Police Asked to Probe Letpadaung Death

By Yen Saning 5 January 2015

RANGOON — Police in Sagaing Division have been asked to launch a criminal investigation into the death of a 56-year-old villager shot dead by police while protesting against alleged land rights violations near the Letpadaung copper mine.

The immediate family of Khin Win, who was killed by a bullet in the forehead on Dec. 22, 2014, submitted a first information report (FIR) to the Salingyi Myoma Police Station and demanded that they investigate seven people who are believed responsible for the death.

Police have accepted the report but have not indicated whether they will investigate the individuals named within the document pending approval from higher authorities, according to the family’s legal counsel.

“FIR can be complete or incomplete. What we have filed is a list of who shot from which place and which officers were present at the scene,” said Aung Thein of the Burma Lawyers’ Network (BLN), which has been helping the victim’s family to seek legal recourse.

Khin Mar Aye, the victim’s sister-in-law, had already filed a death report with local police. The new report specifies that the death was believed to be unlawful and seeks criminal punishment.

Villagers clashed with police and employees of the Letpadaung mine operator, Myanmar Wanbao, on Dec. 22 when contractors attempted to fence off disputed lands. Locals who claimed they had not agreed to a compensation scheme with the company tried to block the workers.

Police eventually fired into the crowd of villagers, leaving Khin Win dead on the spot and several others injured.

Khin Win’s death was the latest in a string of controversies related to the project, which is a joint venture between Wanbao, a subsidiary of Chinese weapons manufacturer Norinco, and Burma’s state-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (UMEH).

Ongoing protests against alleged land-grabs related to the project peaked in late 2012, and were ultimately dismantled in a brutal early morning crackdown during which police were accused of using incendiary weapons containing white phosphorous against hundreds of demonstrators including Buddhist monks.

Civil society stakeholders playing a crucial role in the implementation of the Myanmar Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI)—an internationally recognized fiscal reporting protocol for which Burma has recently become a candidate state—have warned of a fallout if the latest incident is not adequately addressed by authorities.

On Monday, EITI stakeholders upped the ante by leading a 150-strong unpermitted demonstration in Monywa—near the site of the mining project—demanding more responsible resource governance and a full investigation into the events that left Khin Win dead. EITI civil society stakeholders argued that Burma does not yet offer a safe environment for civilians to fully and meaningfully participate in shaping resource governance.

“We want to highlight the reality that, in Burma, locals are being bullied and this violence contradicts [President] Thein Sein’s promise to implement the EITI and improve resource transparency,” said Wong Aung, director of Shwe Gas Movement and a member of Myanmar Alliance for Transparency and Accountability (MATA), which organized the protest.

Wong Aung said that MATA is calling for the immediate suspension of the Letpadaung copper mining project, adding that the unexamined killing of an activist will make CSO participation in the EITI “more challenging in the future.”