Protestors camped out near a controversial copper mine in central Burma shut down their demonstration sites over the weekend after receiving warnings from municipal authorities late last week.
The demonstrators were calling for the closure of the Latpadaung Copper Mine – a joint venture between the military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings and Wanbao, a subsidiary to a Chinese arms manufacturer.
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.
According to Tin Mar Swe, a DVB reporter on the ground, protesters decided to shut down the three demonstration camps – located in Tonywa village and in the Leikhkun and Inngyintaung hills – after receiving orders from local officials.
“The [protestors] received a warning from municipal authorities on 14 March and on [15 March], they closed down the camp in Tonywa. The other two were also closed down [on 16 March],” said Tin Mar Swe.
The camp in Tonywa was set up days after police launched a pre-dawn crackdown on demonstrators last November that injured about 100 people. The two other hillside sites were built after the release of the Latpadaung Investigation Commission’s report.
Following release of the report last week, the commission’s chair Aung San Suu Kyi visited the area, where she sparred with locals who were enraged that the report called for the project to continue.
Tin Mar Swe said some villagers are still refusing to accept the compensation – Kyat 1.5 million (US$ 1,764) per acre.
Locals also turned down an opportunity to hold a round of negotiations with a regional parliamentarian to discuss additional compensation measures.
“[Sagaing] Regional Parliament’s representative Thaung Sein previously explained that villagers in Wethmey, Tonywa and Sete will be [compensated with new land], but they said they don’t want it and that they just want to go back to work on their former [land],” said Tin Mar Swe.
Following a meeting among residents in Sete village, locals agreed to return and work on the confiscated land in April, when the former three-year compensation contract is set to expire.
On Friday, Myanmar Lawyers’ Network released a statement also calling for the closure of the copper mine.
In the statement, the group urged the government and the commission to protect the livelihoods of the local population and natural environment by suspending the project, which will generate little revenue for the state and employs few locals.
In a report published earlier this year, the group claimed riot police had used military-issued white phosphorous against the demonstrators during the November crackdown.
However, the official commission insisted that the fire was ignited by phosphorous present in the smoke canisters. Suu Kyi’s report also did not call for the prosecution of anyone responsible for ordering the crackdown, but rather placed the blame on “poor” training of riot police.
The Latpadaung case has helped highlight the rise in land grabs in Burma, as the country’s quasi-civilian government seeks to end decades of economic and diplomatic isolation.
Legal experts claim Burma’s shaky legal infrastructure allows for forced relocations and appropriations to continue unhindered.
But farmers are feeling increasingly empowered to challenge authorities, who confiscated thousands of acres of land during five decades of military rule in Burma.