A crackdown on protesters at a Chinese-backed copper mine in Myanmar has left at least one person dead, the company that runs the project said today in a statement.
The statement from the company, Myanmar Wanbao, said it had “just been informed of the death of a female resident from Moe Kyo Pyin village,” adding: “The events leading up to her death are still unclear.” [Some news sources call the village Mogyopyin.]
Democratic Voice of Burma, a news organization based in Thailand, reported that the death of the 50-year-old woman came following a clash between protesters and riot police near the site of the Letpadaung copper mine project, in the northwest part of the country. Myanmar Wanbao workers and police arrived to erect fences on land claimed by the protesters. The demonstrators threw stones at security forces and, when gunfire erupted, the woman was shot in the head, the news organization said, citing a local villager. The Associated Press noted that it is unclear whether she was shot by police or security personnel from the mining company.
Democratic Voice of Burma said at least four people were seriously wounded. Reuters, quoting local media reports, said that number was 20. Myanmar is also known as Burma.
The AP adds: “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 protests led to a suspension of work at the mine. The company compensated many of the villagers who had complained of health and environmental problems, from contaminated air and water. But many other villagers had refused to take the money, and said they would hold on to their land. The statement from Myanmar Wanbao noted that the majority of the villagers had given their assent for the project to move forward.
In a separate statement earlier today, prior to the deadly protest, Myanmar Wanbao said it will be “extending its working area in the Letpadaung copper project to comply with requirements of its investment permit.”
Amnesty International in a statement last month, to mark the second anniversary of the protests, noted that no one had been held accountable. It urged the government to stop work on the project “until a thorough environmental and social impact assessment has been carried out, which genuinely consults all the people affected.”
China is the largest foreign investor in Myanmar, but ever since President Thein Sein launched economic and political reforms three years ago, other countries, including the U.S., have set their sights on the Asian nation.