More than 1,000 people demanding the closure of a copper mining project in the Letpadaung mountain range, Sagaing Division, held yet another demonstration in front of the company’s headquarters in Monywa’s Salingyi Township.
Protesters have been disrupting project work since Sunday by linking arms and blocking the path of trucks and vehicles at the construction site while security officials looked on.
Local residents and environmental activists have taken up two separate positions—a large gathering in front of the Myanmar-Wanbao Mining Company office on the Monywa-Pathein Road, and a smaller event at the Lelti Sayadaw Buddhist Building near Kyawyar Village, around five miles away from the protester’s main camp.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Tuesday, activist Han Win Aung said residents had been demonstrating for three days and more people from different parts of the country are still arriving to show their support.
“Students, activists and supporters including monks from Rangoon and the Central Burma towns and townships of Mandalay, Monywa, Pakhoku , Yaysakyo, Myin Chan and Pyin Oo Lwin have joined the protest.” he said.
Myo Thant, the field coordinator for farmers’ issues for the 88 Generation Students, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that he will soon meet with Letpadaung farmers to show his group’s support.
“We are on the same side as the farmers who are holding a peaceful protest,” said the ex-political prisoner who has been helping farmers in different townships for nearly two years including ten months in the Letpadaung area.
“The residents are so strong and they are determined to protest until the project stops, so we have to support them psychologically,” he added.
Around 7,800 acres of land have been confiscated for the copper mine, which has operated as a joint venture between the Burmese military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. and China’s Wanbao Mining Company since 2010.
Villagers have tried to stop excavation work, the construction of roads and project buildings as well as waste products being deposited on farmland.
“Yesterday, negotiations with the company did not go well,” said a protest leader. In September and October, there were three rounds of negotiations with the authorities but with no result.
Sagaing Division Chief Minister Thar Aye has already told protesters that halting the copper mine project is beyond the authority of the regional government as the joint venture was agreed between Union-level officials and the company.
Protesters claim that around 400 security police have been stationed nearby their demonstration but no harassment has so far been faced this time. Although originally starting half-a-year ago, renewed protests have taken place this month as the company has allegedly been piling waste on nearby farmland. In September, a dozen protesters and activists were detained by the security forces.
“We have made up our mind to protest until the copper mine project stops,” said local resident Aung Zaw Oo, who worries about environmental devastation cause by the mining. The villagers have demanded that the project stops after witnessing the dire health consequence experienced by people living by Monywa’s Kyay Sin and Sabae copper mines.
Student leaders said the government should listen to farmers from the 26 affected villages. “The company officials and authorities should have been transparent about the project since the beginning,” said Myo Thant, adding that the farmers were not told about the scale of development that lay ahead.
“Before deciding whether the project will stop or not, the authorities should first suspend it to demonstrate that they are paying attention to the problem.”
The 88 Generation activist said that the Myanmar-Wanbao Mining Company has obtained documents to prove ownership of the lands since 2001 even though the project actually started in 2010.
“It is not right and this shows that the authorities or the company has acquired such documents for confiscated land by bribing officials,” said Myo Thant, adding that such cases are common throughout Burma.
On Monday, protesters and student activists held posters outside Rangoon University during the visit of US President Barrack Obama that demanded an end to the copper mining project.