Burmese Security Forces Crack Down On Protesting Farmers And Monks
30 November, 2012
Protests by people are expanding in Burma while local and international companies and interests are collaborating to exploit the natural resources there. There are occupations and marches by the people, and government assaults on the protesting people.
Protesting Buddhist monks occupied the office entrance to the Chinese mine company Wan Bao Co. Ltd. in Letpadaung mine, Monywa township, northwestern Burma. Gold miners were arrested recently while they were on a protest march.
An AP report filed from Monywa, Burma, carried by News Asian correspondent.com  said:
The Burmese security forces used water cannons and other methods to crack down on protesters occupying a copper mine in Burma hours before opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was expected to visit there on November 29, 2012 to hear the grievances.
Unexplained fires engulfed protest camps after the November 29, 2012-morning raid at the Letpadaung mine in northwestern Burma. Several protesters said dozens of Buddhist monks and villagers were injured.
The government had ordered protesters to evacuate the mine by November 28, 2012 or face legal action. The protesters want the project halted because they say it is causing environmental, social and health problems.
An earlier AP report datelined Monywa  said:
Hundreds of Buddhist monks and villagers occupying a copper mine in northwestern Burma defied a government order to leave, saying they will stay until the project is halted.
The protesters, who have set up six camps at the site, say the Letpadaung mine near the town of Monywa is causing environmental, social and health problems.
The protest is the latest example of increased activism by citizens since an elected government took over last year following almost five decades of repressive military rule.
The mine is a joint venture between a Chinese firm and a company controlled by Burma’s military.
“We strongly condemn last night’s order from the Home Ministry,” said Thwe Thwe Win, one of the protest leaders. “We will not stop our protest until our demands are met.”
Asked if they were concerned about being arrested, he said: “We will face difficulties, but we will continue our protest.”
Protesters say they want the mining project “to be totally halted” and have asked that any concessions be made publicly in front of the media.
There was no immediate reaction from authorities.
Political and economic liberalization under President Thein Sein has won praise from Western governments, which have eased sanctions imposed on the previous military government because of its poor record on human and civil rights.
However, this protest, which began in August, poses a direct challenge to the army because of its financial interest in the mine.
Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit is expected to draw attention to the rally, which partly due to its remote location has been largely ignored.
The announcement ordering an end to the occupation said operations at the copper mine had been halted since Nov. 18, after protesters occupied the area.
After the announcement was issued, some villagers left the mining site, according to Win Kyawt Hmu, a protester contacted by phone.
He said there had been nearly 1,000 protesters at the six occupation camps, including at least 300 Buddhist monks.
Buddhist monks in Burma have traditionally been closely involved in social protests.
He said the monks and about 50 villagers remained at the main camp, near the offices of the Chinese partner in the mine, Wan Bao Co. Ltd.
The order to end the protest said parliament had decided to form a committee to investigate the situation at the mine, but could not start its work until it resumes operation.
Gold miners arrested
The Myanmar Times reported :
Six members of a group of gold miners marching from Yangon to Nay Pyi Taw were arrested on November 23 in northern Bago Region, some of the miners said.
One of the arrested is receiving treatment at Pyinmana Township Hospital after being injured in a clash with police.
“As they were marching in procession, policemen blocked them from both ends of the procession and hit them without any prior notice. There were about 100 policemen, each holding riot shields. There were about 30 more people in plain clothes who were clearly government officials because they had handcuffs. Policemen forced four of the leaders onto a car after hitting them. Since then we haven’t heard anything about them. We have no idea where they were taken,” he said.
The 85 miners left Yangon on November 8 and planned to apply for permission to protest outside the Ministry of Mines, the parliament the president’s residence.
Ko Nay Aung Htet, the leader of the group, said on November 17 that they would protest in Nay Pyi Taw “until a solution is reached”.
They are unhappy at what they describe as unfair treatment and broken promises from company Myanmar National Prosperity, which won a tender to mine gold in the area in late 2011.
In June, workers from the hundreds of small mines at Moehti Moemi began protesting after the company allegedly reneged on an earlier verbal agreement to split all gold found in the area 50-50.
Myanmar National Prosperity officials reportedly made the promise to the small mining companies and individual miners in December 2011, saying they could excavate gold from the area for the duration of its five-year contract with the government.
After holding several protests in the mining area, the miners applied for permission to demonstrate in Yamethin but were rejected twice. About 30 of them then protested in front of Myanmar National Prosperity office in Yangon on November 3, November 6 and November 8, after which they decided to walk to Nay Pyi Taw.
They were originally expected to arrive around November 20, but on November 19 the police chief for Taunggoo District asked them to wait three days because a foreign dignitary was visiting Nay Pyi Taw, said marcher Ko Yauk Kyi.
“We agreed to wait as a gesture of respect for the state. [The police chief] said he would render help as much as he could when we leave after that,” he said.
But residents there said Nay Pyi Taw Council has tightened security at check points on roads entering the city.
Ko Nay Aung Htet said the group would proceed regardless.
“If we are blocked, it is okay; we won’t do anything violent. If we are arrested, it is also okay. This is because we are out of work if we go back [to Yamethin]. But we are confident we can bring about a solution,” he said.
Their demands include fair rights to work on Moehti Moemi hill, abolishing the National Prosperity’s monopoly, taking legal action against companies that are exploiting the people at Moehti Moemi, ensuring they abide by the rules of any contract, taking action against National Prosperity employees who “bully” other people in the area, better environmental protections and action against acts of forced labor, Ko Nay Aung Htet said.
“Will this be resolved in favor of the poor, who don’t even have enough food, or the rich, who have more property than they can even look after? That’s the main point in this case,” he said.
Gold was struck in Moehti Moemi region in 1996-1997 and about 100,000 people worked in the area before National Prosperity won the tender.
Now about 20,000 miners and their families live there, the marchers said.
Another report by The Myanmar Times said :
More than 30 farmers from four villages in Hlaing Tharyar township protested outside the Department for Human Settlement and Housing Development (DHSHD) on Bogyoke Aung San Road this week.
The farmers had been demonstrating for more than three weeks outside the office of Wah Wah Win Company, on the corner of Anawrahta and Sintohtan streets in downtown Yangon, before shifting their attention to the DHSHD office after getting no response.
They are unhappy that the company has allegedly backtracked on a compensation promise made following protests in the middle of the year.
“We demonstrated for 23 days [since October 31] in front of the [Wah Wah Win] office. We called on them to negotiate the complicated land issues in Hlaing Tharyar township but they took no notice so we moved to DHSHD in the hope that they could solve the problem. We decided to stay here until they solve the problem for us,” said Ko Kyi Shwin from Kyun Ka Lay village in Hlaing Tharyar township.
The land in Kyun Ka Lay, Kyun Gyee, Kan Phyu and Atwin Padan was confiscated by DHSHD more than two decades ago without compensation.
It was then sold to Wah Wah Win for the construction of Anawrahta Industrial Zone, but construction work at the site did not get underway until 2011, the farmers said.
In the intervening years they were allowed to continue farming in the area but last year workers from Wah Wah Win began destroying their fields and building fences on their land.
On May 31, 35 farmers from Atwin Padan demonstrated outside DHSHD on Bogyoke Aung San Road and a second protest was held on July 2.
On June 5, about 70 farmers from the four villages, representatives from Wah Wah Win, and officials from DHSHD and the general administrative office met and negotiated compensation for the land. The farmers say that the company agreed to pay K3 million per acre.
“Wah Wah Win cheated us twice. They didn’t do anything, although they gave a pledge in front of government officials,” said U Shwe Kyaing, who lives in Kyun Ka Lay village and lost 23 acres to the project.
“They have not paid anything until now so we demonstrated again. Now we won’t accept any compensation, they [farmers] are ready to fight with them [Wah Wah Win] to get their lands back,” said U Win Cho, a land rights activist who is assisting the farmers.
Ko Kyi Shwin said he lost 63 acres to the construction of the industrial zone.
“We aren’t going anywhere until we get a commitment that they will stop their work on our farmland without our agreement. They are continuing their works and destroying our land – we have no other way to stop them,” he said.
Ma Cho Mar from Kyun Gyee village urged government officials to help the farmers.
“This land is our life; we can’t do anything without farmland,” she said.
But Wah Wah Win general manager Daw San San Win said her company negotiated several times with the farmers in 2011 and gave the compensation they requested, paying 35 farmers K3 million an acre between July 2011 and September of this year.
“We accept the farmers who are willing to negotiate but now they are asking for too much money – much more than we can afford. Some ask us to give K15 million an acre. Some are not willing to negotiate with us,” she said.
She said her company gave compensation out of sympathy and was not legally obligated to give the farmers anything.
“This project was implemented by our company and the government for mutual benefit. We implemented this project for a long time so why didn’t they ask at the time [the land was confiscated]?
“Our company doesn’t have any responsibility to pay compensation but we give it to them because we sympathize with them.”
She said the regular strikes outside here company’s office “could damage the country’s image” and were a “waste of time”.
“They should not do this … this situation should not be blamed on our company alone. We are trying to solve it as much as we can. We can’t do any more than we are now. If we give them the amount they ask, next time they will just ask for more.
“We want these farmers to work according to the law if they have right to posses these lands and we also want to solve [the dispute] according to the law. I think their actions, protesting in front of the company for many days, are just a waste of time.”
 “Burma cracks down on mine protest; dozens hurt”, Nov. 29, 2012, http://asiancorrespondent.com/92677/burma-cracks-down-on-mine-protest-dozens-hurt/
 “Burma protesters defy orders end to mine rally”, Nov 28, 2012, http://asiancorrespondent.com/92653/burma-protesters-defy-orders-end-to-mine-rally/
 Pyae Thet Phyo, “Miners arrested on march from Yangon to Nay Pyi Taw”, Nov. 24, 2012,http://www.mmtimes.com/index.php/national-news/3333-miners-arrested-on-march-from-yangon-to-nay-pyi-taw.html
 Ei Ei Toe Lwin, “More protests over Yangon industrial zone”, Nov. 24, 2012, http://www.mmtimes.com/index.php/national-news/yangon/3344-more-protests-over-yangon-industrial-zone.html
Comments are moderated