Dozens of Police Officers in Myanmar Hurt in Clashes Over Land Seizures

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Correction Appended

BANGKOK -- When angry villagers clashed with security forces on Tuesday over land seizures in Myanmar, the police apparently got the worst of it.

Officials and a doctor at a hospital said on Wednesday that one officer was killed and dozens were wounded; most of those whose injuries were severe were police officers.

The episode took place in Maubin, a township in the Irrawaddy River delta, when the police tried to disperse villagers who were protesting the taking of land by a private company. It was the second time in four months that a crackdown by the police related to land seizures turned violent. In November, dozens of monks were badly burned when police officers in riot gear used what a group of lawyers has said were white phosphorus incendiary devices, a weapon usually reserved for warfare.

Dr. Myint Soe, the head of the hospital in Maubin, said that of the 46 people who were treated there late Tuesday, 27 were officers. One was transferred to a larger hospital in Yangon and later died, the doctor said.

The issue of land seizures has dogged the administration of President Thein Sein, who took office in 2011 after five decades of military rule. A parliamentary committee investigating land seizures has been presented with evidence of numerous cases dating from before the transfer to civilian rule.

The protests in Maubin began last week, according to reports in the Myanmar news media, with several hundred farmers gathering at an agricultural project owned by a businessman, U Myint Sein. Farmers say the land was confiscated in 1996 and then sold to Mr. Myint Sein, and that they were never compensated.

"We just want our land back," said Khin Mar Win, 32, a villager. "All we have is our land."

The protests continued on Wednesday. It was not clear what had touched them off now, 17 years after the seizures, though both police officers and villagers said that tensions over the project had been worsening in recent years.

"It is an old problem, but now it has exploded," said Lt. Col. Tot Shwe of the police.

Colonel Tot Shwe would not comment on exactly how the episode on Tuesday had escalated into violence, except to say that the police had fired rubber bullets and not more lethal ammunition.

But a video posted on Facebook by The Voice, a private weekly news journal, appeared to show the police bracing for a confrontation, with a commander instructing a line of officers in riot gear about how to use their batons.

"When you beat, strike from above, like this," the commander is heard to say. "Beat any parts you can reach."

He adds, perhaps presciently, "Keep in mind that they also have hands -- so they will defend themselves."

Wai Moe contributed reporting from Maubin, Myanmar.

Correction: February 27, 2013, Wednesday

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to the amount of time that elapsed between land seizures in Myanmar and protests against those seizures. It was 17 years, not seven.

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This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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