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Two police officers in Sagaing division’s Monywa district who have been providing security at the Latpadaung copper mine were taken in for questioning by local officials after being interviewed by a citizen journalist last week.
Police captain Aung Kyi Sein and lance corporal Aung Win Htun were interrogated at Monywa’s police station-2 on 17 October after being interviewed on camera by a citizen journalist. The video was later posted online and broadcasted on DVB’s television’s channel on 16 October.
On Saturday, the officers were taken to Sagaing division’s police department. According Aung Win Htun’s brother Kyaw Kyaw Lwin, the two officers are still being held there.
“The [officers] clarified with them what they said and what they didn’t – I don’t know the details,” said Kyaw Kyaw Lwin. “Afterward, they were sent back to the division’s police department and the [superior official] there told them to stay at the station for the moment while they wait for developments with the situation. They weren’t locked up – [they’re] just not allowed to leave the building.”
During the interview, the two talked about how the local police were being coerced into providing security for the project that is being run by the military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings (UMEH), China’s Wanbao Mining Limited and Yang Tze Copper Limited, according to a Monywa-based lawyer who met them.
The officers also talked about the poor living conditions at the project site and said they preferred normal police duties instead of working as a security guard against their will, which pays 2,000 Kyat (US$ 2.34) a day.
“In the interview, they mentioned some bad things about the [UMEH] – how they were posted as security at the mine for about four months with little food and caught scabies,” said the lawyer who spoke with the officers in custody. “The division’s police said it was harmful to the reputation of the force and the two are now being questioned by the police commander himself.”
Residents in Monywa district’s Salingyi township have been protesting for months against the massive copper mine in the area.
The project has led to the confiscation of about 7,800 acres of farmland in total and forced farmers from 66 villages in the area to relocate.
The protests have made international headlines and highlighted the rise in land grabs in the country. Legal experts say Burma’s shaky legal infrastructure allows forced relocation and appropriations to continue.
However, local farmers are feeling increasingly empowered in the absence of military rule to stand up against development projects that threaten to forcibly remove them off the land they work.
– Min Lwin contributed reporting