Police Kill Villager in Copper Mine Standoff

By Zarni Mann 22 December 2014

MANDALAY — A woman was fatally shot by police on Monday as villagers attempted to prevent a land seizure near the Letpadaung copper mining project, Sagaing police confirmed.

Khin Win, 56, joined a crowd of roughly 60 villagers trying to obstruct contractors attempting to build a fence around disputed farmlands.

She died on the scene when police opened fire at the crowd after villagers threw stones and fired slingshots at the authorities. Locals said that at least 10 other villagers were injured.

“The fight began this morning, and later the police fired into the crowd. Daw Khin Win was shot in the head and died on the spot,” said farmer Ko Htwe of Hse Tae village, where the incident occurred.

Sagaing police confirmed that one woman died after being shot by an officer and at least two policemen were injured by the villagers.

The crowd gathered around 10am as contractors hired by the mine’s operator, Chinese mining firm Wanbao, attempted to fence off an area the company had not yet legally acquired, villagers said. Some positioned themselves in front of company vehicles to physically block them.

After a tense standoff between villagers, contractors, and officers deployed to carry out project security, some villagers began throwing stones at police, who had ordered them to vacate the area.

At around 3pm, police fired back.

Villagers told The Irrawaddy that police presence has increased over the past week as Wanbao accelerated land demarcation for the project.

“There are more than 300 police guarding the area near Hse Tae and Laikkum Mountain, together with the workers from Wanbao,” one farmer said, explaining that fights sometimes take place between company workers and locals. Just yesterday, he said, a minor altercation ended with a group of villagers and project employees punching and slapping each other in the face.

“Many more locals gathered near the area after they heard the news,” said the farmer, who wished to remain anonymous. “We were worried about what would happen next.”

The Letpadaung copper mining project, a joint venture between Wanbao and the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings (UMEH), became one of Burma’s most notorious developments in November 2012, when police fired incendiary devices against demonstrators during a brutal crackdown at a protest camp.

Scores were injured in the early morning raid, including Buddhist monks, many with burns that have been attributed to white phosphorous. Operations were temporarily suspended, but opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi later told affected communities that the project should be allowed to resume under certain conditions.

Resistance to the development continued nonetheless, and in May this year villagers in Hse Tae kidnapped and held two Wanbao employees hostage, later releasing them without injury. Protests continue over the project due to land loss, environmental destruction and defilement of sacred religious structures.

Correction, 23/12/2014: Khin Win’s age was initially reported as 50.