Defying Gov’t Orders, Burmese Protesters Occupy Dam

Posted November 28th, 2012 at 6:30 am (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

Hundreds of Burmese villagers are defying government orders to end a days-long occupation-style protest against a controversial Chinese-backed copper mine.

A state television announcement Tuesday ordered protesters to vacate their camp sites at the mine in the northwest city of Monywa. But activists said dozens refused to leave before the Tuesday midnight deadline. There has been no response by authorities.

The copper mine is a joint project between a Chinese weapons company and a Burmese military-backed corporation. Villagers say it will cause environmental, social and health problems. They also complain that authorities have unlawfully seized thousands of hectares of land for the project.

Officials say the occupation has effectively halted all work at the site since November 18. Protesters camped outside the facility say they want a peaceful resolution, but say they will not leave until they receive government assurance that the project will be totally halted.

Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is scheduled to visit the site on Thursday to hear protesters' grievances. Her National League for Democracy party is calling for an independent commission to investigate the situation.

The standoff is a critical test of the newfound freedoms in Burma, which is attempting to recover from decades of oppressive authoritarian rule. Earlier this year, Burma relaxed laws against public protests. But activists still risk a year in jail if they do not go through the proper channels to apply for their protests.

Environmental activists scored a victory last year when Burma's reform-minded President Thein Sein appeared to heed environmental concerns and suspended construction of the controversial China-backed Myitsone hydropower dam in northern Kachin state.