Protesting Miners Face Third Night at Mandalay Pagoda

By Nyein Nyein 13 June 2012

More than 1,500 protesting gold miners may be spending a third night at a Buddhist monastery in Mandalay surrounded by security forces while negotiations with the mine managers continue.

Miners’ representatives on Wednesday met with company chairman Soe Htun Shein and his team for a second round of talks after the first round ended without agreement.

The meeting is ongoing inside the Shwe Myay Tin Pagoda compound, said Ko Latt, one of many activists supporting the protesters. He said that the miners’ list of five demands have not been met by the mining company.

The gold miners are demanding: to be allowed to continue mining; compensation for loss of earnings and investment; compensation for mining teams who were forced to stop working; to have access to mining machinery as before; and to be allowed to continue working on a profit-sharing basis as before.

Tens of thousands of gold miners began protesting in the first week of June after the recipient of a five-year contract, Myanmar National Prosperity Public Company (MNPPC), told them to halt mining in the 6,000-acre Moehti Moemi area in Mandalay Division.

MNPPC reached a verbal agreement with around a thousand small mining companies and individual miners in December 2011 which allowed them to excavate gold from the area for the duration of its five-year government contract.

About 1,500 protesting miners set off by foot on Monday from mines in Moehit Moemi Taung to Yamaethin Township, a distance of some 40 miles (64 km), where they stopped to rest at a monastery en route to the Burmese capital, Naypyidaw. Among the protesters were women with infants.

But as they rested at the Shwe Myay Tin Pagoda on Monday evening, hundreds of security police surrounded the compound, and refused to allow any protesters to leave while also denying them access to food and water.

One of the protesting miners, Shin Phone, spoke to The Irrawaddy by telephone. “We are under detention. We want to go out, but the police will not let us,” he said.

On Tuesday, local authorities in Mandalay promised to help resolve the crisis.

Miner Ko Ye said that more protesters would come and join them from Moehit Moemi Taung, “but we told them to wait because we are in the middle of negotiations.”

Ko Ye said that many of them have put their life savings into investing in the gold mines, and they demanded the right to be able to keep mining.

“If they agree to our demands, we will turn back. If not, we will keep marching. Many of these miners have nothing else to lose,” he said.

A National League for Democracy leader in Yamaethin, Myo Thein, confirmed that a heavy police presence was surrounding the pagoda on Wednesday. He said that he and many others had provided food to the protesters, but were now waiting outside the compound with a request to send drinking water inside for the protesters.

“By refusing to allow even food and water into the monastery, the authorities are jeopardizing Burma’s cultural image,” said miner Shin Phone.

Late reports also indicated that a further 500 police were being deployed from the Yamaethin Police Training Camp and that hundreds more from Naypyidaw have been brought in to tighten security in nearby villages.