DKBA Aids Letpadaung Activists in Violation of Ceasefire, Military Claims

By Lawi Weng 17 December 2013

RANGOON — The Burmese military’s Southeast Command has warned the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) that it is in violation of a ceasefire agreement signed between the two parties, with the former accusing the ethnic armed group of supporting activists against the controversial Letpadaung mine in central Burma.

The warning letter from Col Aung Lwin, the Karen State border security affairs minister from the Southeast Command in Mon State, claims that the DKBA provided 10 million kyats (US$10,200) to activists protesting the Chinese company Wanbao and its copper mining venture in Burma’s Sagaing Division.

The letter said San Aung, a DKBA colonel, visited a protest camp near the Letpadaung mine last month, where he met with activists and donated food and the 10 million kyats.

“The case of the Letpadaung protesters does not concern the DKBA, and Col San Aung from the DKBA has violated the ceasefire agreement by providing money to the protesters,” the letter stated, accusing San Aung of using religion to foment unrest in the country.

In the latest effort to contest the Letpadaung project, a group of activists set up a protest camp in November on Ingyin Mountain near the mine.

The DKBA is an ethnic Karen armed group that signed a ceasefire agreement with the government in November 2011.

It is not the first time the DKBA, which controls territory more than 400 miles from the Letpadaung mine, has involved itself in the Wanbao dispute, which has centered around locals’ environmental concerns, claims of inadequate compensation for confiscated lands, and questions about equitable resource sharing.

In December 2012, DKBA members protested in the border town of Myawaddy, with troops marching in the streets with guns raised in the aftermath of a police crackdown on protesters near Letpadaung. More than 80 people, including Buddhist monks, were wounded in the crackdown, which included the use of white-phosphorus bombs to disperse the crowd.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy, San Aung denied having provided any money to the activists, calling the accusation from the Southeast Command leader “groundless.”

“Look, they are accusing me as a person who used religion to oppose the Letpadaung [project]. I am not afraid to confront their accusation, nor am I afraid to even face trial as a war criminal,” San Aung said.

The DKBA colonel said he was concerned to hear that some Letpadaung activists had gone into hiding following an incident that involved the burning of a Chinese flag outside the Chinese Embassy in Rangoon on Nov. 29. Authorities are searching for people suspected of involvement in the flag burning, which was part of a protest to mark the one-year anniversary of the Letpadaung police crackdown.

“There are no problems for protesters from other countries who burn flags during their protests. So, what is wrong with burning a Chinese flag for protesters in our country? This government is not doing their job,” San Aung said.

A group of activists from Letpadaung met with San Aung when he attended the 64th anniversary of anti-feudalism movement known as the Shan State Nationalities Peoples’ Liberation Organization (SSNPLO) in Hsi Hseng Township, Shan State, last week.

During the meeting, he told the activists that he understood their grievances over the copper mining project, which is a joint venture between China’s Wanbao and the Burmese military-backed Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (UMEHL).

Authorities have frequently taken action against persistent protests near the mining site, with several activists including prominent ethnic Karen land rights campaigner Naw Ohn Hla jailed for their activities.