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Riot police open fire on Latpadaung protestors

Three Latpadaung villagers protest against the continuation of the copper mine project by lying in front of a bulldozer, 22 December 2014. (PHOTO: Han Win Aung)

By Naw Noreen 
December 22, 2014

A 50-year-old local woman was killed and at least four other villagers seriously wounded after protestors clashed with riot police near the site of Latpadaung copper mine in Sagaing Division on Monday afternoon.

A resident from Sete village, situated inside the mining project site, said Myanmar Wanbao company staff arrived with police security on Monday morning to lay fences across land plots that villagers have refused to give up [by not accepting compensation].

“The police stood in a line, armed with riot shields, and warned the villagers they would be shot if they did not move,” said the Sete villager. “The protestors tried to block them from entering the plots and refused to give in.

“The police killed a woman named Khin Win from Mogyopyin village. She was shot in the head,” he said.

DVB has learnt that protestors had launched stones from slingshots at the police and that the security forces had responded in kind before shots were fired.

Khin San Hlaing, a union parliament MP from nearby Pale Township, said she was informed by locals that Khin Win was shot dead by police.

“I was told by the villagers that Daw Khin Win was shot in the head when the police opened fire. The photos we received showed a bullet wound entering her forehead and exiting through the back of her head,” she told DVB by telephone at 3:30pm local time.

“Her body was still lying in the sesame field and no one had the courage to go pick it up,” the MP added. “We were also informed that another villager, U Hmine, from Mogyopyin village was shot in the thigh and was bleeding out. But he was yet to be taken to hospital.”

She added that a third villager, a woman named Ma Kyu, was injured in the eye.

Pho La Pyae, a resident from Mogyopyin village, said around 200 farmers from Myogyopyin, Sete and Tonywa villagers had confronted the police that morning and prevented them from coming onto their land. He said that 20 people were injured by police gunfire.

So far, no government official, police spokesperson or representative of Myanmar Wanbao has made an official statement.

Zaw Myo Nyunt, the administrator of nearby Yinmarbin village, told DVB by phone about an hour after the incident that he was unaware of any violence.

A DVB reporter at the scene said the protestors were dispersed from the area at around 4pm, whereby mining staff resumed erecting fences around the 1,000 acres of land in question.

The incident follows an official press release on 22 December by Myanmar Wanbao, a joint venture between military-backed Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings and China’s Wanbao Company. The company stated that it would soon commence work on an extended area of land allotted by the Burmese government for use in the copper mine project.

“Myanmar Wanbao Mining Copper Limited is pleased to announce that, under the direction of the Myanmar Government, the company will be extending its working area in the Letpadaung copper project to comply with requirements of its investment permit granted by the Myanmar Investment Commission. Construction is proceeding as a result of broad community support for the project.”

In addition to claiming that the project has the overwhelming backing of the local people, the firm went on to detail the amount it is has paid to villagers as compensation for assuming their land, and said that it has donated much money into the local community, as well as creating jobs and investing in local infrastructure.

Hundreds of local villagers and their supporters have been protesting the Latpadaung copper mine since its inception more than 10 years ago. Many have been displaced to make way for the project which was originally contracted to a Canadian firm, Ivanhoe Mines.

The controversial mine was temporarily suspended when activists and monks staged a mass sit-in protest in 2012. The protest was broken up brutally by riot police on 29 November that year when some 80 protestors were injured, including several Buddhist monks, many with horrific burns that experts have attributed to white phosphorous bombs.

A subsequent investigation headed by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi failed to pronounce anyone guilty for the violent crackdown, and to many villagers’ dismay, recommended to the government that the project be resumed.

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