4 Arrested in Crackdown on Monastery Near Letpadaung Mine

By Land Rights, Zarni Mann & Lin Thant 6 August 2013

A monastery near the controversial Letpadaung copper mine in Sagaing Division was raided at around 2am on Tuesday by military police in search of activists fighting for local residents’ land rights.

According to villagers, four people were arrested and at least 15 others were injured as police smashed glass windows and destroyed property at the local monastery in the village of Zee Taw.

“Two truckloads of military police and 10 motorcycles entered the village around 1:45 in the morning,” said Ko Htet of the People’s Network, a Rangoon-based activist network helping the villagers defend their land rights around the Chinese-backed mine.

“They ransacked my monastery for nearly two hours,” said U Arloka, abbot of the San Myawaddy monastery in Zee Taw. The Buddhist monk added that the glass panes in his sleeping quarters were smashed and the room was forced open. U Arloka was away during the raid and only learned of the incident upon his return to the monastery later that day.

“The cause of the raid is that they asked my students the whereabouts of the activists. When they didn’t get what they wanted, they slapped my boys in their faces and kicked them with boots,” the 34-year-old abbot said.

The monk said two of the four people arrested on Tuesday morning had since been released, but the location of the pair still in detention, named Maung Tu and Tin Lin, remained unknown.

Representatives from the Salingyi police station and the Salingyi Township administration, which has jurisdiction over the mining project and Zee Taw, could not be reached for comment.

Hla Tun, president of the implementation committee for the findings of a government report on Letpadaung, recently said activist agitators were behind the defiance of some villagers who have refused to accept compensation for lands that were confiscated for the copper mine project.

Three locals were previously detained and are still being held for protesting against the project, and warrants have been issued for some members of the People’s Network who are active in the region. A curfew remains in effect in the area, which has seen recurring protests since last year.

“The police need not treat the villagers in a brutal way. I think the crackdown is to arrest the people who help the farmers, like us,” said Han Win Aung from a social aid network based in Rangoon.

Activists have been accused of inciting unrest in the area by encouraging the locals and farmers to participate in protests against the copper mine.

“To protest in order to showcase the suffering is the right of the farmers and so too is it the right of every citizen. Arresting or threatening is abusing human rights. The duty of the police is to protect us, not threaten us,” said Han Win Aung.

On Saturday, anti-copper mine activists, farmers and other local residents held a press conference urging parliamentarian Aung San Suu Kyi to take responsibility for ensuring that recommendations from the government’s report on Letpadaung be implemented. The opposition leader Suu Kyi chaired the commission in charge of issuing the report, in which a set of recommendations was proposed to be carried out, including ensuring greater environmental protections and adequate compensation to affected communities.

Wanbao, the Chinese firm that is spearheading the project, agreed last month to renegotiate its revenue sharing contract, which was originally signed under the former military regime. The new contract gives the Burmese government a majority 51 percent stake in the mine, with Wanbao and its local business partner, the military-backed Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (UMEHL), retaining 49 percent ownership. Previously, Wanbao and UMEHL held complete control.

The amendments also include a legal requirement that 2 percent of net profits from the mine be allocated for corporate social responsibility projects, with a focus on local communities affected by the mine. Wanbao is also required to pay $2 million per year through the commercial production period of the project to ensure that international standards in environmental protection are met.