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Burmese police search for mine demonstration leaders

Police stormed a copper mining site in northwestern Burma on Thursday in search of land rights activists who helped organize protests this week by 10,000 villagers.

A march on Thursday, September 5, 2012, protesting the confiscation of farmers' land for a state-backed mining operation. Photo: Aung Nay Myo / facebookThe police arrived at the Monywa mine, located in Sagaing division’s Sarlingyi Township, around 11 p.m. but were held off by hundreds of demonstrators armed with sticks and knives who were guarding the area, according to an article on the Radio Free Asia (RFA) website on Friday.

Demonstrators said police were searching for four members of a Rangoon-based group that helped organize local farmers who live near the mine to protect their land rights.

“They came in to arrest Ko Han Win Aung, Ko Aung Soe, Ko Thaung Hteik, and Ko Zaw Tin, but they haven't gotten them yet,” Aye Thinn, a member of the group, said, speaking to RFA by phone from the mine area Thursday night.

The demonstrators had organized a surveillance system to watch for police and hid the activists in the village’s monastery, she said.

The raid on the mine site followed a demonstration on Wednesday by 10,000 villagers who marched and burned effigies to demand the return of land by two companies jointly developing the mine—Wan Bao Co., a subsidiary of state-owned Chinese arms manufacturer North China Industries Corp. (Norinco), and Burma’s army-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holding.

Demonstrators held signs in English, Chinese, and Burmese with slogans such as “Stop work on the mine immediately” and “Wan Bao, get out of here!”

Villagers said the companies have illegally confiscated more than 8,000 acres (3,237 hectares) of farmland from 26 villages in Sarlingyi since 2011.

One member of the Rangoon-based activist group, Wai Lu, was detained on Saturday and is being held at the Sarlingyi police station, said RFA.

His family members have not been allowed to visit him yet, said the a member of the 20-member group, which was founded in June to promote the rights of workers and farmers.

Members of the Student Union of Mandalay are also taking part in the protests.