Murder Probe Opened in Shooting of Letpadaung Farmer: Lawyer

By Nobel Zaw 21 April 2015

RANGOON — Police in Salingyi Township have reportedly opened a criminal probe into the fatal shooting of Khin Win, a local farmer at the controversial Letpadaung copper mine in Sagaing Division, with the family’s legal counsel indicating that authorities are considering the case a murder.

Lawyer Thein Than Oo, a member of the Myanmar Lawyers’ Network who has been helping the victim’s family to navigate the legal process since the incident on Dec. 22, said police officer Than Naing from the Salingyi Township Police Station would act as plaintiff in the case.

Khin Win, a woman in her 50s, was killed when police opened fire on farmers who were protesting efforts by the Chinese firm Wanbao to fence in their farmland as part of the mining project, which is a joint venture with the Burma Army-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (UMEHL).

Khin Win’s family submitted a report with local authorities early this year, seeking criminal prosecution in relation to her death. They were told that a decision on how the case would be handled was pending a ruling by the Salingyi Township Court.

Thein Than Oo said the court determined on April 9 that Khin Win’s death, resulting from a gunshot to the head, constituted an offense warranting a murder investigation. With the opening of the case, investigators will collect witness and law enforcement testimonies to determine whether any police personnel should be held criminally liable for the killing.

“It can be said that this is progress for the case,” said Thein Than Oo, who explained that he had initially thought the push for criminal prosecution would be rejected. The lawyer said he expected authorities to instead opt for a noncriminal inquest into Khin Win’s death, justifying the less serious probe by defending the episode as a case of public servants performing their public duty.

The Salingyi Township Police Station could not be reached for comment.

Thein Than Oo said he would await further developments as legal proceedings move forward.

In mid-January, officials from the Myanmar Police Force’s headquarters in Naypyidaw reportedly traveled to Sagaing Division, interviewing local authorities and the head of the Sagaing Division Police in relation to the case.

Following an investigation into the incident, Burma’s National Human Rights Commission released a report in January that found police had failed to follow standard security procedures in their efforts to control the angry crowd that had gathered to protest the fencing off of land they claimed as their own.

Ten police officers and 11 villagers were injured in the altercation at the mining site, which has proven a volatile flashpoint in recent years as the project has advanced. Locals complain of forcible land confiscations, inadequate compensation offered for land seized and negative environmental impacts resulting from the project.