Protests Continue at Letpadaung Mine Site

By Kyaw Phyo Tha 31 December 2014

RANGOON — After a tense week which saw one woman killed and several others injured, villagers around the Letpadaung copper mining project in Sagaing Division have staged a sit-in protest for the third day running.

Since Monday, more than 100 residents of Hse Tae, Moe Gyi Pyin and Ton villages have demonstrated against land seizures arising from the project, a joint venture between China’s Wanbao mining company—a subsidiary of weapons manufacturer Norinco—and the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (UMEHL), a Burmese military-owned conglomerate.

“Last night, we had rumors that the police would raid us. We saw fire trucks and police in riot gear forming into position. But we can’t say how many there were as some of them hid behind mounds,” said Phyu Hnin Htwe, a resident of Hse Tae village.

On Dec. 22, villagers clashed with police and company workers after the company began fencing areas—mostly farmland—outside the villages. During the row, a woman was shot dead in her head by the security forces.

One week later, the villagers tore some of the fences down to make way for pastures and claim back their land that led police to fire some warning shots.

“After that day, we have staged a sit-in to claim back our land,” Win Mar, one of the protest’s participants, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday.

Taikha Nyana, a Buddhist monk from Hse Tae village, told The Irrawaddy that a meeting on Tuesday with the government appointed liaison officer at Hse Tae village had no breakthrough.

“I went out to the office when I heard the president of the liaison office was there. During the meeting, I requested him to stop the fencing. But he replied he was just a liaison officer and had no authority to decide,” the monk said.

Since last week’s shooting, protests against the mine have been held in Rangoon and Mandalay. Three protesters were arrested after attempting to stage a protest in front of the Chinese embassy in Rangoon on Tuesday.

In a press release on Tuesday, Wanbao said it is now following the recommendations of the Letpadaung Investigation Commission report, led by National League for Democracy chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi, while acting in accordance with the law and the wishes of the majority of local residents.

“The company thinks some political organizations and activists are trying to make political profits by using the Letpadaung project to instigate social conflicts and anti-Chinese sentiment,” the Burmese language version of the statement says.

The English translation of the statement on the Wanbao Myanmar website redacts references to “anti-Chinese sentiment” while referencing comments made by President Thein Sein regarding the need for regional stability as a necessity for future economic growth.