Three more bodies found near Letpadaung copper mine

Residents of two villages located near the controversial Letpadaung copper mine in Sagaing Region’s Salingyi Township say they have discovered the bodies of three more locals tortured to death by regime forces operating in the area.

On Monday, the badly decomposed bodies of two men were found just outside the village of Tone, where they had been abducted late last week.

The victims, identified as Pauk Sa, 30, and Zwe Nay Thar, 20, were natives of the village who went missing last Thursday after being taken into custody by junta soldiers.

“They took them away, killed them, and then dumped their bodies behind some bushes on the side of the road,” said a local man who did not want to be identified.

On Saturday, another man was detained in Hpaung Ka Tar, a village located about 2km south of the mine, following the arrival of a unit of around 60 junta troops.

The victim, 34-year-old Sai Myat Soe, was found dead the next day, according to the leader of a local defence force.

“He had gone back to get his wallet and phone when he ran into the junta column,” the defence force leader said, adding that there was evidence that the man had been tortured to death.

“One of his wrists was slit and it appeared that they stabbed him in the stomach and moved the knife around in his body. There was also a cut on his neck,” he told Myanmar Now.

Dismembered bodies

Earlier last week, two other bodies were discovered near Moe Gyo Pyin, a village about 5km southwest of the Letpadaung mine.

One of the victims, 50-year-old Tin Soe, was decapitated after being captured by troops who stormed the village last Tuesday, while the other, 40-year-old Pwa Gyi, had his hands cut off at the wrist, according to a villager who saw their bodies.

In addition to those who were killed, locals said there were also a number of others who had been severely tortured, including two brothers, both in their 30s, who are receiving medical treatment for injuries inflicted on them by the soldiers who raided Hpaung Ka Tar on Saturday.

Another man from the same village, identified only as a 40-year-old farmer, sustained a serious head injury after being captured when he went back to his home to feed his cows, locals said.

According to residents of the area, the troops carrying out the attacks are based inside the compound of the Letpadaung mine, which is operated by a subsidiary of China’s Wanbao Mining and the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (UMEHL), a military-owned conglomerate.

On Tuesday morning, the troops had reportedly left the compound to resume their attacks.

“We’ve been on the run since 7am this morning, as the junta column from the Wanbao compound has started again,” said one resident who spoke to Myanmar Now on Tuesday.

Resistance attacks

The latest attacks come as anti-regime groups based in the area continue their own offensives against the mining project, which they have targeted since May.

Last week, the groups used handmade missiles to attack a transmission tower and police outposts set up to protect the mining compound.

In a statement released on Monday, Wanbao condemned the actions, saying they threatened the safety of staff and harmed the environment. The company also said that it did not want to be involved in the conflict.

In response, a spokesperson for Ami Myay, one of the groups involved in the attacks, said that Wanbao should stop providing regime forces with supplies and a base of operations. He also called on the company to close the mine.

“MEHL is one of the shareholders in the project, and its profits are being used by the military to buy weapons and bullets to kill innocent civilians. That’s why it needs to stop at once,” said the spokesperson.

The junta’s raids have displaced around 10,000 people from more than a dozen villages located near the mine, according to local sources. Many have crossed the Chindwin River to Monywa to escape the violence, the sources said.

The Chinese government has called on Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government not to target Chinese-owned businesses in its ongoing conflict with the regime that seized power in a coup in February 2021.

Wanbao signed a 60-year contract in 2010 with UMEHL and Myanmar’s then government to extract copper from Letpadaung.  

Profits from the site are divided between the state-owned No. 1 Mining Enterprise, which takes 51 percent, as well as Wanbao, which receives 30 percent, and UMEHL claiming 19 percent.

Wanbao subsidiary Yangtse also jointly operates the nearby copper mines at Sabetaung and Kyisintaung with UMEHL, known as the S&K mines.

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