Two Detained in New Letpadaung Mine Protest in Myanmar

They had tried to block police cars entering their village to force out residents resisting eviction.

Villagers confront riot police sent to evict them from their homes near the Letpadaung copper mine in northwestern Myanmar's Sagaing region, March 28, 2018.

Myanmar police on Wednesday detained two village women seeking to block eviction from their homes on land claimed by a controversial China-operated copper mine in the country’s Sagaing region, sources said.

The two women, Ma San Hla and Thwe Thwe Win, had blocked police vehicles entering Old Wet Hmay village, a settlement of 30 households marked for destruction to make way for the Letpadaung copper mine, one villager told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

Though ten of the village’s 30 households have agreed voluntarily to move, the rest are resisting efforts to force them out, the villager named Aung Zaw Oo said.

“We aren’t stopping anyone who wants to move out,” Aung Zaw Oo said.

“We told them they can go wherever they want, but we won’t let police cars come into the village,” he said, adding, “We said this to the police, but they came in anyway.”

When at least 100 riot-equipped police officers forced their way into the village, one woman, Man Sa Hla, lay down in the road in an attempt to stop police vehicles from coming in, Aung Zaw Oo said.

“She then became hysterical due to over-excitement, and while she was having a fit, she and Thwe Thwe Win were taken away by female officers,” he said.

After asking a police officer where the two were being taken , Aung Zaw Oo was told the women would be brought to the Wanbao Company, the Chinese firm operating the mine, he said.

“I asked him whether the Burmese police were now working for Wanbao, and not for the Burmese people, but he wouldn’t answer me,” he said.

Land takeovers

The Letpadaung copper mine, run jointly by China’s Wanbao company and a Myanmar-army owned conglomerate, Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd., has come under fire by local residents and farmers who have long protested the company’s land takeovers in the area.

Villagers have heavily criticized and staged protests against mine operators for expropriating land without providing them adequate compensation  and for damaging the environment.

In February 2017, about 100 Letpadaung residents blocked access to the mine, demanding they be given the 1,900 acres of land they were supposed to receive according to recommendations made earlier by a parliamentary commission led by National League for Democracy party leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The following month, as many as 10 villagers and six police officers were injured during a clash when police fired rubber bullets at locals who were blocking an access road.

Authorities later charged 50 farmers with assault, illegal assembly, and destruction of state property for their role in the protest.

Reported by Thet Su Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Richard Finney.