MANDALAY — Three contractors for the controversial Letpadaung copper mine project have been kidnapped and held hostage by anti-mine protesters in northwest Burma.
The contractors, including two Chinese nationals and a Burmese national, were allegedly taken against their will by student activists and monks in Sagaing Division on Sunday morning, according to Wanbao, a Chinese company backing the mining project.
The Burmese contractor was later released but the two others were kept in the protesters’ custody.
The company sent a letter on Monday morning to the minister of Sagaing Division and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, requesting urgent assistance.
“Our colleagues have been threatened with death if the police were to harm any of the villagers. The activists have demanded the halting of the Letpadaung project as a condition of the release of our colleagues,” Geng Yi, managing director of Myanmar Wanbao Mining Copper Ltd, said in the letter.
Suu Kyi was chairwoman for an investigation commission that last year recommended the continuation of operations at the mine following fierce public opposition.
On Monday evening, the protesters were reportedly bringing the two Chinese contractors to a 5 pm negotiation meeting with local and company authorities in New Zetaw village.
The kidnapping was a response to the arrest and detention of anti-mine protester Aung Soe following his involvement in unrelated protests against land-grabs in Mandalay Division.
In Sagaing Division, angry residents marched on Sunday morning to the police station in Sarlingyi Township where Aung Soe was initially detained. On their way, they seized a vehicle and kidnapped the three Wanbao employees.
According to the residents, the Wanbao contractors had been building a fence around land that was seized from the residents by mining authorities, although negotiations for compensation had not yet ended.
Following the kidnapping, the police raided a monastery in the same township late on Sunday night. In an ensuing clash, officers allegedly fired tear gas at residents, who responded by throwing bricks.
“We are only keeping them to draw the attention of authorities from the mining company, so they come to see us and talk about our future,” Myint, a resident from Hse Te village, told The Irrawaddy of the kidnapping.
“We have asked the mining authorities several times to negotiate with us, but every time we meet they fail to give a clear statement about our future. Now the authorities tried to face us brutally. Since we lost our land, we have no life.”
Protesters denied threatening or harming their hostages, saying the contractors had been taken to a safe location.
“We kept them nicely and fed them well. We didn’t touch them,” Aung Thein, a farmer in Hse Te village, told The Irrawaddy. He said that when the protesters were requesting the return of their land. “We did not take compensation because the time to cultivate is coming,” he added.
Ashin Alorka, an abbot at the monastery that was raided in Zedaw village, said nobody was harmed during the ensuing clash.
“But I was saddened because this is the second time since 2012 that my monastery has been brutally raided like this, as if it were the hiding place of bandits,” he told The Irrawaddy, adding that the Wanbao contractors had not been held there.
“We monks are trying to calm the situation down and negotiate between the villagers and the authorities, but the brutal reaction of the authorities has sparked anger among the villagers,” he said.