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November 28, 2012

Burmese Copper Mine Protest Grows

by VOA News

Hundreds of Burmese villagers and monks are defying government orders to end a 10-day protest against the expansion of a Chinese-backed copper mine in northwestern Burma.

Protesters remained in several camps near the Monywa mine, ignoring a warning to vacate by Tuesday or face unspecified action.  A VOA reporter says the number of protesters is growing.

Activists reported no police action against the encampments.  The protesters appear to be testing the limits of new freedoms introduced by the Burmese government that took office last year, ending decades of military dictatorship.

Burma's Home Ministry says mine operations were suspended November 18 because of the protest.  It said the occupation must end to allow a parliamentary commission to make a fact-finding visit.

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Villagers say mine expansion will cause environmental, social and health problems, and also accuse authorities of unlawfully seizing land for the project.

Protesters say they will remain until the government agrees to scrap the joint venture between a Chinese weapons maker and a Burmese military-backed corporation.

Burmese military officials say canceling the project would discourage much-needed foreign investment.

Earlier this year, Burma relaxed laws against public protests.  But activists still risk a year in jail if they do not go through the proper channels to get permission for demonstrations.

Burmese activists have been emboldened since President Thein Sein stopped construction of a Chinese-funded hydropower dam in the northern state of Kachin last year.  Environmentalists opposed that project due to similar concerns about its social and economic consequences.

Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is due to visit the copper mine on Thursday to hear protesters' grievances.  Her National League for Democracy party is calling for an independent commission to investigate the situation.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.