Six members of a group of miners marching from Yangon to Nay Pyi Taw were arrested on Friday, November 23 in northern Bago Region, some of the miners said.
Four leaders of the group and two other members were arrested near Myohla in Bago Region, about 30 kilometres south of the capital, on the old Yangon-Mandalay Highway.
One of the arrested is receiving treatment at Pyinmana Township Hospital after being injured in a clash with police.
The six people arrested are Ko Nay Aung Htet, Ko Yeyint Tun, Ko Saw Naung, Ko Yauk Kyi, Ko Han Nyein and Ko Zaw Lin.
“It happened in front of Yeni paper factory near the 214 miles and 4 furlongs milepost between Myohla and Yeni,” said Ko Than Htut, a member of the group.
“As they were marching in procession, policemen blocked them from both ends of the procession and hit them without any prior notice. There were about 100 policemen, each holding riot shields. There were about 30 more people in plain clothes who were clearly government officials because they had handcuffs. Policemen forced four of the leaders onto a car after hitting them. Since then we haven’t heard anything about them. We have no idea where they were taken,” he said.
The miners are expected to arrive in Nay Pyi Taw on Sunday, November 25, although it is not clear whether officials will allow them to enter the city.
The 85 miners left Yangon on Thursday, November 8 and plan to apply for permission to protest outside the Ministry of Mines, the parliament the president’s residence.
Ko Nay Aung Htet, the leader of the group, which now numbers 76, said on Saturday, November 17 that they would protest in Nay Pyi Taw “until a solution is reached”.
They are unhappy at what they describe as unfair treatment and broken promises from company Myanmar National Prosperity, which won a tender to mine gold in the area in late 2011.
In June, workers from the hundreds of small mines at Moehti Moemi began protesting after the company allegedly reneged on an earlier verbal agreement to split all gold found in the area 50-50.
Myanmar National Prosperity officials reportedly made the promise to the small mining companies and individual miners in December 2011, saying they could excavate gold from the area for the duration of its five-year contract with the government.
After holding several illegal protests in the mining area, the miners applied for permission to demonstrate in Yamethin but were rejected twice. About 30 of them then protested in front of Myanmar National Prosperity office in Yangon on Saturday, November 3, Tuesday, November 6 and Thursday, November 8, after which they decided to walk to Nay Pyi Taw.
They were originally expected to arrive around Tuesday, November 20, but on Monday, November 19 the police chief for Taunggoo District asked them to wait three days because a foreign dignitary was visiting Nay Pyi Taw, said marcher Ko Yauk Kyi.
“We agreed to wait as a gesture of respect for the state. [The police chief] said he would render help as much as he could when we leave after that,” he said.
But residents there said Nay Pyi Taw Council has tightened security at check points on roads entering the city.
Ko Nay Aung Htet said the group would proceed regardless.
“If we are blocked, it is okay; we won’t do anything violent. If we are arrested, it is also okay. This is because we are out of work if we go back [to Yamethin]. But we are confident we can bring about a solution,” he said.
Their demands include fair rights to work on Moehti Moemi hill, abolishing the National Prosperity’s monopoly, taking legal action against companies that are exploiting the people at Moehti Moemi, ensuring they abide by the rules of any contract, taking action against National Prosperity employees who “bully” other people in the area, better environmental protections and action against acts of forced labour, Ko Nay Aung Htet said.
“Will this be resolved in favour of the poor, who don’t even have enough food, or the rich, who have more property than they can even look after? That’s the main point in this case,” he said.
Gold was struck in Moehti Moemi region in 1996-1997 and about 100,000 people worked in the area before National Prosperity won the tender.
Now about 20,000 miners and their families live there, the marchers said.
Translated by Thit Lwin