Hundreds of Burma villagers protesting a Chinese co-owned copper mine vowed to continue their fight against the project despite arrests of demonstrators and orders for the rally to move.
In a show of defiance unthinkable just last year when junta rule was replaced by a quasi-civilian government, locals in Monywa in northern Sagaing division have staged weeks of protest over alleged land grabbing and fears of environmental pollution from the mine.
“The main thing they want is an end to the Latbadaung Mountain copper mine project,” said Han Win Aung, an activist helping the villages, adding that between 300 and 600 people had been demonstrating around the project.
He said some 8,000 acres (3,200 hectares) of land had been confiscated from local farmers without consultation and in some cases without compensation.
“It is like destroying the lives of these villagers who relied on the land since they were born,” he told AFP.
Households from four entire villages will need to move to make way for the project, which will affect people from 26 villages.
Activists said about 70 people gathered at a monastery in Monywa were refusing to leave the area, despite a deadline imposed by the authorities to relocate the protest that expired earlier on Wednesday.
The demonstrators are waiting for the arrival of a delegation from the influential 88 Generation democracy campaign group, which is travelling from Yangon in the centre of the country, according to Hein Zaw Win of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) in Monywa.
Three local women remain in custody after police arrested 12 villagers at a prayer ceremony in Monywa pagoda on Monday. Another activist was arrested on August 31 and also remains in detention.
Han Win Aung said local people applied eight times for permission to rally, but were turned down.
Campaigners have issued a set of demands to the authorities, according to Hein Zaw Win.
“The first is to release the arrested three women immediately and the second demand is to go into a negotiation process regarding copper mining in their area,” he told AFP.
“We would like to ask the authorities to stop the mining there until we reach further agreement.”
The copper mine, which is a joint venture between military-owned Burma Economic Holdings and China’s Wanbao company, has been the subject of controversy for several months after local media reports of corruption in connection with the project.
Burma’s mining ministry is suing the Voice weekly newspaper over its report.
President Thein Sein’s reformist government approved a bill allowing authorised peaceful protests earlier this year. Demonstrators are required to seek permission five days in advance.
Last year, the Burma leader ordered the suspension of a Chinese-backed mega-dam in response to a wave of public anger.