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Burmese activists arrested after demonstrating over shooting over protester

Police officers stand by a wreath for protester Daw Khin Win, near the Chinese embassy in Yangon, 29 December 2014
Police officers stand by a wreath for protester Daw Khin Win, near the Chinese embassy in Yangon, 29 December 2014

REUTERS/Minzayar

This statement was originally published on mizzimanews.com on 31 December 2014.

Police have arrested four activists who staged a demonstration outside the Chinese embassy in Yangon over the shooting death of a protester at the controversial Chinese-run copper mine in Letpadaung.

Dagon Township and Yangon Region and District police forces arrested four protesters on December 30, 2014, including leaders U Nay Myo Zin and Daw Naw Ohn Hla who staged the Yangon protests the day before outside the embassy.

In the December 29 demonstration outside the Chinese embassy, the protesters tried to lay wreaths for 56-year-old Daw Khin Win, a protester who was shot dead by police at a demonstration held December 22 at the Letpaduang copper mine operated by the Chinese Wanbao company. The company has been erecting a fence around land that villagers claim belongs to them.

"Dagon Township police station opened files against [U Nay Myo Zin and Daw Naw Ohn Hla], U Than Swe of the group Democracy Force told Mizzima on December 30.

"Police apprehended the protest leaders on No 2 Highway and took them to the police station," U Than Swe told media. U Nay Myo Zin and Daw Naw Ohn Hla were arrested in the morning.

Daw Sein Htwe who participated in the protest was arrested in Sangyoung Township. The three were remanded at the court in Dagon Township at 2 pm and sent to Insein Jail, Commander of Yangon West District Police Force Lt-Col Win Kyi told media.

In the evening, Ko Tin Htut Paing, one of the participants in the protest, was arrested and placed under investigation, Police Lt-Col Win Kyi told Mizzima.

Charges filed against the accused include committing an assault or using criminal assault to deter a public servant from discharging his or her duties under Article 353 of the Penal Code, and the punishment of those who spread or make statements that can alarm the public or incite offenses against the State as covered by Article 505 (b) of the code.

The copper mine is a joint venture between Wanbao and the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings. Protests over the alleged grabbing of land and environmental damage first came to a head in November 2012 when the police fired incendiary devices into the crowd of demonstrators including Buddhist monks causing serious injuries.

BACKGROUND:

On December 23, Mizzima News reported that police killed Daw Khin Whin during the Letpadaung copper mine protest.

Police fired on people protesting against the Letpadaung copper mining project, killing a woman and injuring more than 10 people, according to Buddhist abbot U Arlawka, speaking to Mizzima on December 22.

Farmer Daw Khin Win, 50, from Moekyoepyin Village, Sagaing, died immediately after being struck in the head by a bullet fired by the police. Another protestor, U Hmine, received a bullet wound in the leg and 10 other residents were wounded by pellets, according to U Arlawka from Zeetaw Village, who has been acting as a mediator.

The police opened fire on the crowd of roughly 50 protestors after villagers threw stones and fired pellets using slingshots.

The clashes happened after a crowd gathered in the morning as staff of Wanbao began erecting a fence around land that villagers claimed belonged to them.

The abbot said the farmers have not accepted the compensation that has been offered by the company.

"If the land plots are fenced off, the farmers will lose their livelihoods and their lives will become bleak. If they continue erecting the fence, the villagers will continue to take action to prevent it," he said.

The abbot said that there were hundreds of police at the site, and some residents attacked them with slingshots.

"The situation degenerated. Even the Chinese staff threw hammers at the residents," he said.

Sagaing Police Force was unavailable for comment.

In a message on their website, Wanbao company, a joint Chinese-Myanmar mining venture, offered their "deepest sympathies and heartfelt condolences" to Daw Khin Win's family, claiming "the event was especially awful given the great turnaround in their relationship with the community." The company claims over 70 percent of villagers had given them the "green light" to continue the copper mining project.

Daw Khin San Hlaing, Lower House MP of Pale Township, Sagaing Region, told Mizzima she had phoned the Sagaing Region government to ask how they are handling the incident in Letpadaung, but they did not answer her calls.

She questioned whether there needed to be a "bloody suppression" of the protests.

Negotiations were needed with the Sagaing Region government, and if the problem cannot be resolved, it needs to be brought up in parliament, she said.

In late November 2012, more than 80 monks were seriously injured during a violent police crackdown on protests over the Letpadaung copper mine project.

According to the information obtained on Monday evening, the company workers continued to erect the fence during the day and the protestors went back to their village at about 6 pm.

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