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Seventeen labourers in Burma’s western Arakan State have been charged with arson, aggravated trespassing and abetting crime for alleged involvement in a fire at a relay station along the Shwe gas and oil pipelines in January.
The station, located in Singondai village in AnnTownship, is operated by Southeast Asia Oil and Gas Pipelines Limited (SEAOGP), a joint venture between China National Petroleum Corporation, Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) and other multi-national shareholders.
More than 20 employees were detained by authorities after they allegedly set fire to the station following an altercation with Chinese staff on 26 January.
Aye Kyaw Than, one of three lawyers volunteering in their defence, said 17 of them were arraigned in a hearing on Monday as their one month remand neared expiry.
“My clients have been formally charged under the penal code articles 452, 436 and 144, for alleged aggravated trespassing, arson and abetting criminal offence,” said Aye Kyaw Than.
The arraigned, mostly ethnic Chin labourers, were charged by government-owned MOGE. Trial is set for 10 March in Ann Township Court.
The lawyer said it was too early to speculate on the trial’s outcome.
Details of the cause of the fire are still unclear, with some claiming that the workers set fire to an oil storage facility as a retaliation for abuses committed against ethnic workers. SEAOGP at the time acknowledged that a disagreement did occur between workers and announced to media that it was an isolated incident and posed no threat to project security.