Protesters at Monywa’s Letpadaung mountain range have been joined by activists from Rangoon and Mandalay plus members of the 88 Generation Students group in their bid to halt copper mining in the area.
More than 300 residents from 12 villages in Letpadaung held a public meeting on Wednesday to demand the closure of the copper mine which they claim has led to environmental destruction, forced relocations and illegal land confiscations.
On Tuesday, 20 students from Mandalay City joined a march of around 1,500 people to demand the release of three female activists who were detained at prayer meeting at Monywa’s Sutaungpyae Pagoda on Monday. Twelve protesters were originally arrested with nine released later the same day, but three women from Wat Hmay Village remain in Monywa Prison in Sagaing Division.
Members of the 88 Generations Students group arrived on Wednesday to negotiate between the authorities and villagers.
Jimmy, one of the 88 Generation Students leaders, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that the local security forces dispersed after the group met Sagaing Region Chief Minister Thar Aye on Wednesday evening.
“Chief Minister Thar Aye promised not to make any charges against the protesters, mostly from Wat Hmay Village, so they can go back home peacefully, and that the detainees will be released although it will take time as the arrests are in accordance with the law,” said Jimmy.
The 88 Generation told The Irrawaddy that the protesters had three demands—the release of current detainees, no more detention of protesters and the postponement of the copper project until some level of agreement has been reached.
But Thar Aye told the 88 Generation Students that the demand to postpone the copper mine must be brought up to Union-level government because State-level negotiators did not have the required authority. Jimmy is still in Monywa awaiting the release of the detainees.
Security has tightened in the area where the movement of villagers and activists is being watched by security forces, claim residents. NLD MP Khin San Hlaing, of Sagaing Division’s Palae constituency, met protestors in Monywa Monastery on Wednesday.
“Letpadaung copper mine will cause the contamination of Chindwin river water, destruction of religious heritage, environmental loss around the area and nearby Monywa, which is just 15 miles west of the mine. Therefore, the project must stop,” said a statement released by the protesters on Wednesday.
Phoe Kyaung, a farmer from Hse Te whose 15 acres of land were confiscated for the project a year ago, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that, “We also demand the withdrawal of the curfew which was issued two months ago and also not to be detained unlawfully.”
“Even though some farmers have taken compensation and left the region, those who remain fear the mountains will be destroyed due to the copper mine,” said Han Win Aung, another rights activist. “So they fear this environmental loss as they have started losing crops in their village.”
Students in Monywa joined protesters from Wat Hmay for a “mountain gazing” protest over the weekend to symbolically remember the Letpadaung range which they fear will soon disappeared due to the copper mine.
Activists point to the examples of nearby Sabae and Kyay Sin mountains which have been decimated by copper mining with nearby farmland polluted by waste products from the worksite.
Tensions have risen since last month after the project—a joint venture between Chinese Wan Bao Mining Company and military-owned Union of Myanmar Economics Holding Ltd—brought in the security police to protect the project which covers almost 8,000 acres of land along the mountain range.
Villagers recently stood in front of the company’s bulldozers—used to destroy land near Wat Hmay, Hse Te, Tone Taw Kyaung and Zeedaw villages in Sarlingyi Township—to stop them from continuing project construction.
Earlier this year, villagers brought up the impact of waste from the mining into their fields. No settlement has been agreed between the company and residents to date.