Protesting gold miners in Mandalay Division have accused the Myanmar National Prosperity Public Company (MNPPC) of destroying their homes in a bid to prevent them returning to mountains 40 miles (64 km) from Yamethin Township.
Around 70 workers at Moehti Moemi gold mines claim their houses by the worksite have been torn down since the end of last month by the project’s controlling company in order to thwart their attempts to restart work.
“We have not been allowed to go back to our homes in Moehti Moemi since our four leaders were arrested in Yayni Township on Nov. 23,” said Hlaing Myo Aung, who has worked in the mine for more than 11 years.
The gold miners said their houses are being torched after the company told individual gold miners to leave project’s “living zone.”
“Two special security forces of around 200 people went to each living zone and told the small gold miners to move,” said Hlaing Myo Aung. “The company asked for them to move around 30 houses from zone six and then they set fire to around eight houses including my home on Nov. 29.” The local monastery and compound were also destroyed, he added.
Local sources claim the special force involved was formed by MNPPC Manager Soe Htun Shein, and that the company wants to consolidate its position running the mine without independent competitors taking a cut.
Tens of thousands of gold miners began protesting in the first week of June after the MNPPC told them to halt work in the 6,000-acre Moehti Moemi area.
The company reached a verbal agreement with around 1,000 small mining companies and individual miners in December 2011, which allowed them to excavate gold from the area for the length of its five-year government contract. MNCCP is contracted to supply the Ministry of Mining with a certain amount of gold, while the smaller companies would receive half the ore that they excavated and contribute the rest.
The miners called off their protest after negotiations in mid-June as their demands—to be allowed to continue mining, receive compensation for loss of earnings and investment, gain access to mining machinery and be allowed to continue working on a profit-sharing basis as before—were all granted by the MNPPC.
The protest then arose once again after miners complained that compensation was not paid to all those affected and the company was breaking the June agreement. Miners then marched from Rangoon to Naypyidaw in November but were stopped by the authorities en route and the protest leaders were arrested.
Gold miners had a meeting with the Yamethin provincial administrator on Wednesday during which they were told negotiations would be held on the following Monday.
The miners are demanding to be able to keep working in the area, have guarantees regarding work and that those detained are set free. “As their leaders are not yet freed, the date has been moved to next Monday,” said Myo Thein, the leader of the Yamethin branch of the main opposition National League for Democracy party.
“As they have a formal written agreement instead of a verbal one, when gold is found the company tends to tell the small miners to stop mining. And that’s the problem.”
Four leading miners—Saw Naung, Ye Yint Htun, Nay Htet Aung and Naing Win—were arrested three weeks ago and are now being detained at Taungoo Prison after they were charged with incitement under Section 505(b) of the Burmese Penal Code at Yaytarshay Township Court.
Although the authorities in Rangoon bailed leading protesters against the government’s brutal crackdown on the Letpadaung copper mine, who were also charged with 505(b), the gold miners claim that their leaders have not been allowed bail.