Myanmar villagers protest resumption of copper mine production

About 200 villagers on Wednesday protested against a Chinese company that will resume production at the controversial Letpadaung copper mine in northwestern Myanmar’s Sagaing region, a villager said.

The large project operated by China’s Wanbao Mining Copper Ltd. Company 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.

The villagers marched to Wanbao’s offices after officials said they would resume production on Thursday following the suspension of activities for a few months, said Mar Cho, a protester from Tone village.

“We are protesting because the company will resume the project without approval from local residents,” she told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi had led a parliamentary inquiry commission on the Letpadaung project, later calling for more transparency in its land appropriation process and for police riot-control training in the wake of a violent raid on protesters at the mine site in 2012.

She 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.

“We demand they stop the project because the company didn’t adhere to the recommendations in the report on the Letpadaung copper mine problem by the investigative commission,” Mar Cho said.

The villagers are also demanding that Wanbao properly compensate them for crops they lost to land confiscations in 2014 and 2015, she said.

Local police stopped the protesters from entering Wanbao’s office campus, she said.

“We will come here and protest again and again until we get a response,” Mar Cho said.

In April, two members of parliament from Sagaing region met with residents from seven local villages who lost farmland to the mine project and pledged to take up their cause.

The mine is one of several Chinese-operated megaprojects under way in the Southeast Asian nation that have met with opposition from locals because of expropriated land and environmental damage.

Copyright © 1998-2014, RFA. Used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036.

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