Police Stop Farmers' Myanmar Mine Protest

2016-01-14
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A policeman stands guard near the Letpadaung copper mine in Sagaing region, March 14, 2013.
AFP

About 200 Myanmar farmers intent on protesting land abuses tied to the Chinese-owned Letpadaung copper mine were halted by police short of their goal on Thursday as local people continue to push authorities on issues related to the controversial project.

Police stopped the protesters at around 2 p.m. as they were marching from Mogyopyin Ale Ville to the Wanbao Mining Company’s offices in the Sagaing region to protest a decision by the company to forego compensation for crops that have been destroyed or displaced by the controversial mine.

While the farmers received compensation last year, they say a payment hasn’t been forthcoming this year.

“We sent request letters three times this year asking for crop compensation  ... but we haven’t received any response,” Ma Mar Cho, a protester from Ton Village, told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

“We protest today because they didn’t pay us this year.”

China’s Myanmar Wanbao Mining Copper Ltd. and its partner, the military-backed Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. operate the controversial mine that has been the scene of violent protests.

On Dec. 22, police shot and killed villager Khin Win, who had joined other protesters to try to prevent Wanbao employees from fencing off land for the mining project. Dozens were injured during two days of clashes between police and farmers.

Farmers near the Letpadaung mine and the mine's owners have long been embroiled in a dispute over land taken over for the mine’s operation.

Wanbao and Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings have said they will pay farmers the highest market rate for crops at the site, but locals have rejected the offer and demanded the return of their land.

Recommendations ignored

In 2014, National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi accused the government of ignoring recommendations by a parliamentary inquiry she had led that sought to improve conditions at the mine.

“It is something to question why they [authorities] didn’t implement the inquiry commission’s recommendations,” she told reporters in December 2014 “[The protest] erupted because they didn’t do what they had to do” to put the recommendations into practice.

The panel had called for more transparency in the project’s land appropriation process and for police riot control training in the wake of a violent raid on protesters at the mine site in 2012.

Myanmar's government rejected her claims in August 2015 when Tin Myint, secretary of the Implementation Committee, told reporters: “We are doing everything the report called for—in fact, we are doing more than what it recommended.”

Government action hasn’t stopped unrest near the mine, and in September 2015 a court in Myanmar on Friday imposed additional jail terms on two activists imprisoned for protesting the shooting death of an unarmed woman outside the mine.

Nay Myo Zin and Naw Ohn Hla now face jail terms of five years and six years and five months, respectively, for violating the Act on the Right to Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession.

Reported by Kyaw Lwin Oo for RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.

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