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Myanmar junta troops and police try to evict villagers near Chinese copper project

Junta troops and police have told the residents of a village near a Chinese-run copper project in Myanmar’s Sagaing region they will be forcibly evicted if they don’t leave, locals told RFA on Wednesday.

China’s state-owned Wanbao Company runs the Letpadaung Copper Project in Salingyi township in a joint venture with a company owned by Myanmar’s military.

It fenced off Wet Hmay village on August 6, on the pretext that the village is in the mine’s project area, and told all 35 households to move out of the village permanently.

On Tuesday, Wanbao officials summoned six villagers and told them to inform all residents that they needed to leave as soon as possible, according to a local who did not want to be named for security reasons.

“They [village representatives] said that Wanbao asked them to clear out the village, asking villagers to respond to [the company] the following day,” he said, adding that company officials told the representatives if they didn’t get an immediate response they would take no responsibility for the actions of the troops and police. The village representatives told the company they would inform Wet Hmay residents and discuss their plans.

Residents said junta troops have already occupied many parts of Wet Hmay and have been threatening locals and telling them to leave.

Wanbao has repeatedly attempted to enclose the village with a fence, but villagers have objected, delaying the project. Locals claim that this time is different because soldiers and police have been dispatched to clear out the village and fence it off.

RFA contacted the junta spokesperson for Sagaing region, Saw Naing, seeking comment on the forced evictions, but he did not answer the phone. 

RFA also called Wanbao but nobody answered.

Workers for China’s Wanbao Company fence of Moe Gyoe Pyin village, Letpadaung Taung, Sagaing region December, 2014. Credit: RFA

Other villages were emptied out when the Letpadaung copper project started in Salingyi township in 2011.

Following the February 2021 coup many people working on the project joined the Civil Disobedience Movement, effectively shutting down operations at Letpadaung.

Locals say the company is now planning to resume operations, prompting an August 7 statement by 17 local anti-regime militias ordering Wanbao and Yangtze Copper, which are both working on projects in Salingyi township, to stop cooperating with the junta or face the consequences.

Translated by RFA Burmese. Edited by Mike Firn and Taejun Kang.