Copper Mining Tensions Rise as Dozen Detained

By Zarni Mann 10 September 2012

Tensions at the Latpadaung mountain range copper mining area swelled again as 12 farmers and their supporter were detained in Monwya, Sagaing Division, on Monday morning.

Thwae Thwae Win, who helps protesters from Wat Hmae Village, was at Sutaungpyae Pagoda for a prayer service regarding confiscated land and maintaining the environment when the authorities closed down the building and arrested those present.

“The police said that they will release 10 of those arrested but will not release Thwae Thwae Win and Aye Nat from Wat Hmae Village,” said a local farmer who declined to be named for fear of reprisals. “They said they will file a case against these two. So to show solidarity, the 10 others refused to leave without them.”

According to local sources, supporters and Ba Ka Tha students gathered in front of Police Station No.1 in Monywa to negotiate with the police for the group’s release.

Meanwhile, around 700 protestors gathered at Nyaung Pin Gyi Village, on the other side of the Chindwin River from Monywa, to demand the release of detainees and end of the copper mining project.

“They are not allowed to cross the river,” said a bystander. “We don’t know yet what will happen next. If the authorities do not listen to their demands, it seems they will not stop the protest.” The police are currently searching for other protest leaders and even threatened nearby villagers to reveal their whereabouts, claim local people.

“Every police officer has our photos and names on them. They are looking for us everywhere and asking whether they know where I live. I now have to hide somewhere safe,” said Han Win Aung, of the Political Prisoners Families Network.

He added that the family of detained Wai Lu, who has been helping farmers to win back their lands, still has not received any information about his location or condition after his arrest last week.

“Arresting protesters will not solve the problem,” said Han Win Aung. “They stand on the side of the company and use force to stop the protest which is not a positive solution. The only solution to appease the locals is to rethink the project and negotiate with them.

“Not only the livelihood of the locals, this copper project is affecting the environment and is the concern of the whole country. We already have the examples of Sabae and Kyay Sin mountains which have disappeared due to copper mining in the past.”

Waste water from the project has polluted nearby farmland, the Chindwin River and local wells, he added.

“According to our research, some wells in the area are no longer drinkable or usable as the water has a sour and salty flavor,” explained Han Win Aung.

“People have to buy bottled drinking water from Monywa, while others who cannot afford have no choice but to drink the contaminated supply. We’re afraid that if all this waste goes into the Chindwin River it would get worse and the people downstream will be the ones who suffer in the future.”

More than 7,800 acres of land from 26 villages in the Sarlingyi Township area have been confiscated since the joint-venture between Union of Myanmar Economic Holding Ltd and Wan Bao Company began in 2011. Farmers began airing their demands for adequate compensation, return of their lands and to end forced relocation during a protest near the firm’s office on July 2.

More villagers joined the farmers’ protests in August after it began to focus on nearby Sabae and Kyay Sin mountains which have been decimated by copper mining while farmland is polluted by waste products from the worksite.

In late August, local people and civil society groups organized education programs nearby and began a signature campaign to stop the excavation work. Copper mining started in the area in 1980 with joint ventures between former Burmese Ministry of Mining-1 and various investors including Canada-based Ivanhoe Mines.