Nearly 70 people were injured and one police officer died after land rights activists clashed with riot police in the Irrawaddy delta region on Tuesday night.
It follows rising dissent among farmers in Ma-Ubin township over the confiscation of more than a thousand acres of land by the former military junta.
The standoff with more than 300 riot policemen reportedly exploded after officials tore down a number of barricades built by the protestors, who had entered the confiscated land and destroyed a pond on the property.
Officials swiftly implemented Article-144 – a draconian section of the penal code, which provides authorities with broad discretion to crack down on civilians in the name of restoring “order”.
The police reportedly fired rubber bullets into the crowd to disperse the mob at 6:30pm, which resulted in mass brawling.
“There were some shots fired after article-144 was issued. About 40 local farmers and villagers were injured. From the police, there are 27 injured with 17 of them at the hospital,” said DVB journalist Aung Htun Myint, who was reporting from the scene of the riot.
The journalist also said that three locals were hit by rubber bullets and a pregnant women was injured and miscarried after being assaulted by the police.
Tuesday’s clashes are the most serious to have been reported since a violent crackdown on protestors near a Chinese-backed copper mine in Monywa in November last year.
It follows rising dissent among farmers in Ma-Ubin’s Adate, Palaung, Papin, Latpangone, Zegone and Kuntielay villages over the past week.
A police officer, identified as Ye Kyaw Thu reportedly died at 9am on Wednesday morning at Rangoon General Hospital.
“The policeman died while getting treatment in [Rangoon] because of a stab-wound,” a police official in Maubin told AFP 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 officers had only fired warning shots.”
The farmers have been demanding the return of more than 1,000 acres of land that was confiscated by the military in the late 1990s during military rule.
The land was handed over to a private company that was allegedly planning to develop a fishery enterprise; however locals claim that only a 500-acre pond has been built on the site, but little development has commenced on the property since the land was confiscated.
According to two reports published earlier this year, Burma has become the “latest flashpoint in an alarming trend” of land grabs across the globe.
With Burma primed for massive investment as the country continues with ongoing political reforms, land grabs have been on the rise. According to experts, the country’s shaky legal infrastructure allows forced relocation and appropriations to continue.
However, local farmers are feeling increasingly empowered in the absence of military rule to protest against development projects that threaten to forcibly remove them off land they work.