Farmers Persist in Fight to Halt Monywa Copper Mine

By Zarni Mann 11 October 2012

The public movement to stop a copper mining project in Sagaing Division is continuing, with farmers and locals symbolically planting about a thousand toddy palm trees in the area, and holding a theater show to publicize their plight.

“All the toddy palm trees, which once used to cover this area, were cut down to make way for the mine,” said a farmer from Sae Tae Village who had his land confiscated by the mining companies. “We want to replant them to conserve the local environment and to show our objection to the mining project.”

He said the farmers will continue to plant toddy palm trees around the site in the coming days.

On Wednesday, more than 100 farmers and their supporters organized a short performance for an audience including local media at Sae Tae village cemetery which they titled “Calls from the Spirits of our Ancestors.”

Ahead of the performance, the audience prayed and paid respect to their ancestors in the graveyard. Many wept as they cried out to their ancestors to help them reclaim the lands that we seized from them.

An emotionally charged afternoon was capped off by a call to preserve Letpadaung mountain range from the decimation of copper mining. The mine is situated in a watershed area nearby the confluence of two of Burma’s most important rivers, the Irrawaddy and the Chindwin.

About a dozen locals performed a short drama; painting their faces black and wearing torn rags, they acted out a scene whereby they had risen from the graves, shouting their grievances about the injustice that local landowners had suffered, and urging the authorities to put a stop to the copper mining project.

“The performance was to show that we are ready to sacrifice ourselves to fight for our rights and to maintain our environment,” said a local who took part.

Several members of civic society groups which have supported the affected farmers in the area said that they would do whatever they could to help the Monywa farmers.

“They have said they may even organize a hunger strike if they do not receive assurances from the mining company or the government that the project will be completely abandoned,” said Aung Soe from Rangoon Civic Society Group.

Meanwhile, a lawsuit against the mining companies for allegedly using force and intimidation against protesters has been filed by a consortium of farmers representing 26 local villages. It was presented to the Sarlingyi police station.

A previous lawsuit against the Burmese and Chinese investors for using force to keep protesters away from the mining site was already thrown out.

See previous article: http://www.irrawaddy.com/archives/13913

“We will submit a report directly to the Divisional Admissions Office just as we were told. We just want justice to be done,” said Aung Soe.

More than 7,000 acres of land from 26 surrounding villages were confiscated after plans were announced in 2011 to award a joint-contract for the copper mining project to military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings, Ltd. (UMEHL) and China’s Wan Bao Company.

The farmers in the Latpadaung area began airing their complaints and demands for adequate compensation and the return of farmland on July 2. Tensions were raised with local authorities in August when hundreds of locals joined the farmers’ protest.

Civic society groups from as far afield as former capital Rangoon have since become involved, actively publicizing the detrimental affects of copper mining, such as the damage caused by waste from the work site, which they say could destroy the fragile ecosystem in the nearby Sabae and Kyay Sin mountains.

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