Local villagers injured during recent protests at the Latpadaung copper mine were interviewed by an official investigation team at the General Administration office in Salingyi Township on Thursday afternoon.
Residents told DVB they were asked about the events of 22 December, in which a local woman, Khin Win, was fatally shot and more than 20 protestors were injured when a group of around 200 locals confronted riot police who were on site to protect workers laying fences around disputed plots of land.
“The investigators wanted to hear our accounts of the incident [on December 22],” said one of the demonstrators on that day, Daw Phyu. “We were on our way back from picking tomatoes when the Myanmar Wanbao staff came to lay fences across the disputed land. We went there to stop them.”
She said that some villagers were injured by police using slingshots.
The investigators also asked local residents how they felt about the ongoing project, a joint venture by Chinese state-run Wanbao Mining Ltd and the Burmese-military owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings.
“The investigators asked whether we want the project continued or suspended. We told them we want to see it suspended,” said Daw Phyu.
Another villager, Soe Naing Win, said he is still suffering from the injuries he sustained in the incident.
“I was hit in the eye with a slingshot – my sight is still blurry,” he said.
The official investigation – to be conducted by Kyaw Thu Aung, regional administrative director, as well as a district attorney and a deputy police commissioner – was announced in response to the violence and subsequent outcry from human rights and activist groups.
Sagaing Division Chief Minister Thar Aye, in a meeting with officials from the opposition National League for Democracy party on 24 December, pledged to investigate the incident within two weeks.
Parallel probes by local police, the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission and Myanmar Wanbao into the incident have also been launched.
On Monday, the Salingyi General Administration office offered to pay an undisclosed amount of compensation to the daughter of Khin Win for her death. Win Khine has told how she rejected the offer, stressing to the office that she only wanted justice for her mother.
“They asked me if I would accept compensation from the government – I answered ‘no’ and told them that if compensation can solve such a problem, they should bring me the individual responsible for my mother’s death. Maybe I should murder them and then pay compensation?” she said.
“The officials said they will pay me compensation – whether I accept it or not.”
In a statement on 23rd December, Winbao Mining Ltd expressed their shock and regret about the “tragic and sad” death of Khin Win, and stated their commitment to peaceful dialogue to achieve sustainable development.
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 mining project 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.