YANGON – Hundreds of villagers in Myanmar protested on Friday against the recommencement of operations at a Chinese-backed copper mine where some people broke through police barriers protecting the mine, operated by Myanmar Wanbao, a unit of a Chinese weapons maker, as residents witnessed.
According to villagers, they feel as though their land has been unlawfully seized to expand the mine, noting that Wanbao runs the Letpadaung mine in a joint project with a conglomerate controlled by the Myanmar military, Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd.
Back, following the big protests in 2012 and 2013, it was recommended by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi for the residents to be compensated and for measures to be taken to decrease environmental damages.
After the big protests in 2012 and 2013, when riot police raided a protest camp injuring more than 100 people, then opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi led an inquiry that recommended compensating the residents and minimizing environmental damage. The latter led her party to a far-reaching election victory last year and now oversees the government.
Further, a spokesman at Suu Kyi’s office said the government was observing the situation along with the company’s response to earlier inquiry recommendations Zaw Htay, spokesman at the State Counselor’ Office, run by Suu Kyi, said they’re checking how the company has fulfilled the commission’s requirements with the respective ministries.
China will also likely be watching how the new government handles the protests. It has made a big push to assert its business and political interests since Suu Kyi’s party took over in April. In 2012, police threw phosphorus at protesters, inflicting serious burns on scores. In 2014, a protester was shot dead.
“There hasn’t been any response from anybody to the protesters’ letters,” said Ar Lawka, a Buddhist monk who supports the protests, referring to villagers’ letters to the mine operator and lawmakers form Suu Kyi’s party. “This is not the last protest.”