Locals Defend Letpadaung Protesters Wanted by Police

By Zarni Mann 6 June 2013

Locals are pledging to defend of a group of activists and farmers wanted by the police after opposing the controversial Letpadaung copper mine project in northwest Burma.

Police have threatened to forcibly enter towns and arrest 15 activists and farmers if they do not appear in court after allegedly inciting unrest between the public and the copper mine company.

In a notice posted on Tuesday near the mining area, the Sagaing Division Police Office said a Shwebo District Court had already issued a warrant for the arrest of the activists. The notice also threatened to arrest any resident who hindered the police search or hid the activists.

“We went to the authorities and explained that these people are just helping us and they haven’t broken the law,” said a farmer from Tone village. “We’ll protect them because we’re grateful to them.”

Another local resident, Min Min, agreed. “These people [the activists] are not causing problems, as the authorities said in the notice.”

The activists themselves have rejected the notice. “We cannot accept this,” said Han Win Aung, adding that the notice lacked an official seal. He also criticized the police’s method of publicly posting threats. “Distributing a notice like an ad or a flyer is nonsense.”

“If the authorities are really responsible for issuing this, we will personally receive the warrant, which should mention what kind of trial we will face,” he added. “This [notice] simply shows that there is no rule of law here, and authorities are only protecting the mining company so it can resume the mining process without disturbance.”

He urged the nation’s political leaders to step in.

“We are now trying to present this situation to the president and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,” he said, referring to the opposition leader with a title of respect.

The Letpadaung copper mining project has displaced farming families in 26 villages from their land, with more than 7,000 acres confiscated.

Protests began last year against the project, which is a joint venture between the Chinese Wanbao company and Burma’s military-owned Union of Myanmar Economics Holdings.

The issue caught international attention in November after a police crackdown injured more than 100 peaceful protesters, mostly Buddhist monks.

A government team headed by Suu Kyi recommended earlier this year that the mining project continue and farmers receive compensation for their lost land, but some families have refused to take the money.

Aung Soe, an activist from the Rangoon Civic Society Network, was recently sentenced to 18 months in prison after helping farmers near the mine. Two other farmers from Hse Te village were also sentenced to six months in prison for plowing their confiscated land.