SALINGYI TOWNSHIP, Sagaing Division — The family of a villager shot dead by police during a protest against a copper mine project has filed an official complaint over the killing, Sagaing Division police said.
Salingyi Township Police Station chief Col. Aung Kyaw said family members of Khin Win, a 56-year-old woman who died during the unrest on Monday, had registered their complaint at the station on Tuesday evening.
“We have accepted a complaint on the case of the death,” he told Irrawaddy reporters visiting the station. “Medics will investigate the cause of death. We’ll have to wait and see the results before taking further action.”
Dr. Myint Than, who heads Monywa District Hospital, conducted a forensic examination on the body of Khin Win, a resident of Moegyobyin Village. “We’ve found no other ailments. We could confirm she was killed by a bullet as her skull was blown out,” he said on Wednesday.
Thaung Htay, the younger brother of the victim, said he had reluctantly agreed to let authorities take her body to the hospital for examination. “I have no trust in the government. What if they destroy the body?” he said.
“The government mistreats us in collaboration with the Chinese, let alone protects us. We have no one to rely on,” Thaung Htay said.
On Wednesday afternoon, the situation appeared to have calmed down, while staff of China’s Wanbao mining company continued to clear confiscated farmland and fence off the area. Authorities spared no efforts to secure the area for the company, as dozens of police patrolled the area and placed huge rolls of barbed wire along the perimeter of the latest land seizures.
The mining complex was being further secured by high fences and the installation of watch towers, while tailings produced by the mine are being dumped to form a barrier along the edge of the area.
Tensions flared up near the Letpadaung copper mine on Monday and Tuesday after Wanbao company workers began clearing land with bulldozers and fencing off more than a dozen acres of farmland in Hse Tae Village as part of the planned expansion of the mine.
About 60 villagers, who have refused to accept what they deem as inadequate compensation for their land, faced off with dozens of armed police accompanying the Chinese workers and clashes ensued.
A doctor from the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society has said he treated 16 villagers—mostly women—who were injured in confrontations, including several shot with rubber bullets, while others were reportedly hit and kicked by police.
Witnesses and police confirmed that Khin Win was shot by a police officer during the clashes.
The US Embassy said on Wednesday that it was concerned over the clash near the Letpadaung mine.
“We are alarmed by reports of violence, including the death of a female protester, and continue to monitor the situation on the ground closely,” an embassy spokesperson said.
“Resolving land and resource disputes is a major challenge all around this country. It is clear that patience, dialogue, and restraint, not the use of force, will be essential to address these issues going forward, as will be an expeditious and transparent investigation” into the incident.
Wanbao, the Chinese company constructing the Letpadaung mine in a joint venture with the Burma Army-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings (UMEHL), has called the death “senseless,” while at the same time defending the mine’s expansion plans and accompanying land seizures. It said on Monday that local communities were properly consulted and compensated over the forced land confiscations.
The mining project has already resulted in the loss of all land in four villages while another 26 will also suffer land losses. Communities have objected against the land confiscation, the mine’s environmental impact and the removal of religious structures in the area.
Wanbao struck a deal for the mega project with Burma’s former military government shortly before it handed over power to a nominally-civilian government in 2011. The project is highly controversial among the Burmese public who view it as a massive land grab by Chinese investors and the army.
In the last two years, there have been numerous confrontations between villagers and security forces as the mine’s operators attempted to extend the project’s operating area.
In Nov. 2012, authorities caused a public outcry after police fired incendiary rounds, believed to be white phosphorous, into a protest camp near the mine. Dozens of protestors, many of them Buddhist monks, suffered serious injuries.
Following the incident, a parliamentary committee led by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi reviewed the project in early 2013 and said it should continue if the company properly addressed the mine’s social and environmental impacts.
A new contract was drawn up between Wanbao, UMEHL and the government, in which the government’s earnings from the project greatly increased. Several million dollars were allocated to environmental and corporate social responsibility projects, while compensation amounts for farmers were increased.
Yet the deal failed to address the grievances of many of the farmers who continue to vehemently oppose the mine’s expansion.