Family of Detained Rights Activist to Sue

By Zarni Mann 3 September 2012

The family of detained rights activist Wai Lu who went missing after being arrested are set to sue the local authorities of Myingmu Township, Sagaing Division, for kidnapping.

“Although we have eyewitnesses and concrete information that Wai Lu was taken to Myinmu Police Station for interrogation, the police deny that they know anything about him or that he is there. That’s why his family is preparing to sue them back for kidnapping,” said another rights activist who is helping the family.

Wai Lu, also a former political prisoner, was helping protesting farmers to win back land confiscated by a copper mining company in the Latpadaung mountain range. He was detained on Aug. 31 on his way to Rangoon.

“[The local authorities] took him off a highway bus without any explanation and did not even inform his family,” said the activist who asked to remain anonymous. “They are very upset and worried about him.”

“While the authorities were checking the vehicle, they also asked if Han Win Aung, Myint Myint Aye and other rights activists were on board and questioned the passengers as well,” he added.

Activists who have been helping the farmers condemned the local authorities and called on them to stop such persecution.

“These actions must not happen during the country’s period of democratic transition. Searching for rights activists and detaining Wai Lu for helping the farmers threatens human rights and those who help the poor farmers as well,” said Myint Myint Aye, of the Public Affairs Network in Meiktila, Mandalay Division, who is also helping the farmers.

She said that they are planning to organize a petition and would be submitting an appeal to President Thein Sein to stop rights abuses and return confiscated land to the farmers.

Meanwhile, tensions between the mining company and farmers remain severe as digging has continued at the project site and waste has been thrown onto the confiscated land despite a request to suspend work and enter negotiations.

“Mining is continuing, security remains tight and the farmers are still protesting,” said Myint Myint Aye. “The company has begun piling waste soil around the villages from where the farmers were forced to relocate in May.

“When some people from our network had a chance to talk with the security forces there, they said that they are exhausted and only have a brief opportunity to visit the toilet. They are unable to practice proper personal hygiene and so some are suffering from skin infections,” she added.

Copper mining began in the Latpadaung mountain range at Sarlingyi Township, Sagaing Division, in 2011 as a joint venture between the Union of Myanmar Economic Holding Ltd and Wan Bao Company, a subsidiary of China North Industries Corporation.

Since then more than 7,800 acres of lands from 26 surrounding villages have been confiscated as part of the project.

Around 500 villagers have been protesting near the Wan Bao Company offices since August to demand adequate compensation, the return of confiscated lands, a stop to forced relocations, the reopening of locked monasteries, and no more dumped waste on their fields.

The company recently told journalists that it had already paid 5,200 kyat (US $60) compensation per acre of confiscated farmland in April 2011. However, the farmers said that they just want their land back to secure their future as growing crops is their only livelihood.

Locals staged a protest earlier in August which demanded a halt to the mining project, no more pollution from factory waste and protection of the environment as nearby Kyay Sin and Sabae mountains have been decimated due to copper mining.

Copper mining in the area starting in 1980 with joint ventures between former Burmese Ministry of Mining-1 and various investors including Canada-based Ivanhoe Mines.