Reopening of copper mine sparks protests

YANGON • Hundreds of villagers in Myanmar protested yesterday against the resumption of operations at a Chinese-backed copper mine, in one of the first tests of the new government's ability to deal with public anger.

The protests have gathered momentum since Wednesday when some people broke through police barriers protecting the mine, operated by Myanmar Wanbao, a unit of a Chinese weapons maker, said residents of the area.

Myanmar Wanbao runs the Letpadaung mine in a joint venture with a conglomerate controlled by the Myanmar military, Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd.

Villagers say their land has been unlawfully confiscated to expand the mine.

After 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 minimising environmental damage.

Ms Suu Kyi led her party to a sweeping election victory last year and now oversees the government.

"The Chinese haven't done anything to fulfil their obligations mentioned in Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's report," said protest leader Ma Mar Cho.

Myanmar Wanbao representatives did not respond to requests for comment yesterday.

Work at the mine, about 100km west of the city of Mandalay, was suspended after the 2012-13 protests. The company has recently tried to show it can reduce the impact of mining and improve livelihoods.

China has made a big push to assert its business and political interests since Ms Suu Kyi's party took over last month.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 07, 2016, with the headline 'Reopening of copper mine sparks protests'. Print Edition | Subscribe