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International watchdogs and Burmese activists have voiced distress and disdain over the Burmese police handling of protestors at the controversial Latpadaung copper mine site, where a woman was killed on Monday.
Local villager Ma Khin Win, was shot dead and several other local protestors were injured both with live ammunition and rubber bullets in separate incidents on Monday and Tuesday.
David Mathieson, the senior researcher on Burma at the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch (HRW) pointedly blamed the Burmese authorities for their “abject failure” to resolve the land dispute at the mine site near Monywa in Sagaing Division.
“Ongoing protests at Latpadaung demonstrate the abject failure of the government and the 2013 Investigation Commission to resolve this vexed land dispute peacefully, and the disdain both government and companies have to meaningfully consult with and fairly compensate villagers who have had their land forcibly seized by a project that will barely benefit them,” he said on Tuesday.
Mathieson noted that the protestors should not have resorted to violence in frustration, following a report by DVB that villagers had fired stones from slingshots at the police prior to the gunfire.
“Despite their understandable frustration, there should be no resort to violence on the part of the protestors,” the HRW spokesman said.
He added that the tragic killing of Ma Khin Win “shows the police still have a long way to go in deploying the correct use of force during protests.”
Amnesty International also weighed in, calling for a “comprehensive and independent investigation” into the 50-year-old farmer’s death, and noting that this week’s violence is the latest in a series of heavy-handed tactics employed by police when dealing with protestors in the Latpadaung area. The London-based rights watchdog also called for the mining project to be closed down until outstanding issues are resolved.
“The Myanmar authorities must ensure a comprehensive and independent investigation into this killing and other allegations that police fired on protestors at the Latpadaung copper mine. Those responsible must be held to account,” said Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty’s director of global issues.
“While we are aware of reports that some protestors threw stones at police, the resort to firearms raises very serious questions about how the police have handled this situation.
“Under international human rights standards, law enforcement officials must apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms. Intentional lethal use of firearms may only be used when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life. The Myanmar authorities must immediately establish whether police violated these standards while policing the demonstration against the Latpadaung copper mine yesterday,” she said.
Gaughran called on the Burmese authorities to respect people’s right to peacefully assemble and stage protests.
“This latest incident is one of many serious human rights concerns surrounding the Latpadaung copper mine,” she said, noting that many locals have been forcibly evicted from their homes by the government since the project was initiated more than 10 years ago.
The Amnesty International chief called on contractors Myanmar Wanbao to “immediately halt all construction at the mine until adequate safeguards are put in place to prevent further human rights abuses.”
Meanwhile, Burmese activist Nay Myo Zin, a former military officer, said he believed Ma Khin Win was shot with live ammunition and called for a “thorough independent investigation” into the incident.
“Judging by the exit wound [in the back of her head], I assume Ma Khin Win was shot with live ammunition,” he told DVB on Tuesday.
“From what I know, there are specific procedures to follow in crowd control, such as when to issue warnings and when [police] are authorised to use live ammunition, which should be as a last resort, and even then, they must aim below the knee,” he said.
Former political prisoner and activist Mee Mee of the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society said she visited two villagers at Monywa Hospital on Tuesday and that both bore injuries consistent with bullet wounds.
“One villager suffered a bullet through the arm while the other got shot in the leg,” she said. “They did not receive any assistance from the security forces at the scene, but were later brought here [to the hospital] by fellow villagers on motorbikes.”
“I don’t know much about weapons, but this sure wasn’t rubber bullets they were shot with,” she added.