Police in northwestern Myanmar’s Sagaing region have charged two leaders of a local protest against the Chinese operator of the controversial Letpadaung copper mine with unlawful assembly, a local police officer said.
Police from Salingyi township, where the mine is located, arrested Ma Sanda and Mar Cho for leading about 200 farmers and other residents from area villages in a protest that began Wednesday when China’s Wanbao Mining Copper Ltd. Company said it would resume operations on Thursday, said Sergeant Than Nyunt.
The two were changed under Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law and Article 147 of the penal code, he said.
Rights groups say the two articles are commonly used to arrest activists for exercising their right to freedom of assembly.
“These two women and some other villagers were charged,” Sergeant Than Nyunt told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “We have to wait for orders from higher level officials as to what to do next with this case.”
Wanbao resumed operations, despite cries from protesters that it had ignored recommendations—including payments to farmers who lost crops to the project—made by a parliamentary commission led by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi when she was an opposition lawmaker.
The large project run by Wanbao 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.
“Local residents are protesting because Wanbao Company announced that it would resume the project on May 5 without approval from local residents,” a Buddhist abbot from Setae village told RFA.
“The situation has become tense today because the company has used police forces to face down protesters, and one policeman has cursed at us,” he said.
Letter of protest
Protesters told the online journal The Irrawaddy that they sent a letter on Tuesday to State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, chairwoman of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party, to stop the company from restarting operations.
The protesters also sent the letter to the regional and national government, the news report said.
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.
The parliamentary inquiry commission on the Letpadaung project called for more transparency in Wanbao’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.
Aung San Suu Kyi accused the government 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. The incident left one farmer dead and dozens injured.
Reported by San San Tin and Wai Mar Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.