Police Open Fire, Injure 7 Protesters at Burma’s Letpadaung Mine

By Zarni Mann 15 November 2013

RANGOON — Seven protesting farmers were injured Thursday evening as police opened fire into a crowd at the controversial Chinese-backed copper mining project in Letpadaung, Sagaing division, witnesses said.

Villagers say they were attempting to set up a second protest camp to oppose the restarted mining project, which they fear will cause damage a Buddhist structure in the same area.

Ko Myat, a villager from Southern Moe Gyo Pyin village, told The Irrawaddy that on Thursday evening, police trying to disperse the protest fired indiscriminately into a crowd of demonstrators and hit seven people.

“We do not know whether they used live rounds or rubber bullets. They just fired into the crowd,” he said. “[One protester] Soe Pyae Aung, who was seriously injured in his chest, is now unconscious. The others were injured on their arms and legs.”

Images posted on social media show at least two protesters with large bleeding bullet wounds.

An official account claimed that villagers attacked police with makeshift weapons, and that nine police had been injured in the clash.

Buddhist monks had established a protest camp a week ago near Leikkun and Ingyin Mountains in the heart of the mining area. They claim, contrary a report in state media, that a controlled explosion at the restarted mine has damaged a nearby Buddhist pagoda.

Police have barricaded a road to prevent villagers reaching the monks’ camp, so about 30 farmers tried set a new camp at the entrance to Southern Moe Gyo Pyin village, Ko Myat said.

Before Thursday’s violent clash, police ordered the villagers to return to their homes, and three farmers were reportedly detained.

Ko Myat said the injured were fearful that they would be arrested if they go to the hospital for treatment.

“Now they are just using some antiseptic lotion to cure their wounds,” he said. “All the villagers were very afraid and of course angry with the police for not protecting us, but hurting us.”

Villagers also said police forced journalists who were present to delete photographs and video files of the incident.

“There still are many police and police cars guarding around here. We do not know what has happened to the protesters who are at the other camp yet,” said another villager from Southern Moe Gyo Pyin.

According an account of the clash published on the Ministry of Information’s Facebook page, villagers first attacked a police outpost, throwing stones and using slingshots, at about 7:30 pm yesterday.

It said nine police, including two officers, were injured in the attack. The account said police used riot gear to disperse the crowd and did not mention police firing ammunition of any kind.

The injured police are now being treated at Monywa General Hospital, it said.

The controversial Letpadaung project was stalled last year and investigated by a parliamentary commission after protests about its impacts on the local environment and compensation for displaced villagers.

Mining has recently resumed after new terms were agreed to give the Burmese government a larger share of the project’s revenues—which is a joint venture between China’s Wanbao mining firm and the Burmese military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd.