MANDALAY — Farmers who claim to have lost their land to the controversial Letpadaung copper mining project in Sagaing Division took to the streets once again in the latest of an escalating round of protests against the development.
About 150 farmers from Hse Tae, Moegyopyin, Tone, Zeetaw and other surrounding villages marched to the nearby town of Monywa on Monday to demand that the project be immediately halted and action be taken against police involved in the fatal Dec. 22 shooting of 56-year-old land rights protester Khin Win.
“We just want the copper mining project to be abolished,” said New New Win, one of the farmers present at the demonstration. “Since the project began, we can’t work on our lands and we face many difficulties. The authorities and security forces commit violence, treat us like rebels and even shoot us. We don’t want this project in our region anymore.”
The protesters said that they want to see action taken against police who shot into a crowd in late December, ultimately killing Khin Win and injuring several others. The incident happened during a standoff between police, company security and protesters attempting to stop company personnel from fencing off disputed lands.
Locals said that police had not responded adequately to their demands for justice; a case submitted by to police by Khin Win’s family requesting a criminal investigation had been ignored, villagers said.
“The officers told us that they will not handle this case, and they returned the papers to us. We will submit it to a higher court,” said Khin Mar Aye, a farmer from Moegyopyin village.
While no individuals have yet been held responsible for the incident, an investigation carried out by the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission concluded on Jan. 15 that police had made mistakes while trying to control the crowd, stating that officers had “skipped some steps.”
The shooting was only the latest in a string of controversies surrounding the project, which is a joint venture between state-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings and China’s Wanbao, a subsidiary of a government-run weapons manufacturer, Norinco.
The project gained international notoriety in November 2012, when police fired incendiary devices on demonstrators. The early morning raid injured scores of people, many of them Buddhist monks, leaving them with burns that have been attributed to white phosphorous.
The project was temporarily suspended, but later resumed after opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi told affected communities that the project should resume under certain conditions.