Police to Sue Letpadaung Farmers After Violent Clashes

By Zarni Mann 19 November 2013

RANGOON — Sagaing Division police have filed a lawsuit against protestors at the Letpadaung copper mine in Monywa District after several officers were injured during clashes with protestors on Friday.

In recent weeks, farmers have set up several protest camps near the Chinese-backed project. On Friday, they tried to establish another camp but farmers found their way blocked by police barricades that were set up between Southern Moegyopyin village and the Pathein-Monywa Highway.

A group of about 100 riot police tried to disperse the farmers and clashes ensued. According to farmers, officers fired rubber bullets into the crowd, injuring seven protestors.

Government mouthpiece The New Light of Myanmar reported on Sunday that about 150 protestors first attacked riot police by throwing stones and using slingshots, adding that police responded by firing “38 shots with the use of anti-riot shotgun and rubber bullets and detonated 18 fire crackers.”

The newspaper said nine policemen were injured, while two police vehicles sustained damage to the front windscreen and rearview mirrors. The paper said five protestors were injured in the clashes. A police inspector called Kyaw Min Naing filed a lawsuit at Salingyi Township police station against the protestors for allegedly injuring officers, the paper said.

“We are preparing to open a case for destroying police vehicles and hurting the policemen. Firstly, we are investigating to find out and grab the ones who did that. So now we can’t say exactly how many persons will be sued,” said Tin Htun, deputy superintendent of Monywa District police station.

“Actually, they [the farmers] started to attack the police. In order to protect themselves from life-threatening violence the police had to react, but we did it within the bounds of the law,” he told The Irrawaddy.

U Sandar Thiri, a Buddhist monk who participated in the protest, said both sides were responsible for Friday’s clashes. He added, however, that the farmers were rising up against authorities because they were fighting against an illegal land-grab by the mining company.

“If the police are planning to sue the farmers, the farmers must also have chance to sue them back for not protecting the farmers, and for oppressing them and for being goons for Wanbao mining company, which neglects the rights of local residents,” he said.

Over the weekend, police held talks with the protestors and agreed to remove some of the barricades in the area.

“They’ve removed all the barricades that were located near our villages,” said Win Kyaw, a resident from Southern Moegyopyin village. “But, there are still many more barricades that are far from our villages, so we are watching with caution.

“They [the authorities] never keep their word, so we can’t trust them as they are still deployed in the nearby area. Who knows, they could arrest or attack us again one day,” he said.

Hundreds of farmers near the Letpadaung mine have protested against the project during the past two years. The farmers feel they have been inadequately compensated for loss of land to the project, while many have also complained about pollution from the mine.

Recently, a controlled explosion at the mine reportedly caused damaged to an old Buddhist pagoda in the area and the incident reignited local protests, which have demanded that the religious structure be protected.

The mine is a joint venture between China’s Wanbao mining firm and the Burmese military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (UMEHL). After a bloody crackdown on protests in November last year, the project was suspended and investigated by a parliamentary commission led by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

In July, a new contract agreement was signed between Wanbao, UMEHL and the government, which stipulates that Wanboa and UMEHL will receive 49 percent of the profits, while Burma’s government gains 51 percent. The deal represents a huge increase in government revenues.

The new contract also states that the project will allocate US $1 million for corporate social responsibility and $2 million for environmental preservation annually, in addition to increasing compensation to affected farmers.

Local villagers, however, continue to feel that the huge mine is negatively affecting their livelihoods.