Letpadaung Residents Make Bid to Sue Thein Sein

By Nyein Nyein 5 March 2013

Three villagers living in the area of the controversial Letpadaung copper mine in Sagaing Division say they have moved to file a lawsuit against President Thein Sein for his alleged role in a crackdown on anti-mine protesters on Nov. 29.

The villagers—two women from Hsetae and a man from Moegyoepyin, which are among the 26 villages in the area of the copper-mine project—say they submitted their complaint to Salingyi Township Court yesterday and were told to return next Monday to find out if the case has been accepted.

The villagers said they named themselves as plaintiffs and Thein Sein as the accused.

Yee Yee Win, one of the plaintiffs from Hsetae, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that they decided to pursue legal action against the president because he has so far failed to hold anybody to account for the pre-dawn crackdown, which left nearly 100 protesters, including Buddhist monks, injured, some seriously.

She said that villagers from Hsetae were among the protesters, who were attacked with incendiary devices when local authorities moved to shut down their protest camp three months ago.

The Letpadaung Copper Mine project is a joint venture between the Burmese military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (UMEHL) and its Chinese partner, the Wanbao company, which is a subsidiary of Norinco, a state-owned arms manufacturer.

Local people say 7,800 acres (3,156 hectares) of farmland were confiscated from them in 2010 for the project. The protests began last year after farmers in the area said their fields were being contaminated by the waste from the mine.

After the crackdown in November, the government formed a commission headed by opposition leader  Aung San Suu Kyi to determine how the incident occurred. The villagers said they spoke with Khin San Hlaing, an MP  from Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, in December, but the commission has yet to announce when it will complete its inquiry.

Aung Zaw Oo, a commission member, said they have already submitted their findings to Suu Kyi, but it was unclear if Thein Sein, who ordered the formation of the commission, has seen it yet. The president is due back in Burma on Friday after completing a 12-day trip to Europe.

The lack of any discernible progress continues to frustrate local people and others around the country. Since the protest camps were reopened on Dec. 12, large-scale demonstrations have been held on the 29th of each month to call for the closure of the mine and demand justice for the victims of the police action. (The latest protest was held on Feb. 28.)

Just as the Letpadaung case has attracted nationwide attention, similar issues in other parts of the country have also caught the notice of the anti-mine protesters.

“We don’t want any more crackdowns like that,” said Yee Yee Win, referring to a violent clash between police and farmers in Maubin, Irrawaddy Division, last week that left dozens of people, including policemen, injured.

“If the government ignores the suffering of villagers, there will be continuous trouble,” she added.

Thet Swe Aye contributed to this report.