MAC: Mines and Communities

Burma: Student Activist Falsely Accused in Letpadaung Kidnapping

Published by MAC on 2014-10-08
Source: The Irrawady, Karen News, Statement (2014-09-26)

Villagers, Activists Claim Innocence of Student Charged in Chinese Workers' Kidnapping

By Nyein Nyein

The Irrawady

22 September 2014

Phyu Hnin Htwe, a 23-year-old university student from central Mandalay Division, was a welcome guest in the Hsete village, which she regularly visited to help the 10th grade students of poor local families with their studies.

The activist student felt a strong sympathy for the plight of the village in Sagaing Division's Yinmabin Township, one of 26 villages that have been embroiled in a drawn-out land dispute with Wanbao, a Chinese mining company excavating copper deposits from the Letpadaung Mountain.

Her activities with the children in Hsete village on May 18 would prove fateful after authorities decided that they would charge her in connection with the alleged kidnapping that day of two Chinese workers by local villagers who oppose the mine.

On Sept 13, months after the incident, police visited her hometown of Patheingyi in Mandalay, located some 100 km to the east, and arrested her. The young student has spent the last ten nights in Monywa Prison and could face up to ten years in prison on charges of kidnapping and abduction if the court finds her guilty.

Her friends and family, and local villagers, have been left stunned by the fact that authorities would seek to arrest Phyu Hnin Htwe, and insist she has nothing to do with the May 18 incident.

"She had been helping the children from our villages for about two years. At that time of the incident in May, she was at the village helping the children," said Ma Sandar, who lives in Tone, a village neighboring Hsete. "She was not involved in the abduction case."

Phyu Hnin Htwe is scheduled to appear at Yinmabin District Court on Tuesday, according to her brother Pyae Phyo, who visited her in prison in recent days. "She asked about the villagers and the people she works with when I went to meet her at the prison, instead of asking first about her family," said Pyae Phyo, who is a National League for Democracy member in Mandalay.

He said she was passionate about helping communities affected by land-grabbing, adding, "She devoted her time to the land rights movement and has been protesting and helping the [Monywa] villagers since 2012."

Phyu Hnin Htwe has been following a long-distance studying course at Mandalay's Yadanabon University and is a member of its students' union, which is part of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU).

The ABFSU has called for Phyu Hnin Htwe's immediate release, saying that she is being falsely accused.

Kyaw Ko Ko, chair of the ABFSU central committee, said the group had launched a campaign calling for the release of Phyu Hnin Htwe. He said he had attempted to contact Wanbao company and local authorities in order to find out who had been the plaintiff in the case against her, but had been unable to find out.

Yinmabin Township is one several townships where communities have been affected by the copper mine. Wanbao company has been granted huge swathes of farmland by the government, but thousands of farmers claim they have not been properly compensated for the confiscation of their land.

The Letpadaung copper mine is a joint venture of Wanbao and the military-owned Union of Myanmar Economics Holding limited and has been deeply unpopular with the wider Burmese public. Activists from across Burma have come out in support of the affected communities.

On May 18, the villagers in Yinmabin Township were angered when they saw Chinese Wanbao employees carrying out survey works on recently seized lands. Villagers believed the aim of the company was to later fence in the area. They consequently brought the two men, along with a Burmese Wanbao employee, to Hsete village. The Burmese national was released the same day, but the Chinese employees were held for about 30 hours.

Ma Sandar said the villagers had never intended to harm the freedom of movement of the company workers, adding that they had has just hoped to force the company to negotiate with them. She said, "But it did not turn out as we expected."

A total of seven people were charged with abduction in May; five were arrested and later pardoned by the court.

Phyu Hnin Htwe and Win Kyaw, a local villager, were also charged but did not show up for the trial. Until recently, Monywa authorities had made no attempt to arrest the two. Win Kyaw still remains at large.


Burma/Myanmar: Student Activist Phyu Hnin Htwe Falsely Accused of Abduction

Asian Human Rights Commission - AHRC-STM-175-2014-01

26 September 2014

Phyu Hnin Htwe, a 23-year-old, member of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) from Yadanabon University, Mandalay has been falsely implicated in the abduction of two Chinese workers from an army-backed copper mine project. On 20 September 2014, four months after the incident, she was arrested in her hometown under Penal Code Section 364 and 368. She is currently detained in Monywa Prison and awaiting trial in Yinmabin District Court. Ms. Phyu Hnin Htwe has already attended two trials. Her lawyer has applied for bail on September 23, but it has not been granted.

On 18 May 2014, three workers, one Burmese worker and two Chinese workers of the Wanbao Mining Company's Letpadaung Copper Mine Project, were illegally detained by the local people from Yinmabin Township. The workers had come to the village to survey the land, but the villagers, whose lands were seized for the project, abducted the workers; they were concerned that the government was ignoring them in favour of the Chinese company. The villagers immediately released the Burmese worker but intended to use their detention of the two Chinese workers to draw the government's attention to their grievances. The following day, local authorities negotiated with the people granting them the right to use their land again and preventing the company from further fencing off sections of the area. The villagers set the two Chinese workers free, after the verbal agreement with the authorities.

While these events were taking place, Ms. Phyu Hnin Htwe was at the home of a local family, tutoring their children. She was not involved in kidnapping the workers. According to local sources, she was only present in the area to volunteer help to local students and to provide support for the people who had lost their lands. Nevertheless, she has been accused of helping the villagers kidnap the workers. The members of the victim's student union, among others, believe that membership in the union is one of the main reason she is being singled out by the government.

On 22 May 2014, the court charged seven people, including Ms. Phyu Hnin Htwe, for the abduction. Five of the seven were arrested, charged, convicted, but then pardoned. There has been no attempt to arrest the other two, including Ms. Phyu Hnin Htwe, at the time. Now that Ms. Phyu Hnin Htwe has been arrested, only one of the seven remains at large.

Letpadaung Copper Mine Project is being operated by the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited and Wanbao Mining Company, China. There are many nationwide objections to the project, because of the side-effects that impact the environment and livelihood of local people. Activists who were helping the local people in the Letpadaung area had been prosecuted with various offenses (see AHRC-STM-173-2013 and AHRC-STM-082-2013. The plaintiff of the case is an employee of the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited.

The Asian Human Rights Commission condemns the politically motivated prosecution of a young student for crime that she has not committed. The AHRC urges the courts to act independently, consider the facts, dismiss the case, and release the girl immediately.


Shan organizations call for mining moratorium

Karen News

12 September 2014

A coalition of Shan community based organizations has said a moratorium on resource extraction is urgently needed until there is nationwide peace and a discussion on the control and management of the country's natural resources, much of which are in ethnic areas.

The Shan CBOs referred to an anti-mining protest held on 5th September by 3,000 villagers in the town of Namkham, which lies near the border of China in northern Shan State, as one example of how ethnic communities felt they were being negatively affected by the resource extraction industry.

The villagers were protesting against a silica mining operations, which they say have contaminated the water supplies of nine villages in the area and destroyed 100 acres of farmland because of pollution. Villagers also said that large trucks were passing through residential areas day and night, transporting the minerals to the nearby China border causing several fatal accidents.

"The anti-mining protest... highlights the lack of protection against damaging mining, and the urgent need for a moratorium on resource extraction in ethnic areas until there is genuine political reform and peace in Burma," The Shan community groups said in a statement.

The protest followed a petition signed by 5,900 villagers in Namkham in August 2013, which called for the mining operation to stop. Villagers said that the Shan State Mining Minister, Sai Aik Pao, came in person to inspect the damage caused by the mining operations and ordered it be stopped, but that the mining operation continued.

Muay Noom Hom, a spokesperson for the Shan CBOs, said that the government's decision to engage in resource extraction before a peace settlement with ethnic armed groups was irresponsible.

"Naypyidaw is selling off all our valuable resources even before getting to the negotiating table. By the time a settlement is reached, there will be nothing left," she said.

The Namkham region is currently an active conflict zone between government forces and ethnic armed groups, including Shan and Kachin forces. The Shan CBOs accuse the Burma government of using pro-government militias as security for the silica mining operation, adding to militarization in the area.

"Mining companies in this area with links to [pro-government] militia include Myanmar Mya Oo, Ngwe Kabar Kyaw and Ban Thissa, which is connected to the Pansay militia, led by a government MP, U Kyaw Myint. The first company to carry out mining in the area was GSM, linked to former Minister U Aung Thaung," the Shan CBOs said.

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