Written by Published in Latpadaung

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The Myanmar Wanbao Copper Mining Ltd, operating the copper mining project in Salingyi Township, will appoint residents from 26 villages in the project area to trainee positions in the company.  

Written by Published in Latpadaung

Latpadaung protesters arrested by the police after a confrontation on August 13, 2013. Photo: Ko Toe Gyi / Mizzima

The local police station reported that ten protesters have been arrested after about 150 people protested on August 13, demanding the termination of the Latpadaung copper mine project in Monywa.

“We have arrested ten activists, including Daw Naw Ohn Hla”, confirmed a police officer.

Monks and civilians protested at the Latpadaung copper mine area demanding the government, “...to take up action against the policemen who persecuted citizens.”

Daw Naw Ohn Hla, who led the protest had submitted an application to the authorities requesting permission to hold a demonstration. However, the Township administrative police Major U Kyu Inn told Mizzima that they could not grant the permission, as “amending the Constitution” was one of the protester's demands.

U Kyu Inn explained that “amending the Constitution” is not in the hands of Monywa authorities. He also said that the protests was not approved because the applicants have not specifically stated the names of policemen who allegedly persecuted civilians. Therefore, it can be inferred that the protesters are accusing the whole police force and it will lead to loss of the dignity of the entire police force.

“We received information that Daw Naw Ohn Hla planned to protest individually. At around 12 p.m. people from local villages formed a small group; they were joined by other groups of protesters from Monywa. Daw Naw Ohn Hla arrived after 2 p.m. Subsequently, the situation got worse and the roads were blocked. We had to step in and control the situation”, said U Kyu Inn.

There was a confrontation between activists and the police at the corner of Bogyoke street and No(3) circular road in Monywa.

The police arrested ten protesters after the confrontation and detained them at No.1 police station in Monywa.

A resident from Monywa said explaining the situation, “The  police station where the protesters are detained has been shut down. They have enclosed a Monastery in front of the compound with barbed wire and put up barricades too.”

The Latpadaung residents continued their protest in front of the police station even after the police arrested the protesters. According to the latest report, the arrested protesters have been released on bail.

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Women work in farmlands near the Letpadaung copper mine project . Photo: Mizzima

Villagers from 26 villages in Letpadaung copper mine project area issued a statement on August 3, demanding Aung San Suu Kyi to take responsibility for work undertaken by the Inquiry Report Implementing Committee.

In their demand, the villagers said that since Aung San Suu Kyi led the Inquiry Commission, she should be held accountable for the Report Implementing Committee's actions and ensure that they work properly in carrying out the recommendations made in this report.

The statement was issued on August 3 after a forum attended by villagers from 26 villages, monks, activists and members of political parties. The statement has 9-point demands, including demands made directly to Aung San Suu Kyi. One of the demands in this statement says that the village clinic in Kangone village has completed ground breaking work only. The construction work has not finished yet so the authorities should fulfill their commitment in good faith and goodwill instead of mere token work to console the villagers. They also demanded that immediate action should be taken up to ensure waste from the copper mine project is not dumped into farmlands and residential areas

Moreover, the villagers have protested against the compensation paid for the farmlands that was seized for the project from the villagers at the rate prescribed by the Commission. They are contrary to the recommendation in this report, which is to pay compensation at ‘the appropriate market price'. The villagers urged the authorities concerned to consult them to ascertain the appropriate rate.

Thwe Thwe Win from Wet Hmay village said, “We cannot survive with their compensation of 1 million kyats (about $1000) per acre. The villagers who accepted the compensation are those whose farmlands had been absolutely damaged due to industrial waste and earth that were dumped on it. They cannot grow anything on these farmlands anymore. But for the rest of the villagers, the farmlands are fertile enough to grow three crops a year. So we cannot accept the rate of 1 million kyats per acre. The compensation should be an adequate amount for our survival.”

The Union Government assigned Presidential Office Union Minister Hla Tun to serve as Chairman in the Letpadaung copper mine Inquiry Commission Report Implementing Committee. The Inquiry Commission was led by Aung San Suu Kyi. On July 25, Union Minister Hla Tun said in the Parliament that Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) and Social
Impact Assessment (SIA) reports would be ready and released in September, 2013.

At the presentation in the Parliament regarding compensation paid for farmlands grabbed for the Letpadaung copper mine project, Union Minister Hla Thein said that a total compensation of 3 billion kyats (about $3million) had been paid to the villagers. However, 60% of the total farmlands grabbed had not been paid as the negotiation with the villagers is yet be completed.

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 Latpadaung activists speak at a press conference at the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society Office in Yangon on Thursday, June 20, 2013. Photo: Hein Htet / Mizzima

Three civil rights activists spoke up to defend their own rights at a press conference on Thursday at the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society Office in Yangon after the Myanmar government issued warrants for their arrest under Section 505 (b) of the penal code *—a public tranquility statute.

The three activists, Moe Thway (co-founder of Generation Wave), Wai Lu and Wai Hmuu Thwin (Yangon People Service Network) had travelled to the town of Monywa and Latpadaung village to assess the situation after April 25 when local police clashed with villagers who were protesting against the Latpadaung Copper Mining Project. Despite the enforcement of Section 144 of the Penal Code, which prohibits the farmers from accessing what was until recently their land, some farmers tried to plough their fields, resulting in a violent crackdown and arrests. Activists and villagers were also arrested.

During the visit, the Yangon-based activists listened to the position of the villagers and tried to communicate the same to the Sagaing Government to avoid further clashes. Wai Lu also met for talks about the issue with Aung Min, a high-profile President’s Office Minister, on his return to Yangon.

A court in Monywa Court subsequently issued warrants against the three activists on June 13 after Lt Khin Zaw from the Monywa police station came forward to accuse them under Section 505 (b) for defaming the state’s integrity in an interview with local media on May 9.

“They accused us under 505 (b) of being critical of Section 144,” said activist Wai Lu. He said he believes they have done nothing wrong.

The onus of arrest has been transferred this week to the Yangon police, but Wai Lu said he will neither court arrest nor will he hide. He said he and the other activists believe that the arrest warrant impinges on their freedom of speech and expression.

Ko Bo Kyi, Joint Secretary of the Association Assistance for Political Prisoners and a member of the government’s committee to scrutinize the cases of the remaining political prisoners, defended the rights of the activists. He said he has sent a report to the President informing him of the ongoing arbitrary arrests. Should any Latpadaung activists or local protesters be arrested, they will as regarded as political prisoners, according to a lead committee member.

Khin Ohmar, coordinator of the Burma Partnership, a human rights advocacy group, shed some light onto the current state of human rights in Myanmar. “Though we have new laws,” she said, “they exist with many loopholes which can further infringe our rights. For example, even though Article 18 gives us the right to peaceful demonstration, each individual partaking in it must get permission from the government at least two weeks in advance, along with the slogans to be used and number of people expected.”

*Section 505 (b) of the Myanmar penal Code: “Intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public or to any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the State or against the public tranquility.”

For more background:

  1. Latpadaung activist sentenced to hard labor
  2. Latpadaung ‘ploughing protesters’ sentenced
  3. Latpadaung Inquiry: phosphorous was used, but mining should continue
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Farmers from eight villages in the Sarlingyi Township plan to grow rice on land in the area of the Monywa copper mine project, despite it being restricted under Section 144 of the penal code.

At press conference held at the Myanmar Journalist Network office in Yangon on Thursday, Min Min, a farmer from the area, said that although local authorities strictly restrict farmers from ploughing fields in the copper mine project area, the farmers will grow rice this rainy season.

There are 7,800 acres of land in the restricted zone.

Presiding Monk Kawein Daka of Shin Ma Taung monestary from Sarlingyi Township said that although the deal was signed between the former government and Wanbao Co, the current government, Wanbao Co and the Latpadaung Inquiry Commission should act fairly and within the boundary of the law. 

Residents of Sarlingyi said that although 1.5 million kyat (US$1,685) per acre was given in compensation to the farmers whose lands were confiscated, there are some farmers who have not accepted the compensation.

Related articles:
  1. Monywa copper mine protesters lack supplies 
  2. Land confiscation issue major concern for Burma’s rights groups 
  3. 10,000 villagers protest farmland confiscation
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Myanmar authorities defended the police handling of a land protest near a Chinese-backed mine, state media reported Friday, accusing villagers of attacking them with petrol bombs, sticks and stones.

Activists on Thursday accused police of quelling a protest by farmers near the Letpadaung mine in Monywa, central Myanmar, with batons and rubber bullets, injuring more than two dozen villagers and arresting three others.

The clashes were an echo of a brutal crackdown on demonstrators near the mine last year, which left dozens wounded, including monks, and highlighted the incendiary nature of land disputes in Myanmar as it undergoes sweeping reforms.

On Thursday dozens of farmers attempted to plough land which no longer belongs to them prompting police to move in, state mouthpiece the New Light of Myanmar reported.

"Villagers attacked throwing handmade fire [petrol] bombs... and throwing stones at the security forces," injuring at least 15 police officers and prompting authorities to fire rubber bullets as a warning.

Despite orders to disperse "an anarchic group" of villagers continued to attack police, with two protesters wielding a "stick and sword", the report added.

Villagers vowed to protest again on Friday afternoon, calling for the release of three people arrested over the clashes.

Denying protesters used petrol bombs, environmental activist Ba Htoo did admit stones were thrown at police lines.

The farmers accuse authorities of evicting them from land around the mine—a joint venture between Chinese firm Wanbao and military-owned Myanmar Economic Holding—and many locals want it shut down.

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has urged locals to accept compensation for their land, following a probe into a brutal crackdown at a protest at the mine last year.

The Nobel laureate, who is normally venerated around the country, was in March heckled by villagers enraged by her recommendation that the copper mine continue to operate, despite villagers' concerns.

Yi Win, a villager who was at the scene of Thursday's clashes, said locals "cannot accept what she [Suu Kyi] said," adding "we want to get our land back and stop the copper mine project".

Suu Kyi's report to parliament last month said police used phosphorus against demonstrators at the mine in November in the harshest crackdown on protesters since the end of military rule.

However, the probe into the clampdown recommended the mine project should not be scrapped, despite conceding it only brought "slight" benefits to the nation.

For more background:
  1. Latpadaung villager shot as police clash with locals
  2. Residents continue to protest over Latpadaung project
  3. Activists condemn Latpadaung report
  4. White phosphorous used on Latpadaung protesters, say lawyers
  5. Suu Kyi blocked by angry protesters at Latpadaung
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