The Irrawaddy

2 Letpadaung Locals Released on Bail After Confrontation with Police

MONYWA — Two women who had been arrested in the Letpadaung copper mining region, Monywa District, Sagaing Region, were released on bail on Saturday.

Ma Thwae Thawe Win and Ma San San Hla, who were under police detention while receiving medical attention at Salingyi Township Hospital, were released on bail after the charges against them were changed and they signed an agreement stating that they would appear in court when called to face trial.

The two women were arrested after a confrontation with police on March 29, while trying to prevent police from entering their village. Both women were in ill health and were detained and then hospitalized.

Initially, the police filed lawsuits against the women for seriously injuring a police officer and obstructing police from carrying out their duties, which carry a maximum sentence of 10 years and are non-bailable offenses.

Following a press conference with government officials in Monywa on Saturday morning, the charges were changed so that the pair could be released on bail.

The press conference addressed the injured police officer, and skepticism regarding how she was hurt. Video footage circulating on social media seemed to discount the police version of the incident.

Following the release of Ma Thwae Thawe Win and Ma San San Hla on Sunday, the regional border affairs and security minister announced that the final results of a medical examination showed that the police officer’s injuries were minor compared to what was previously thought – a fractured shin turned out to be only bruises – and the lawsuit was amended.

“Since the injuries were not serious, the lawsuit was changed to a bailable offense – injuring the police. And the two locals were released immediately,” said Colonel Kyaw Thant Naing, the regional border affairs and security minister.

The lawsuit has now been filed against three women – Ma Thwae Thwae Win, Ma San San Hla and Ma Phyu Phyu Win – who led locals in the confrontation with police. Initially, it had been filed against 10 locals.

The court hearing will be on April 12 at the Salingyi Township court.

“It is very clear that the police want to create problems and do not want us to live in peace,” said Ma Thwae Thwae Win. “We did nothing to the police. We were only defending our village. However, we will face the lawsuit that they filed against us. We are not afraid as we have witnesses and evidence that we hurt no one.”

Residents of Letpadaung region have been wary of allowing police or local authorities to approach their villages since copper mining began in 2013, as authorities and mining companies have tried to forcibly relocate villages that lie within designated mining zones.

Tensions first arose in the Letpadaung region in 2012, when locals protested the mining company’s activities in the area, demanding compensation and the right to remain on their land.

About 7,800 acres of land in Salingyi Township were confiscated for the project, which has been dogged by protests over poor compensation and environmental safeguards.

The Letpadaung copper mining project, a joint venture between the Myanmar military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (UMEHL) and the Chinese firm Wanbao, was launched in 2010.