Anti-Copper Mine Protests Renew—With a Call to Guardian Spirits

By Zarni Mann 3 March 2014

MANDALAY— Dozens of people have organized a prayer ceremony to oppose the removal of religious buildings from the Letpadaung copper mine area, and to request that guardian spirits from the mountains and forests put a curse on the miners.

More than 50 people gathered on Monday at the foot of Pyar Mountain in Sagaing Division, just a few kilometers from the mining site, bringing with them traditional offerings such as bananas, coconuts, cigars and traditional snacks, as well as incense and candles, to give to the spirits while asking for protection.

“The guardian spirits are the only hopes we have,” said Daw Nwae, who lives in Hse Tae village. “We asked human authorities to have mercy on us and on the religious buildings. Since they have not had mercy on us, we asked the guardian spirits to put a curse on those who do not value Mother Nature and who do not respect religion.”

The gathering on Monday was the third prayer service this year, apart from other anti-copper mine protests which have been organized with permission from local authorities. Over the weekend, about 100 people marched to protest the government’s decision to move two religious buildings that are currently located in the heart of the mining zone.

“We believe the guardian spirits will protect the region and will curse the people who harm the religious buildings, giving them bad luck and a plague that will drive them from the region,” Daw Nwae said.

A pagoda and an ancient ordination hall, established by Ledi Sayadaw, who was an influential Buddhist leader several decades ago, will soon be removed from the mining site. Ledi Sayadaw spent much of his early monkhood living in the Letpadaung region, and his teachings remain popular today.

The government recently announced that it had received approval from senior abbots to remove the religious buildings and rebuild them on 1.4 acres outside the mining zone, according to Buddhist ritual. But local residents have opposed the plan, with some saying the removal of the ordination hall could be an especially bad omen.

“We have a question for the senior abbots who agreed to remove the ordination hall: Which kind of ritual will be used to remove it?” said U Nandasara from Zee Daw village. “The ordination hall can be removed and relocated only in the face of a natural disaster, such as a landslide, flood or earthquake.

“Destroying religious buildings is destroying religion and the nation. We wonder, where are the people who have called for the protection of Buddhist religion and nationality? If we are unable to protect this [building], we don’t know how far they will go to destroy religion and nationality.”

Locals say they have been prohibited from visiting the buildings.

“We went near the area this morning and were driven back. The Burmese workers told us that the removal process is still pending because they are waiting for the Buddhist monks to perform religious rituals before moving the ordination hall,” Ko Htoo, who lives in Zee Daw village, told The Irrawaddy.

Participants at the prayer ceremony also accused the miners of destroying the local environment, confiscating land, displacing local people, while saying they would continue doing everything in their power to stop the mining process.

The Letpadaung mining project is a joint venture between China’s Wanbao Company, the Burmese government, and the military-owned conglomerate Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (UMEHL).