Local Protests against Letpadaung Mine Resume

By Lawi Weng 17 December 2012

RANGOON—Less than two weeks after a brutal police raid injured almost 100 protesting Buddhist monks, a group of local villagers, monks and activists have again set up protest camps near the Letpadaung copper mine in northwestern Burma in order to demand that the Chinese-backed project is halted.

Last week on Dec. 12, a group of around 150 protesters—consisting mostly of local villagers, around 30 monks and several activists—built new camps some 100 meters from the mine’s gate, said Thaung Htike, a student activist who helped set up the camps.

“We will not leave from this camp unless we get our demands and we will not even try to ask permission to open this camp because they ignored our requests in the past,” said Thaung Htike, adding that protesters were not afraid to defy local authorities, although their numbers had fallen because harvest time had begun.

The authorities had immediately warned protestors not to resume their activity, according to protesters, who said Sar Lin Gyi Township Township Administration Officer Zaw Aung had visited on Dec.13 to tell the group to pack up and leave. Tin Myint, deputy director-general of the general administration department of the Home Affairs Ministry, also visited to tell villagers to end their activism.

Protestors said government security forces had been stationed near the gate of the mine, at the site of the former protest camps that were raided on Nov. 29.

“They enforced full security at our former camp site. We wanted to settle this new camp at the site of the last one, but we could not do it,” said protestor Ko Latt, who is an activist and a former political prisoner.

The demonstrators said they wanted a complete shutdown of the mine near Monywa in Sagaing Division, which is run by the military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited as a joint venture with China’s Wan Bao Company

They also demand a full investigation into the raid to determine who was responsible for ordering it. Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi leads a special commission to assess the social and environmental impact of the mine project and whether it should continue, but the crackdown is not in its purview.

Protestor Ye Yint Kyaw, a community leader and the only member of the commission who represents local villagers, said the villagers want to have more representatives on the commission.

“They told me that they are not happy with the commission. At least three people should be able to join as they represent 26 villages” affected by the mine, he said, adding that this was another demand of the demonstrators.

On Saturday, the government apologized to a group of monks who were victims of the Nov. 29 crackdown, which saw nearly 100 Buddhist clerics injured when riot police reportedly used tear gas, water cannons and incendiary devices.