Protesters Demand Release of Detainees at Letpadaung Mine

Security forces and local officials stand behind a sign that warns protesters they will be shot if they proceed beyond this point. (Photo: Han Win Aung)

Several hundred villagers marched to a police station in Salingyi Township on Friday, calling for the release of detainees who were arrested on Thursday in a crackdown on farmers near the controversial Letpadaung copper mine.

Amid a heavy deployment of security forces in the Letpadaung area outside of Sagaing Division’s Monywa, the protesters marched from the village of Tone to the police station on Friday afternoon.

Residents from the village of Hse Te said more security forces were dispatched near the copper mine’s company building in Hse Te soon after the crackdown on farmers, who were plowing in an act of protest.

“Three trucks of riot police and another seven from Salingyi are dispatched near the company building in Hse Te,” said Han Win Aung from the Rangoon People’s Support Network.

Three people remain in custody, and another three villagers were injured after security forces moved against the farmers in Hse Te on Thursday morning. The injuries reportedly included at least one gunshot wound.

Protesters on Friday called for the release of the detainees and the complete abandonment of the mining project. They also demanded that authorities immediately rescind the area’s Act 144 emergency declaration, which prohibits gatherings and restricts entry to certain areas, and take action against those riot police who cracked down violently during Thursday’s protest.

State media on Friday reported that 15 police officers were also hurt by the farmers’ “harsh acts against security forces,” which The New Light of Myanmar said included stone throwing and the beating of officers. The newspaper went on to report that police were forced to fire shots into the air to disperse the crowd and protect themselves.

The state media account referred to the plowing farmers as “rioters,” and members of the activist group Rangoon People’s Support Network (referred to as the Yangon Public Service Network) were accused of instigating the protest.

Local authorities have issued arrest warrants for 15 villagers and supporters.

Win Htay, a female farmer who escaped police arrest, said she and her landlord Ye Ye Win are among those with warrants out for their arrest.

She told The Irrawaddy on Friday that police pursued her during Thursday morning’s crackdown but she managed to escape.

“We have not taken the compensation for the farmlands and oppose the confiscation of our land, so they target us [for arrest] and accuse us of being rioters,” said Win Htay, whose 23 acres of farmland was seized.

Last month, a report by a government-formed commission chaired by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi recommended that the copper mine project should continue, but suggested that compensation should be given to the farmers by its developers.

Many villagers have refused to take the compensation and this week began plowing their fields ahead of the approaching monsoon season.

The Chinese firm Wanbao is jointly developing the mine with Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (UMEHL), a firm owned by Burma’s military.

“It is an unjust action by the government,” said activist Han Win Aung, who is also on the arrest warrant list.

“They do not take any actions against the company and the security forces for using incendiary devices on the peaceful protesters in November last year,” he said, referring to an incident in which police used smoke bombs containing phosphorous on a protest in November 2012, injuring several demonstrators.

“Now such shooting by security forces on protesters is also without consequence. But they accuse the farmers plowing their fields of instigating riots. It is unfair that they see the military’s UMEHL work as fair and our people have to follow whatever they want.”

He said state media’s account of Thursday’s events was biased and failed to mention that security forces destroyed activists’ cameras, phones and other electronic devices.

“These trained riot police, who serve the company for 1,500 kyat [$1.70] per day, cracked down on the farmers but they accuse us [of instigating the violence],” Han Win Aung added.

“We are just taking our lands back; it is not as though we are taking other people’s property. They may call us rioters, but we have never been those kinds of people. In yesterday’s incidents, they [the security forces] started the crackdown,” Win Htay said.

“State media broadcast that local officials were not present at the crackdown, but I saw U Khin Maung San, Monywa’s administrator as well as a Salingyi Township administrator yesterday,” she added. “U Khin Maung San ordered the arrest of both men and women.”

Win Htay said locals would not be deterred despite the presence of security forces in the area.

“We will keep plowing our fields regardless, as it is our land.”


6 Responses to Protesters Demand Release of Detainees at Letpadaung Mine

  1. It shows that DASSK doesn’t know where she stand, this dilemma in Letpadaung, Sr Gen Than Shwe push it to her to take up something which could burn her hands, Hm ? As you can see it for now, 26/Apr/2013; in other words it is killing 3 birds with one stone:-
    Bird-1. Gen Than Shwe was able to trade off copper project survival against environmental hurdles;

    Bird-2. DASSK’s popularity was tarnished, which could be his ultimate desire & off course whom he hates most;

    Bird-3. DASSK’s political career is in jeopardy & hence her presidential dream/2015 are being shattered to Gen Than Shwe’s delight !

  2. The Country policy has been changed, but the authorities’ mentality is still the same. By using excessive force to suppress the land holders will not solve the disputes. Choose peaceful compromising approaches.

    Keep in mind that no major project ever succeed, without local community’s cooperation and supports in the Democratic countries.

    Would suggest to deploy professional and qualified security force and management personnel rather than abusive action taken by the ” barbers and butchers”.

    The world is watching the events.

  3. From this report, we can say Police will do what ever Burmese Junta Govt. order them. They will do nothing while some people burn alive Muslims men and women infront of their eyes. They will shoot when innocent people refuse to accept the govt payment and use their own farm land. Military is using Police force as a tool. .

  4. One law for the military, its business arm UMEHL (don’t you dare challenge their elevated position enshrined in the Nargis Constitution, and it hurts most in the wallet), another law for the farmers and all the rest of us.

    ‘Rule of law’ as endorsed by the Lady, and punishment meted out to those ‘rioters’ who dared violate the law as she has given due warning. Reminds us, doesn’t it, of another warning – when the army shoots it shoots to hit. Happy days are here for the Burmese nation.

  5. Rule of Chinese Law

  6. George Than Setkyar Heine

    Win Htay said locals would not be deterred despite the presence of security forces in the area.
    “We will keep plowing our fields regardless, as it is our land.”
    FAIR ENOUGH of course
    They have all the RIGHTS and PRIVILEGES as well to PLOW their FIELDS and MAKE their LIVING as well no doubt.
    The Chinese Wan Bao and military owned enterprise have ROBBED and SEIZED the FARMERS’ LANDS and LIVELIHOODS at GUN POINT in the first place.
    “These trained riot police, who serve the company for 1,500 kyat [$1.70] per day, cracked down on the farmers but they accuse us [of instigating the violence],” Han Win Aung added.
    So, not only the Burma Army led by Min Aung Hlaing but also the Burma Police as well is SERVING as MERCENARIES of the Chinese in Burma today see.
    He said state media’s account of Thursday’s events was biased and failed to mention that security forces destroyed activists’ cameras, phones and other electronic devices.
    Of course the STATE MEDIA is Thein Sein’s ORGAN for PROPAGANDA no doubt.
    However, DESTROYING the ACTIVISTS’ cameras, phones and other electronic devices on the part of the security forces is JUST OUTRIGHT LAWLESSNESS I say.
    Well, it holds me in NO AWE much less SURPRISE as well for that matter as Thein Sein is only a PUPPET PRESIDENT and PAPER TIGER EARNING HIS BONES, RICE and CURRY since day one as Than Shwe’s CLERK entrusted with the TASK of RUNNING Naypyidaw and COVERING his (Than Shwe’s) ASS and his CRONIES’ as worldwide known today.
    “They do not take any actions against the company and the security forces for using incendiary devices on the peaceful protesters in November last year,” he said, referring to an incident in which police used smoke bombs containing phosphorous on a protest in November 2012, injuring several demonstrators.
    That time they USED PHOSPHORUS INCENDIARY BOMBS which Suu Kyi herself said the police used only SMOKE BOMBS and WHITEWASHED the HEINOUS ACT altogether by REFUSING to FINGER WHO WAS RESPONSIBLE for the HEINOUS ACT on the Buddhist monks and people as well, a case of DERELICTION of DUTY and CORRUPTION of CHARACTER on her part and role as HEAD of the INVESTIGATING COMMISSION of course.
    Three people remain in custody, and another three villagers were injured after security forces moved against the farmers in Hse Te on Thursday morning. The injuries reportedly included at least one gunshot wound.
    This time the security forces have USED GUNS no doubt.
    Next time Thein Sein will CALL IN the HEAVY ARTILLERY and even the AIR FORCE to DROP NAPALM BOMBS on the villagers if they continue with their RIGHT to DEMONSTRATE and FIGHT for their LANDS and LIVELIHOODS trust me.
    WHERE IS SUU KYI and HER RULE of LAW while Win Htay, a female farmer who escaped police arrest and her landlord Ye Ye Win among 15 others with warrants out for their arrest are running for their lives today?
    Of course Suu Kyi would RUE the DAY in case she ACCEPTS the THRONE (president’s post) at Naypyidaw on the BACKS of the BURMESE MILITARY and the CHINESE COMMUNISTS rather than the PEOPLE of BURMA lest she forgets.

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