By Naw Noreen
The Sagaing division government’s religious affairs minister has pledged not to destroy a revered Buddhist site as construction resumes on the controversial Latpadaung copper mine project in Sagaing Division.
Some 70 activists and Buddhist monks began a 120-km march on Sunday from Amarapura in Mandalay division towards the copper mine site which is situated near Monywa. The protestors said they wanted to protect the historic ordination hall of a late Buddhist monk, Lete Abbot, who based himself at the site for Buddhist practice and meditation for many years.
The marchers were initially stopped by local police upon leaving Amarapura on Sunday morning, and were once again confronted by some 200 Sagaing police when they arrived in the town that same afternoon. Two activists were reportedly arrested by the police but later let go after a crowd gathered to demand their release.
Authorities in Sagaing warned the protestors they would face legal action if they continued their march.
On Monday morning, a meeting was arranged in Sagaing between representatives of the protestors and Sagaing authorities while National League for Democracy officials and members of the government-backed National Head Monks Association sat as mediators.
Protestor Ko Hlaing said the regional religious affairs minister agreed to three demands by the marchers including a pledge not to demolish the Buddhist site within the next six months while parliament discusses the issue.
“The minister agreed to not demolish the ordination hall over the next six months and to allow visitors – no more than five at a time – to the site; and to not arrest the protestors who marched from Mandalay,” said Ko Hlaing.
“A report by the Latpadaung Investigation Commission previously recommended relocating the Buddhist building before the project resumed,” said Ko Hlaing. “We are worried because the project is now restarting and they are flattening the terrain around the site. In the meantime, no one is allowed to go and inspect the location because of Article 144 [a ban on public assemblies].”
The site is currently off limits under a curfew declared after a sit-in protest by activists and monks was broken up violently by riot police in November last year. At least 80 were injured and many sources have claimed that the police used white phosphorous fire bombs when attacking the protest site.