As many as 10 villagers have been injured by police who fired rubber bullets at them on Friday for blocking a roadway to a controversial Chinese-run copper mine in the town of Letpadaung in Salingyi township of northwestern Myanmar’s Sagaing region.
Locals routinely block the road in protest against Wanbao Mining Copper Ltd., demanding that the Chinese mine operator give them acres of land they were supposed to receive as compensation for damage from the construction of the project to the villagers’ crops and to their economic well-being.
On Friday the villagers confronted police in the area and were told to disperse, but refused to do so, said Myint Naing, chief minister of Sagaing region.
“They refused to leave, so security personnel shot into the air a few times to scare them,” he said. “After the shots rang out, more villagers in the area came to the scene and finally police had to fire rubber bullets to disperse them.”
“I heard from police commanders that five or six villagers were wounded,” he said.
Villagers posted on social media that at least 10 people were injured, however.
Friday’s incident was not the first time guns have been fired at Letpadaung.
On Dec. 22, 2014, police shot and killed Khin Win, a woman who had joined other protesters attempting to prevent Wanbao from fencing off land for the mine. Protests over her fate also drew gunfire in 2015.
Locals also said the company’s trucks recently knocked down a man and a cow, and that they wanted drivers who work for the firm to be more responsible and use other routes to access the mine.
In response to Friday’s incident, township authorities issued an order to prevent villagers who live near the copper mine from blocking the road, said Salingyi township administrator Aung Myint Tun.
Authorities have banned local villagers from forming assemblies of more than five people, blocking the road to prevent company trucks from leaving and entering the mine, and carrying swords, machetes, slingshots, and inflammable materials, he said.
“Locals have been blocking the Pathein-Monywa Road near the project area where trucks were carrying rocks for Myanmar Wanbao Company, and that was why we had to issue the ban,” he said.
The mine is one of several Chinese-operated projects in Myanmar that have been heavily criticized by local residents because of land expropriations without adequate compensation and potential and actual environmental damage.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.