MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Phulbari Coalmine Killing: Thousands defy ban, stage protest

Published by MAC on 2006-08-28

Phulbari Coalmine Killing: Thousands defy ban, stage protest

Daily Star

28th August 2006

Thousands of locals took to the streets in Phulbari yesterday violating section 144 during a daylong shutdown protesting Saturday's police firing on demonstrators against an open-pit coal mine project that left seven killed and around 300 injured. The agitators vowed to continue their ongoing indefinite strike until Asia Energy (Bangladesh) Pvt Ltd, the British company operating the Phulbari coalmine project, leaves the town.

Hundreds of members of Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) and police swooped on the demonstrators since morning. Over ten thousand people participated in a namaz-e-janaza of the deceased at Nimtali crossing in Phulbari at 5:30pm.

Shops, offices and schools remained closed during the hartal while communication from Phulbari to nearby Birampur, Nawabganj, Hakimpur and Ghoraghat upazilas has remained snapped since Saturday.

The protesters organised a protest rally at about 8:00am.

The law enforcers obstructed the rally at different places. The BDR and police dispersed the agitators whenever they tired to regroup and join the rally.

An agitator claimed that the BDR men also attacked their houses on Friday and looted valuables. The demonstrators set fire to tyres in front of a hotel at noontime and threw brickbats at the police. Additional BDR and police forces have been deployed in the area to contain further violence. Meanwhile, Shahjahan Ali Sarkar Putu, Phulbari Pourasabha chairman and convenor of Phulbari Protection Committee, said they had no involvement in Saturday's programme.

He said he had lodged a general diary (GD) with the Phulbari Police Station on August 2 saying the Phulbari Protection Committee will not be responsible for any untoward incident during the programme.

Phulbari Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) Hasan Sarwar said what happened on Saturday was totally beyond their control. The BDR fired 70 rounds while the police shot 30, he said.

Syed Saiful Islam Jewel, Phulbari unit convener of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources and Electricity-Port, severely condemned Saturday's incident and said the administration opened fire on the common people to protect the interest of the looters.

However, the police superintendent of Phulbari told him that the police did not shoot. Meantime, leaders of the committee demanded judicial inquiry into the matter and punitive measures against the responsible. They also demanded compensation to the families of Saturday's victims.

The hartal in Phulbari will continue until stoppage of all activities of Asia Energy and its removal, Saiful said. Claiming that at least 10 were killed in Saturday's shootout, he alleged that the BDR dumped the rest of the dead bodies.

"The police have prevented the people of Phulbari from seeing the dead bodies of their relatives. They are also not saying clearly if the dead bodies will be returned," he said.

Our correspondent in Dinajpur adds: Two more of the seven killed were identified yesterday: they are Amin, 14, son of Abdul Hamid of Barokona village, and Salekin, 24, son of Abdul Hashem of Jharapara village of Nawabganj upazila.

The identity of another deceased could not be known as of 9:30pm yesterday. At least seven to eight people of Janpara, Barokona and Jholapara, including SSC candidate Ekramul, son of Mokbul Hossain, have been missing since Saturday.

Meanwhile, the BDR raided and ransacked several houses in Jholapara, Dhanapara and Sajalpukur on August 26 night. They even assaulted some women, sources alleged.

The designated magistrate snatched the film of a local photojournalist when the latter tried to take his snaps in Nimtali area. Sources said the BDR asked for the approval from the Phulbari UNO for shooting. The UNO, however, denied it.

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