LETPADAUNG, Sagaing Division — Under the blazing morning sun, they headed to the mountain that is now off-limits. After a few minutes’ walk, they reached the point beyond which they could not proceed. In front of them was a chicken-wire fence and security outposts manned by police. Warnings on the fence read: “Project Area. No Trespassing.”
“We are here to curse them,” one villager told me. She is one of the nearly 100 villagers who gathered under the shadow of the mountain to seek help from the mountain gods and spirits. Villagers urged them to punish a Chinese company and the Burmese military-owned company that grabbed their land to make way for a massive copper mine.
Since 2012, the Letpadaung project, near Monywa in Sagaing Division, has sparked public outcry, especially after the government’s violent crackdown on protesters late that year. Locals and activists have relentlessly demanded its closure, citing environmental destruction, forced relocation and illegal land confiscation.
The mine is a joint venture between China’s Wanbao mining company—a subsidiary of Norinco, a weapons manufacturer—and the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (UMEHL), a Burmese military-owned conglomerate.
“Oh, Lord of Letpadaung, please rid this area of Wanbao and UMEHL. May a bad fate fall upon them,” recited a woman leading the demonstrators, raising offerings above her head.
The May 24 event was the fourth time they have turned to supernatural forces for help. The effort was emboldened by an accident at the mining site that killed one employee from the company earlier this month.
One of the villagers told me she was not sure whether their action today would have impact or not.
“At least, I believe, it could challenge them psychologically. We want them suffer as we did,” she said, before joining other villagers to set fire to mock coffins bearing the companies’ names.
“Down with Wanbao. Down With UMEHL,” the villagers shouted, pumping their fists into the air while watching the coffins burn in front of them.