At least 40 people living near the Letpadaung copper mining project in Sagaing Region’s Salingyi Township were forced from their homes this month after the military put barbed wire fencing around the nearby village of Wet Hmay.
Some 300 troops arrived in Wet Hmay on the evening of August 3 with an ultimatum.
“The authorities ordered the villagers to leave,” one of the departing Wet Hmay residents told Myanmar Now. “They said that if we didn’t want to move, they wouldn’t shoulder any responsibility for the consequences.”
Around two-thirds of the village’s 100 households had already vacated the location in 2010 after being made to accept some compensation from the then-government in exchange for their lands. Members of around 35 households had stayed behind, refusing the offer.
The military proceeded to cordon off these remaining homes after their recent arrival.
The man who spoke to Myanmar Now explained that, faced with food insecurity and the encroaching military presence, he decided to depart Wet Hmay earlier this month.
“The fear of being shot at any given moment has compelled us to make the difficult choice to relocate,” he said. “The villagers are restricted from leaving and outsiders are prohibited from entering,” he continued, adding that under the occupation, they were living only on a meagre supply of rice and oil.
Nearly half of the residents are children or elderly persons with nowhere else to go, according to locals, who said they were not given any warning about the move.
“The soldiers told us that they would continue to […] clear out the village, so we no longer dared to stay. So far, they haven’t taken down [the fence],” another resident added.
On August 8 and 11, six villagers were summoned to the compound of the Chinese Wanbao company, which is jointly operating the Letpadaung mine with the military conglomerate Myanmar Economic Holdings, Ltd., although they announced in May of last year that the project had been suspended since the February 2021 coup.
The individuals selected to come to the compound last week were reportedly initially offered compensation to leave Wet Hmay, but residents said that negotiations have not reached a resolution and no recent payments have been made.
Wanbao, which was sanctioned by the US in July 2021, previously said that they would adhere to the ousted civilian government’s land compensation rate of 1.8m kyat (US$857) per acre. Myanmar army soldiers are known to be stationed within Wanbao’s compound, and have patrolled the surrounding area, where several villages have been targeted in junta arson attacks and residents arrested and killed.
According to a statement from the Salingyi Township Public Administration Team—which operates under the publicly mandated anti-junta National Unity Government—more than 400 homes in 13 villages have been burnt down in this way, and 17 civilians killed by the troops stationed at the Wanbao site.
The Salingyi administrative team has vowed to “take action” against Wanbao unless they cease their cooperation with the military council, as Letpadaung residents say that a reopening of the copper mining project is imminent.
On Monday, two army columns in the area carried out an offensive that forced some 7,000 residents living along a central highway connecting Salingyi to Monywa to flee.
The next day, seven men from two villages in the township—Gon Taw and Don Taw—were arrested by junta troops. A nine-year-old boy, Kyaw Thiha, from the village of Pay Kone in neighbouring Yinmabin Township, was killed that same afternoon by military artillery fire, and five other people injured.