MAC: Mines and Communities

Burmese villagers continue protests against copper mining

Published by MAC on 2012-09-18
Source: The Irrawaddy, Mizzima News (2012-09-13)

Nine Copper Mine Protesters Released

By Zarni Mann

The Irrawaddy

11 September 2012

Nine protesters arrested during a prayer service to highlight land confiscations at the Latpadaung mountain range copper mining project were released by Monywa Police on Tuesday.

A total of 12 farmers and their supporters were originally detained at the town's Sutaungpyae Pagoda, in Sagaing Division, on Monday morning, with only three female activists now remaining in custody.

"They released five of them yesterday night and another four of them later at midnight," a local activist told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday. "All of them are now back in Sarlingyi. Thwae Thwae Win, Aye Nat and Phyu Phyu Win remained and have been moved to Monywa Prison."

Those released expressed concern for their remaining colleagues who they claim were mistreated by police during detention.

"When they tried to put us in their cars and when they pulled us out again, they pulled our hair with force and some of us even got slapped in their face. We are worried for Thwae Thwae Win and the others as they might not be treated well," said a recently released woman from Wat Hmae Village who declined to be named for fear of reprisals.

Meanwhile, around 500 protesters gathered in front of the police station in Sarlingyi Township until 2:30 pm on Tuesday to demand the release of the remaining detainees, including rights activist Wai Lu who was arrested in a separate incident last week.

"We have been gathering in front of the police station in Sarlingyi since this morning to demand the release of rights activists Wai Lu, Thwae Thwae and the two others, and to stop unlawful arrests immediately as well as to stop the mining project and to practice justice and peace," one of the protesters told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday morning.

Wai Lu, a former political prisoner who has been helping farmers to win back confiscated land, was detained on his way back to Rangoon on Aug. 31. However, his family still has not received any information about his location or condition other than he was to be charged with Penal Code sections 295 and 295(a) for religious offenses.

Local sources claim that the homes of the student leaders who pledged support for the farmers were searched by the authorities in Monywa on Monday night.

"The authorities might try to stop or arrest us or threaten us as we do not have so-called ‘permission' to protest," said an activist. "Now, we saw no action from them yet but just taking some pictures. However, we will not stop our protest untill we get our demands as this is our basic right as a citizen."

More than 7,800 acres of land from 26 villages in the Sarlingyi Township area have been confiscated since the joint-venture copper mining project run between Union of Myanmar Economic Holding Ltd and Wan Bao Company began in 2011.

Farmers began airing their demands for adequate compensation, return of their lands and to end forced relocation during a protest near the Wan Bao Company's office on July 2. More villagers joined the farmers' protests in August after it began to focus on nearby Sabae and Kyay Sin mountains which have been decimated by copper mining with farmland polluted by waste products from the worksite.

In late August, local people and civil society groups organized education programs nearby and began a signature campaign to stop the excavation work. Copper mining started in the area in 1980 with joint ventures between former Burmese Ministry of Mining-1 and various investors including Canada-based Ivanhoe Mines.


More protestors arrested at copper mine demonstration

Mizzima News

11 September 2012

Twelve women demonstrators were arrested on Monday in northwestern Burma, prompting a larger demonstration calling for their release. The women were arrested during a prayer ceremony in a pagoda.

The women planned to protest at the Monywa Copper Mine, located in Sagaing division's Sarlingyi Township, according to one of the women.

The project developers are Wan Bao Co., a subsidiary of state-owned Chinese arms manufacturer North China Industries Corp. (Norinco), and Burma's army-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holding.

"After we paid homage to the Buddha, about 30 security police followed us," one of the women told Radio Free Asia (RFA), in an article published on Monday.

Among the 12 held was Thet Thet Win from Wetmhe village, who is a leader of the movement against the copper mine project.

Last week, hundreds of security forces stormed the copper mining site in search of land rights activists who helped organize earlier protests by 10,000 villagers demanding the return of land seized for the project.

The police arrived at the Monywa mine late in the evening of Sept. 6 but were fended off by hundreds of demonstrators armed with sticks and knives who were guarding the area.

Villagers say the mining companies have illegally confiscated more than 8,000 acres (3,237 hectares) of farmland from 26 villages in Sarlingyi since 2011, said RFA.

Tensions have risen in recent weeks since Wan Bao has continued digging at the site and dumping waste soil on the confiscated land despite a request to suspend work and enter negotiations.

Villagers have been protesting near Wan Bao's offices since August to demand adequate compensation, the return of confiscated lands, a stop to forced relocations, the reopening of locked monasteries, and an end to the dumping of waste on their fields.


Copper mining tensions rise as dozen detained

Zarni Mann

The Irrawaddy

10 September 2012

Tensions at the Latpadaung mountain range copper mining area swelled again as 12 farmers and their supporter were detained in Monwya, Sagaing Division, on Monday morning.

Thwae Thwae Win, who helps protesters from Wat Hmae Village, was at Sutaungpyae Pagoda for a prayer service regarding confiscated land and maintaining the environment when the authorities closed down the building and arrested those present.

"The police said that they will release 10 of those arrested but will not release Thwae Thwae Win and Aye Nat from Wat Hmae Village," said a local farmer who declined to be named for fear of reprisals. "They said they will file a case against these two. So to show solidarity, the 10 others refused to leave without them."

According to local sources, supporters and Ba Ka Tha students gathered in front of Police Station No.1 in Monywa to negotiate with the police for the group's release.

Meanwhile, around 700 protestors gathered at Nyaung Pin Gyi Village, on the other side of the Chindwin River from Monywa, to demand the release of detainees and end of the copper mining project.

"They are not allowed to cross the river," said a bystander. "We don't know yet what will happen next. If the authorities do not listen to their demands, it seems they will not stop the protest." The police are currently searching for other protest leaders and even threatened nearby villagers to reveal their whereabouts, claim local people.

"Every police officer has our photos and names on them. They are looking for us everywhere and asking whether they know where I live. I now have to hide somewhere safe," said Han Win Aung, of the Political Prisoners Families Network.

He added that the family of detained Wai Lu, who has been helping farmers to win back their lands, still has not received any information about his location or condition after his arrest last week.

"Arresting protesters will not solve the problem," said Han Win Aung. "They stand on the side of the company and use force to stop the protest which is not a positive solution. The only solution to appease the locals is to rethink the project and negotiate with them.

"Not only the livelihood of the locals, this copper project is affecting the environment and is the concern of the whole country. We already have the examples of Sabae and Kyay Sin mountains which have disappeared due to copper mining in the past."

Waste water from the project has polluted nearby farmland, the Chindwin River and local wells, he added.

"According to our research, some wells in the area are no longer drinkable or usable as the water has a sour and salty flavor," explained Han Win Aung.

"People have to buy bottled drinking water from Monywa, while others who cannot afford have no choice but to drink the contaminated supply. We're afraid that if all this waste goes into the Chindwin River it would get worse and the people downstream will be the ones who suffer in the future."

More than 7,800 acres of land from 26 villages in the Sarlingyi Township area have been confiscated since the joint-venture between Union of Myanmar Economic Holding Ltd and Wan Bao Company began in 2011. Farmers began airing their demands for adequate compensation, return of their lands and to end forced relocation during a protest near the firm's office on July 2.

More villagers joined the farmers' protests in August after it began to focus on nearby Sabae and Kyay Sin mountains which have been decimated by copper mining while farmland is polluted by waste products from the worksite.

In late August, local people and civil society groups organized education programs nearby and began a signature campaign to stop the excavation work. Copper mining started in the area in 1980 with joint ventures between former Burmese Ministry of Mining-1 and various investors including Canada-based Ivanhoe Mines.


Copper mine protest earns nationwide support - Nyein Nyein

The Irrawaddy

13 September 2012

Protesters at Monywa's Letpadaung mountain range have been joined by activists from Rangoon and Mandalay plus members of the 88 Generation Students group in their bid to halt copper mining in the area.

More than 300 residents from 12 villages in Letpadaung held a public meeting on Wednesday to demand the closure of the copper mine which they claim has led to environmental destruction, forced relocations and illegal land confiscations.

On Tuesday, 20 students from Mandalay City joined a march of around 1,500 people to demand the release of three female activists who were detained at prayer meeting at Monywa's Sutaungpyae Pagoda on Monday. Twelve protesters were originally arrested with nine released later the same day, but three women from Wat Hmay Village remain in Monywa Prison in Sagaing Division.

Members of the 88 Generations Students group arrived on Wednesday to negotiate between the authorities and villagers.

Jimmy, one of the 88 Generation Students leaders, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that the local security forces dispersed after the group met Sagaing Region Chief Minister Thar Aye on Wednesday evening.

"Chief Minister Thar Aye promised not to make any charges against the protesters, mostly from Wat Hmay Village, so they can go back home peacefully, and that the detainees will be released although it will take time as the arrests are in accordance with the law," said Jimmy.

The 88 Generation told The Irrawaddy that the protesters had three demands-the release of current detainees, no more detention of protesters and the postponement of the copper project until some level of agreement has been reached.

But Thar Aye told the 88 Generation Students that the demand to postpone the copper mine must be brought up to Union-level government because State-level negotiators did not have the required authority. Jimmy is still in Monywa awaiting the release of the detainees.

Security has tightened in the area where the movement of villagers and activists is being watched by security forces, claim residents. NLD MP Khin San Hlaing, of Sagaing Division's Palae constituency, met protestors in Monywa Monastery on Wednesday.

"Letpadaung copper mine will cause the contamination of Chindwin river water, destruction of religious heritage, environmental loss around the area and nearby Monywa, which is just 15 miles west of the mine. Therefore, the project must stop," said a statement released by the protesters on Wednesday.

Phoe Kyaung, a farmer from Hse Te whose 15 acres of land were confiscated for the project a year ago, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that, "We also demand the withdrawal of the curfew which was issued two months ago and also not to be detained unlawfully."

"Even though some farmers have taken compensation and left the region, those who remain fear the mountains will be destroyed due to the copper mine," said Han Win Aung, another rights activist. "So they fear this environmental loss as they have started losing crops in their village."

Students in Monywa joined protesters from Wat Hmay for a "mountain gazing" protest over the weekend to symbolically remember the Letpadaung range which they fear will soon disappeared due to the copper mine.

Activists point to the examples of nearby Sabae and Kyay Sin mountains which have been decimated by copper mining with nearby farmland polluted by waste products from the worksite.

Tensions have risen since last month after the project-a joint venture between Chinese Wan Bao Mining Company and military-owned Union of Myanmar Economics Holding Ltd-brought in the security police to protect the project which covers almost 8,000 acres of land along the mountain range.

Villagers recently stood in front of the company's bulldozers-used to destroy land near Wat Hmay, Hse Te, Tone Taw Kyaung and Zeedaw villages in Sarlingyi Township-to stop them from continuing project construction.

Earlier this year, villagers brought up the impact of waste from the mining into their fields. No settlement has been agreed between the company and residents to date.

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