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Copper mine protesters defy govt deadline

Authorities threaten legal action as advocates seek peaceful resolution

Copper mine protesters defy govt deadline
Villagers and monks in front of the Chinese state-owned Myanmar Wanbao Mining compound in Monywa town
Daniel Wynn, Yangon

November 28, 2012

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A government deadline for hundreds of monks, students and villagers in Monywa town to end their sit-in protest of a copper mine expired at 12am today as demonstrators continued to block the entrance to the project site.

The deadline was announced yesterday on state-run television and threatened legal action if the protests, which have forced the Letpadaung copper mine in Myanmar’s Sagaing division to suspend operations.

Myanmar military-run Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd., and a Chinese state firm Myanmar Wanbao Mining Co. Ltd jointly operate the project, which protesters say has led to the displacement of villagers and environmental contamination.

Buddhist monks coming from nearby cities and villages have formed the bulk of the protests.

U Zawana, a monk participating in the sit-in, said today that monks issued a statement this morning telling authorities to issue a temporary suspension of the project for a specified time, during which protesters would hold talks with the government over their grievances.

“If they don’t resolve this peacefully, then we will not leave the area. We will go along with them if they forcibly take us away, but the protests will not end,” he said.

This morning’s deadline followed parliamentary approval this week of a plan proposed by the opposition National League for Democracy to establish an independent commission to investigate the social and environmental impacts of the mine.

Khin San Hlaing, an NLD parliamentarian, accused authorities of exploiting their proposal, which called for an end to the sit-in.

“We just called for the suspension of the project and the end of the protests simultaneously,” he said.

“Now the official statement has sort of created misunderstandings between us and the local residents. But we wish to make it clear that we will not accept any sort of confrontation or crackdown on the public.”

In Yangon, eight protesters have been charged with defaming the state for participating in demonstrations in the former capital, according to an AFP report on Tuesday.

The suspects were taken to Yangon’s Insein prison pending a trial scheduled for December 3, the report said.

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