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Chinese company Wanbao has confirmed the death of a female resident of Moekyopyin village, and called for Burmese police to investigate incidents on Monday and Tuesday when riot police opened fire on protestors at the company’s Latpadaung copper mine site in Burma’s Sagaing Division.
In an official statement to DVB, Wanbao wrote: “On behalf of everyone at Wanbao we extend our deepest sympathies and heartfelt condolences to her [deceased Ma Khin Win’s] family and share in their grief at this difficult time.
“We understand the police were at the scene, and we hope they will start investigating this event.”
DVB identified the villager as 50-year-old farmer Khin Win. Locals said she was shot through the head on Monday afternoon when riot police opened fire on villagers who were protesting the seizure of their land by the Myanmar Wanbao company, a joint venture between a Burmese military firm and Chinese state-backed mining company Wanbao.
Estimates of injuries run from three to 20.
On Tuesday morning, a second confrontation resulted in riot police firing rubber bullets on villagers; at least two were injured.
In its statement, Wanbao claims that the circumstances leading up to the villager’s death are still unclear.
“We know nothing about the police’s handling before the accident happened,” the firm’s public relations manager Cao Desheng told DVB on Monday. “We made no request for the police to use any kind of violence.”
Cao said the police were at the scene because the local government sent them to guard the expanded operation, which local authorities had already approved.
Calling the death “senseless” in its statement, the company said, “The mining project is there to help people like the lady who has passed away,” adding that the construction was able to proceed because “the vast majority of the people gave us the OK”.
“We have gone to every village that is affected and we have been all ears. About 70 percent of villagers have already agreed with our compensation plan,” said Dong Yunfei, the company’s spokesman, speaking to DVB in a telephone interview on Monday evening.
He said the fences that the company are putting around the mining site are “to prevent people getting hurt”.
“We hope to use the fences to separate our operation site from those villages, because if we do not separate them, once they enter the mining zone, it is very easy to cause a severe accident. I am very worried about that,” said Dong.
He said that, through door-to-door consultations with the majority of the villagers affected by the project, he learnt that many of them who had not yet accepted the project want higher compensation, and are going about that objective through protests and clashes.
The company, he said, began offering a “Livelihood Contribution Plan” from July this year to people who are frustrated waiting for jobs that were promised to them, but which can only be awarded once the Letpadaung mine is operational.
Dong said the company plans to compensate all impacted 1,032 villagers, a figure less than the estimate by Amnesty International, which has stated that some 2,500 villagers have been affected by the mining project.
Dong admitted that around 100 villagers still refuse to talk despite repeated requests. “All those who have not moved away from the site still live in the three old villages,” he said. “We have tried to talk with them, but they won’t let us in. Neither can the government officials nor the police enter their villages. They have been effectively autonomous.
“We learnt that quite a few villagers are actually willing to talk to us, but a few trouble-makers won’t let them,” he added.
Dong said the company will not pressure villagers who refuse to move from the site, and will continue seeking peaceful dialogue.
Separately, however, Amnesty International criticised the community consultation process, saying those who refused to relocate to make way for the mine were excluded from the discussions, reportedly on instructions from the Burmese government.
Wanbao said it will not suspend the project because of the violence as there has been months of negotiations between villagers and the company. “We will likely continue the operation,” said Cao.
Meanwhile, Burma’s Ministry of Information (MoI) appeared to lay the blame for Monday’s fatal violence on the villagers.
State media published a report by MoI, the headline of which ran: “Latpadaung copper mining project’s fence extension work disturbed”.
The MoI statement said that Wanbao staff were prevented from erecting fences by around 30 villagers who laid on the ground in the bulldozers’ path. It said the workers were also “targeted by slingshot fire by 15 villagers from the same group, whereby security forces retaliated by firing three warning shots from 12-bolt crowd control guns”.
“Despite efforts to dilute tensions, around 100 villagers who had been disturbing the third work team near Ingyin Hill snatched signal flags off the [Wanbao staff], set those on fire, and surrounded the 10 workers.
“At 11:15am, security forces demanded the villagers release the 10 workers; in response the villagers demanded the construction vehicles and machinery used in the fence construction be removed from the site.
“Negotiations failed and tensions rose to the point of danger. The security forces again fired eight shots to disperse the crowd.
“The security forces then successfully recused the 10 workers. Eleven police officers and nine villagers were injured in the incident. Daw Khin Win of Mogyopyin died from injuries,” the statement concluded.