are clamouring for.”
Following Burma’s transition from military to quasi-civilian rule, farmers have becoming increasingly vocal over controversial land disputes and confiscations.
In November, long running protests at a copper mine in Monywa were violently broken up by police, who used water cannons and incendiary devices that experts claim contained white phosphorous.
-David Stout provided additional reporting.