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Activists Naw Ohn Hla and Nay Myo Zin were arrested by police in Rangoon on Tuesday morning for their role in a protest in front of the Chinese embassy, denouncing the killing of Latpadaung villager Khin Win last week.
Nay Myo Zin, a former Burmese military servicemen who is nowadays better known as a civil rights activist, told DVB by telephone that he was detained by police while preparing to embark on a journey to Latpadaung, the site of a controversial China-backed copper mine project, near Monywa in Sagaing Division.
“I am in a police vehicle right now on the way to Dagon Township police station,” he said. “We set off at 9am to head to Latpadaung but the police were waiting for us at a bus stop.”
He said fellow activist Naw Ohn Hla was arrested at her home that same morning.
Nay Myo Zin said that police were unclear about what charges he was being detained on, and only told him it was because of the protest the previous evening.
Late on Monday afternoon, dozens of protestors were caught up in a scuffle in front of the Chinese Embassy in Rangoon when police tried to prevent them from laying a wreath at the embassy’s gates.
The protestors were calling for an end to violence against villagers protesting land grabs at the Latpadaung copper mine site, which is jointly run by Chinese state mining firm Wanbao and Burmese military-backed Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings.
RAW FOOTAGE OF DEMONSTRATION OUTSIDE CHINESE EMBASSY ON 29 DECEMBER:
The Chinese embassy in Rangoon released a statement on 25 December, expressing its “deep condolences” over the death of villager Khin Win, who was shot in the head by riot police on 22 December while protesting the laying of fences around disputed plots of land at the copper mine site.
The embassy further remarked that Chinese workers have been attacked at the site while peacefully implementing the project.
“The Letpadaung mining project is an important joint [venture] between China and Myanmar, and we support the Letpadaung project to be implemented in a peaceful and secure manner, and oppose any kind of violence,” the statement said.
Meanwhile, the Myanmar Wanbao copper mining joint venture on Tuesday issued a further statement, reiterating its right to continue the project, and stating that it has followed all the recommendations issued by the Latpadaung investigation commission.
Hundreds of local villagers and their supporters have been protesting the Latpadaung copper mine since its inception more than 10 years ago. Many have been displaced to make way for the project, which was originally contracted to a Canadian firm, Ivanhoe Mines.
The controversial mine was temporarily suspended when activists and monks staged a mass sit-in protest in 2012. The protest was broken up brutally by riot police on 29 November that year when some 80 protestors were injured, including several Buddhist monks, many with horrific burns that experts have attributed to white phosphorous.
A subsequent investigation headed by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi failed to pronounce anyone guilty for the violent crackdown, and to many villagers’ dismay, recommended to the government that the project be resumed.