MAC: Mines and Communities

Asia Energy Coal Mine Protest

Published by MAC on 2006-08-26

Asia Energy Coal Mine Protest

7 killed, 60 bullet-hit as cops, BDR open fire

Indefinite hartal called

Kongkon Karmaker, from Phulbari, Dinajpur

At least seven people were killed and about 300 injured as police and Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) opened fire on demonstrators advancing towards the office of Asia Energy Corporation (Bangladesh) Pvt Ltd in Dinajpur yesterday.

Thousands of demonstrators, mainly farmers and indigenous people including women armed with bows and arrows and sticks, joined the protest apprehending massive eviction and loss of farmland that might be caused by the implementation of the Phulbari Coalmine Project. The protesters enforced an indefinite hartal at Phulbari starting today in protest of the police action.

The Asia Energy yesterday said in a statement that "unrepresentative" outsiders created trouble at the Phulbari coalmine site, UNB reported.

The dead include Tariqul Islam, 24, son of Mokhlesur Rahman of Chandpara, Ahsan Habib, 35, Osman, 24, Raju, 8, and Chunnu. The identity of two others could not be confirmed. Hospital sources said 60 of the injured, including eight policemen, were bullet-hit and many of them are in a critical condition.

The injured were taken to local Upazila Health Complex by vans and rickshaws as the roads had been made off-limits to all kinds of motorised vehicles since morning for the demonstration programme.

Witnesses said the protesters under the banner of National Committee to Protect Oil and Gas, a platform of different rights groups and leftist parties, marched towards the Asia Energy office around 4:30pm after a huge rally at the Dhaka intersection.

They chanted slogans against the British company that is operating the Phulbari project. The police had put up a barricade near the bridge over the Chhoto Jamuna river about 1.5km off the Asia Energy office. This led to a scuffle between the leaders of the demonstrators and the law enforcers.

The police lobbed around 100 rounds of teargas shells to disperse the demonstrators trying to break the barricade.

The protesters regrouped a little later and attacked the law enforcers from different directions. Admitting the death of two people in the firing, district Superintendent of Police (SP) Delwar Hossain Mia said, "The police were forced to open fire after being attacked by the demonstrators equipped with lethal weapons." Deputy Commissioner Tahsinur Rahman said additional forces were deployed at Phulbari and other places.

As the news of killing spread, the crowd damaged the information centre of Asia Energy at Phultali about 3.2km from the coalmine office.

The fight was continuing at the time of filing this report at 8:00pm last night. Angry locals were also chanting slogans against local MP Mostafizur Rahman Fizar calling him an agent of the Asia Energy for supporting the project.

Earlier, addressing the rally the protesters said at least 4,70,000 locals including 50,000 indigenous people will have to be relocated if the Phulbari Coalmine Project is implemented. Extraction of coal through the open pit method will also affect half of the Phulbari town, they added.

The speakers said according to the agreement the Asia Energy will extract coal for 30 years and export two-thirds of it. The foreign company will hold the ownership of the project during this period while Bangladesh will receive a royalty of only six per cent, they said.

"The proposed open pit system will cause more damage to the ecology than what the economy will get from the coalmine," Prof Anu Muhammad of Jahangirnagar University told the rally.

UNB adds: Immediately after the incident, Asia Energy Chief Executive Officer Gary Lye said in a statement, "It is most unfortunate that unrepresentative outsiders have come to Phulbari to cause trouble in our community."

Lye noted that the Asia Energy has been operating at the site for several years in accordance with a legally binding contract with the government of Bangladesh.

He said the coal project is an open and transparent business that will bring far-reaching benefits to both the local community and the people of Bangladesh.

Meanwhile, leaders of different socio-political organisations yesterday condemned the police firing on the demonstrators and demanded proper investigation and immediate trial of the law enforcers involved. They also demanded compensation to the victims' families and proper treatment of the injured.

The Awami League-led 14-party opposition combine will stage countrywide demonstrations today to protest the killings at Phulbari.

The 14-party also extended its support to the indefinite hartal called at Phulbari by the demonstrators, Rashed Khan Menon, president of Workers Party of Bangladesh and a leader of the opposition combine, told The Daily Star last night.

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