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Myanmar villagers in tense standoff over China-backed copper mine

Myanmar villagers in tense standoff over China-backed copper mine

Image by Radio Free Asia via Flickr Commons.

Villagers protesting the expansion of a Chinese copper mine in Myanmar continued in a tense standoff with security forces for a second day Tuesday, in the latest bout of violence to mar the project in recent years.

According to local media, three people were injured after police used rubber bullets to quell protests in the same village where a woman was shot and killed on Monday in clashes with police over the proposed mine, owned by Wanbao Mining Ltd.

The shooting came the same day the operators announced an expansion of the mine, which will require to seize land in 35 nearby villages.

The mine, which is often referred to as Letpadaung, after mountains nearby, is a joint venture between the powerful military in Myanmar and the subsidiary of a state-owned Chinese arms manufacturer.

History of violence

The massive project has faced local opposition since its beginning, drawing international attention in 2012 when police forcefully dispersed protesters, injuring more than 100 Buddhist monks.

The brutal crackdown halted construction at the mine, just outside the town of Monywa in in central Myanmar.

Since then, the company has tried to revive its image by visiting villages neighbouring the mine to show them the project’s benefits. Villagers, Wanbao Mining says, will be given jobs and compensated fairly for their land.

The Chinese miner has also vowed to invest $1 million a year in villages around the site to promote projects such as schools and a mobile clinic.

But villagers argue that thousands of hectares of farmland have been seized to allow the mine’s expansion and that the deal, approved when Myanmar was still under military dictatorship, lacked transparency.

They also worry about the mine’s environmental impacts. Last month, Amnesty International backed up those concerns, saying construction at the mine should be halted until an independent environmental and social assessment is carried out.