YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Students have joined farmers and other people who have been protesting the seizure of land for a copper mining project in northwestern Myanmar jointly owned by the military and a Chinese company.
The protest in Monywa in Sagaing region has been continuing since August, but expanded this week in response to the detention of its leaders, activists said Wednesday. The primary issue concerns the confiscation of nearly 8,000 acres (3,250 hectares) of land for the Monywa copper mine project, an area which includes 26 villages and several mountains.
Some 20 students from Mandalay city joined a march of as many as 1,500 people on Tuesday after 12 protesters were arrested the day before, said a member of the Monywa Open Society activist group who asked not to be named because he feared official pressure.
Land rights activist Win Cho in Yangon said Wednesday that nine people have since been released but three female protest leaders remain in custody. Another activist who came from Yangon was detained earlier.
The Monywa Open Society activist said members of the “88 Generation” group — activists from a failed 1988 student uprising who have formed an independent political pressure group — came to Monywa on Wednesday to help mediate.
Emboldened by Myanmar’s changing political climate, farmers, villagers, factory workers and others are now staging demonstrations in various parts of the country over issues ranging from land confiscation to electricity cuts.
President Thein Sein has initiated reforms since taking office in March last year after almost 50 years of repressive army rule. Political reforms have been accompanied by economic liberalization, including privatization measures.
The copper mine, about 25 kilometers (15 miles) west of Monywa, is jointly operated by China’s Wan Bao Mining and the military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd.
Wan Bao Mining, a subsidiary of China North Industrial Corp., an arms manufacturer, bought its 50 percent stake from the Canadian mining company Ivanhoe.
The deal was concluded while Myanmar was still under military rule and avoided legislative oversight because there was no parliament at the time.
Win Cho said the farmers were unhappy because their compensation covers the leasing of their land for three years, while the project covers a 60-year period.
The situation is complicated because in some cases the land was transferred a few years ago and confiscated or purchased by different parties including the military holding company, government ministries and private business tycoons, though the farmers were allowed to continue to use it.