Opposition to a controversial Chinese-backed copper mine in northwestern Burma was bolstered Tuesday as hundreds of Buddhist monks joined mass protests by villagers whose land has been taken away for the venture.
The arrival of the monks is believed to mark the first time that members of Burma’s Buddhist clergy—widely viewed as a moral authority in the country—have stood with the villagers against the Letpadaung Copper Mine in Sagaing division’s Salingyi township.
The project in the Letpadaung mountains is owned jointly by the Burmese military’s Union of Myanmar Economic Holding Ltd. and Wan Bao Co., a subsidiary of state-owned Chinese arms manufacturer North China Industries Corp. (Norinco).
Nandasara, a monk from the nearby Seddair monastery, said that the monks had arrived Tuesday from Pakokku in Magway division to join protesters.
“Two [busloads] of monks arrived today from Pakokku to lend support to the residents of 26 villages in the area. The locals want to stop the entire mining project,” Nandasara told RFA’s Burmese service.
“There are now two [protest] camps—one in front of the company office and the other at the site where [well-known monk] the Venerable Ledi Sayadaw had resided years ago,” he said.
“The monks are from Mandalay, Monywa, and Pakokku—numbering about 500.”
Local governor Zaw Moe Aung said in October that the mine would proceed despite a growing national outcry over the project, as it is a “friendship” joint venture between Burma and China.
He said villagers—who charge that the mine developers have illegally confiscated more than 3,200 hectares (8,000 acres) of farmland from 26 villages without providing adequate compensation—had already been given complete compensation.
Several protests have been organized against the mine in recent months and have gained something of a national following.
In October, Some 2,000 villagers and supporters convened a forum near the mine in Sinde village to discuss opposition to the project.
The inaugural Letpadaung People’s Conference drew support from over 40 organizations from around Burma, including civil society groups and ethnic political parties.
Villagers have also mobbed Wan Bao's offices since August to demand the cancellation of the mine, the return of confiscated lands, a stop to forced relocations, and an end to the destruction of crops and the dumping of polluted waste on their fields.
China’s ambassador to Burma has said Beijing will stop backing Wan Bao’s development of the mine if the project does not benefit Burma.
Last year, Burmese President Thein Sein cancelled a plan to build the Chinese-backed Mytisone dam in northern Burma’s conflict-ridden Kachin state that was to provide hydroelectricity to China, after mass opposition among locals.
Reported by RFA’s Burmese service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.