Activists, lawmaker say protester shot dead at Chinese-backed copper mine in Myanmar

IndustriesAssociated Press

A woman was fatally shot Monday during a crackdown on protesters at a controversial Chinese-backed copper mine in northwestern Myanmar, activists and an opposition lawmaker said.

Khin San Hlaing, a lawmaker from the National League for Democracy party, said the confrontation at the Letpadaung copper-mine project occurred as police and Chinese workers erected a fence on land that the villagers claimed as theirs.

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She said a woman in her 50s was fatally shot in the head, though it was not clear whether she was shot by police or mining company security personnel. Photos taken at the scene showed the dead woman bleeding from her head, and a wounded man sitting up with blood coming from his thigh. Khin San Hlaing said 12 people were wounded, with nine hospitalized, including two in critical condition.

Government and company authorities could not be reached immediately for comment. A receptionist who answered the phone at the Chinese company's head office in Beijing said that personnel who could comment on the incident could not be reached because it was after working hours.

The massive project, a joint venture between a Myanmar military-controlled holding company and China's Wanbao Mining Copper Ltd., drew international attention two years ago when police forcefully dispersed protesters, injuring more than 100 Buddhist monks. Many suffered severe burns from smoke bombs that contained white phosphorus, a substance not generally used to contain civil unrest.

The mine, near the trading hub town of Monywa, has been the scene of some of the fiercest opposition to corporate land-grabbing in Myanmar since elected President Thein Sein came to power in 2011.

Villagers say thousands of acres (hectares) of farmland were seized to allow the mine's expansion and that the deal, approved when Myanmar was still under military dictatorship, lacked transparency. They worry that the mine is causing environmental, social and health problems.

Because of the outcry, work at the mine was temporarily halted. The mining contract was renegotiated to ensure that millions of dollars go toward community development projects and to pay compensation to villagers, allowing the resumption of mining activities.

Although the company has paid compensation to some villagers, others refused to take the money and insisted that they would hold on to their land.

In Monday's incident, U Arlawka, an activist monk, said police killed the woman when they started shooting to chase people away so that the company could put up a fence.

"The police started firing with their guns and the Chinese security beat up the villagers on that land with axes and hammers, which injured a lot of farmers this afternoon," he said.

Lawmaker Khin San Hlaing said she called government officials and police to get their side of the story in order to judge the situation fairly, but had received no answers.

"It is very depressing that no government officials are answering my calls. No one is taking responsibility," she said.


Associated Press writer Didi Tang in Beijing contributed to this report.