Friday, August 18, 2017

Ten charged over anti-CNPC protest in Rakhine State

Ten residents of Maday Island are facing prison terms after they allegedly protested without permission over a China-backed oil pipeline.

An official stands in front of hundreds of protesters outside a China National Petroleum Corporation construction site on Maday Island on April 18. Photo: SuppliedAn official stands in front of hundreds of protesters outside a China National Petroleum Corporation construction site on Maday Island on April 18. Photo: Supplied

About 200 residents took part in the protest outside a China National Petroleum Corporation construction site on Maday Island in Rakhine State on April 18, citing a list of nine grievances, including low wages and compensation for land acquisitions.

The protest was organised by the Maday Island Development Association. The group’s chairman, U Tun Kyi, said he had twice applied twice for permission to hold the protest, in December and March, but on both occasions had been denied.

On April 19 and 20, local officials charged 10 protest organisers, including U Tun Kyi, with violating section 18 of the peaceful protest law. U Tun Kyi said the authorities had instructed those charged not to leave Rakhine State without permission. All 10 were bailed and will soon face court.

The protest came just 30 minutes after a meeting between association members and officials from CNPC, the main investor in the oil pipeline, a CNPC spokesperson told The Myanmar Times.

“At 1:30pm on April 18 the group of protestors led by U Tun Kyi met us and discussed their nine points and they signed an agreement. I can’t understand why they then went out and protested at 2pm after the meeting. We already explained about the land compensation issues and promised to improve transportation on the island in early May,” the spokesperson said.

“We also didn’t request the local authorities arrest them. As far as I know, the police station just asked why their protest was held without permission and then they were able to return home after a few hours,” he said.

The spokesperson conceded that the process of compensating landowners was difficult because most land on Maday Island was officially registered as vacant.

“We already finished compensation for long-term land rent [of 30 years] but in some areas where land is being rented on a short-term basis it has not been concluded because the ownership is unclear. Most land at Maday Island is vacant land. We already applied to the government to use those areas but U Tun Kyi, who led the protest, asked us to compensate the residents. In those complicated areas we are yet to pay compensation.”

U Tun Kyi said most residents did not have official land ownership documentation. “They are working and living there on the land of their ancestors. If [CNPC] doesn’t compensate residents who can’t show land ownership certificates we will continue to push for the rights of our people,” he said.

“They also promised to improve transportation on Maday Island after May 7 when we met with them. If they don’t start these projects we will protest again, whether we have permission or not.”

One resident told The Myanmar Times that wages were also an issue.

“A main point is that wages for locals who work on the Chinese projects are so low, and also the compensation given for farmland is low. So we protested to demand our desire … we need to demonstrate like that to get a reasonable wage and compensation for our farmland,” the resident said on April 22.

CNPC is one of several investors in oil and gas pipelines that will link Rakhine State with China’s Yunnan Province. Only the oil pipeline passes through Maday Island.

Meanwhile, on April 20, two senior members of the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party departed for China at the invitation of the China Communist Party. Chairman Dr Aye Maung and U Zaw Aye Maung were among 10 politicians invited on the eight-day trip.