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Government-backed Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MHRC) and local police in Sagaing Division’s Salingyi Township launched separate investigations on 1 January into the fatal shooting of protestor Khin Win at the Latpadaung copper mine site on 22 December.
On Thursday, a team of MNHRC officials in Salingyi summoned seven eye-witnesses – six local villagers and a Buddhist monk – to recount their version of what happened during the incident. Three of these villagers – identified as Khin Mar Aye, Htay Htay and U Thaung – were also summoned by the Salingyi police.
Khin Mar Aye confirmed to DVB that she had met with police officials but refused to provide further details.
“We were questioned as eye-witnesses at the death of Ma Khin Win by the Salingyi police’s superintendent and are currently on our way to an interview with the human rights commission,” she said.
Meanwhile on 1 January, local farmers and their supporters staged another rally at the site of the mining project, which is jointly run by Burmese military-backed Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings (UMEH) and Chinese state mining firm Wanbao. The protestors carried placards and chanted, calling for justice for Khin Win’s family and the return of farmland confiscated to make way for the project.
Abbot Arlawka of the Sanmyawaddy Buddhist monastery in Salingyi told DVB on Thursday that police were at the rally site in Tonywa village, but showed restraint.
“Local villagers today protested in Tonywa, calling for the return of their farmland and an investigation into the death of Ma Khin Win,” he said. “They rallied in front of the police checkpoint west of the village where a fence had been built. The police, taking up positions inside the fence, did not react to the protestors.”
On 23 December, the day after Khin Win’s death, mine contractors Myanmar Wanbao issued a statement lamenting the “tragic and sad news” of the villager’s death. “Our hearts and prayers are with her family,” the statement said.
This week, the mining firm released a follow-up statement, maintaining that it had abided by the recommendations laid down by the Latpadaung Investigation Commission, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, which was appointed in the wake of a brutal crackdown by riot police on protestors in 2012.
“Even though Myanmar Wanbao has met its legal requirements and has paid compensation and subsidies, the company has gone further to safeguard the livelihood and well-being of its community in the long term,” it said, adding that the firm had met its obligations with regard to social and environmental assessments, in addition to providing generously towards infrastructure in the local community.
Myanmar Wanbao maintains that a door-to-door survey it conducted revealed that the copper mine project has the support of 91 percent of the local community, and that certain political organisations and activists are trying to manipulate the villagers for political gain.
Meanwhile on Thursday, similar rallies were staged in solidarity with the Latpadaung protestors in Rangoon, Mandalay, Prome and other cities and towns across Burma.
Hundreds of protestors in Mandalay, including dozens of Buddhist monks, marched through the streets on New Year’s Day calling for government accountability.
“We believe that the government must be accountable and take responsibility for the violence that has occurred in Latpadaung,” said Thein Myint Aung, an activist from the Myanmar Democratic Current Force group, which joined in the demonstration.
Activists in Rangoon staged a march from City Hall in the downtown area to the Chinese Embassy on 1 January.
At the time the rally began, a State of Burma flag – symbolizing resistance to colonial rule in the early 1940s – was hoisted up the flagpole of the nearby High Court building, well within sight of the activists at City Hall. No person or group has claimed responsibility for the incident and it is not known whether the prank was intended to coincide with the Latpadaung solidarity rally.
Meanwhile, activists Naw Ohn Hla, Sein Htay and Nay Myo Zin – who were arrested for allegedly leading a protest in front of the Chinese embassy in Rangoon on 29 December – have each been charged with organising an unlawful protest; disturbing officials on duty; and a charge that could amount to sedition.
According to their lawyer Robert Sann Aung, the three, who were arrested on the morning of 30 December, were charged under: the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law (for organising an unauthorised protest); and Penal Code articles 353 (for disturbing officials on duty) and 505(b) (causing fear or alarm to the public or to any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the State or against the public tranquility).
“The trio were charged under three articles and remanded at Dagon Township Court [on 30 December],” said the well-known human rights lawyer, adding that they were to be detained in Insein Prison to await trial on 13 January.