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Dozens of residents and Buddhist monks set up a new protest camp on Saturday at Latpadaung copper mine to protest a decision by authorities who denied them permission to visit a historic Buddhist temple which the locals suspect was damaged recently by explosives used when mining operations resumed.
Sandar Thiri, one of seven monks at the Ingyin Hill site near the city of Monywa in Sagaing division, said they reached out to authorities for permission to visit the Buddhist ordination hall and temple where revered monk Lete Abbot, or Sayadaw Ledi, had taught sermons and meditated until his death in 1923.
“We heard that the ordination hall and temple were fractured by dynamite blasts, so we wanted to visit the site to inspect the damage,” he told DVB. “We were told by the authorities to seek permission in advance. We agreed to do so, but on the condition that if we did not get a reply within three hours we would open a protest camp.
“We applied for permission around noon and waited till 3pm – but the only response we received was that permission to visit the site was denied. We then set up a protest group under the name ‘Committee to Safeguard Religious Buildings’.”
Khin San Hlaing, the National League for Democracy’s lower house representative from the nearby town of Pale, said the mining company should take the initiative of inviting some protestors to the temple.
“It is also important to question who approved the mining company to resume operations and whether it is in accordance with the recommendations in the [Latpadaung Investigation Commission] report,” he said. “Whoever is responsible should consider ways to negotiate with the locals to reduce their concerns. These issues will persist if the company continues to ignore residents’ demands. Nothing good will come of it.”
The Latpadaung copper mine project, which is a joint Burmese military and Chinese venture, has provoked outrage from locals who say it will cause irreversible environmental damage and has forced hundreds from their homes.
A previous sit-in protest was broken up brutally by riot police on 29 November last year. Some 80 protestors were injured, many with horrific burns that several experts have attributed to white phosphorous bombs.
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.