A leading local activist said Tuesday that he and others were deliberately hit by a truck owned by a Chinese company that operates the controversial Letpadaung copper mine in northwestern Myanmar's Sagaing region, fueling tensions between villagers and the firm.
Thwe Thwe Win, who has led protests against the mine, was hit by the truck after he and others went to the company’s office in the town of Lepadaung when workers dumped waste soil on the grounds of three Buddhist pagodas and shrines, told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“We went there and asked about it,” he said. “Then they hit us with a truck. I got caught on that truck.”
Thwe Thwe Win said he and the others filed a complaint at the local police station against the Chinese driver of the truck, who does not speak Burmese.
“I’ve got pain in my left leg, toes, and back, and I have a stomachache,” he said. “I had to get X-rays.”
The large project run by China’s Wanbao Mining Copper Ltd. Company and Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. (UMEHL), a Myanmar army-owned conglomerate, has come under fire by local farmers who have long protested the company’s land takeovers in the area.
Wanbao resumed operations at Lepadaung in May, a month after the new National League for Democracy (NLD) party came to power under President Htin Kyaw.
Farmers who lost crops in 2014 and 2015 during land confiscations for the mine project have demanded proper compensation from Wanbao. The company, however, has said that it has offered them money, but they refused to accept it.
Years of protest
Under the previous government, State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi led a parliamentary inquiry commission on the Letpadaung project, later calling for more transparency in its land appropriation process and for police riot-control training in the wake of a violent raid on protesters at the mine site in 2012.
Police had used canisters of phosphorous to disperse protesters, severely burning dozens of them.
In March 2013, the commission recommended that the project be allowed to continue and that compensation for local residents’ land be offered at rates higher than those decided when the project began under the country’s former military junta regime.
Later, Aung San Suu Kyi accused the administration of former President Thein Sein of ignoring the commission’s recommendations to improve conditions at the mine, saying these had sparked clashes in December 2014 between police and farmers trying to prevent Wanbao employees from fencing off land for the project.
That incident left one farmer dead and dozens injured.
“The president has said not to expand land used for the project and not to confiscate land while the investigation is going on, but they are still expanding the land for the project,” Thwe Thwe Win said.
“This project is not good for local people; it just destroys the environment,” he said. “We will continue our protest because this project is something that shouldn’t be allowed to continue.”
The mine is one of several Chinese-operated megaprojects under way in Myanmar that have come under fire from local residents because of expropriated land and environmental damage.
Reported by Kyaw Zaw Win for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.