Two Chinese workers from a Myanmar mine have been kidnapped by activists, the company and villagers said Monday.
The two 23-year-old workers were abducted Sunday while conducting a land survey, according to Wanbao Mining Copper Ltd., a unit of weapons manufacturer China North Industries Corp. The activists reportedly belong to Yangon Public Service Network and have demanded a "total halting" of the project to secure the miners’ release.
"Wanbao vehemently condemns this unprovoked attack on our colleagues," the company said in a statement. The two men were reportedly beaten and threats were made to kill them if work on the copper mine wasn't halted. The activist group’s other demands include dismantling the existing fence work at the project.
Several sources told the BBC that an attempt was made Sunday night to free the two workers. Tear gas was fired, forcing the police to pull back. The government has since sent a negotiation team, but no progress has been made, Myint Thein, one of the mine's managers, told The Associated Press.
“Our representatives tried to meet with the villagers [who captured the workers] today, but after unsuccessful negotiations, they refused to release our staff,” Dong Yufeng, administration manager of Wanbao’s operations in Myanmar, told The Wall Street Journal.
The copper mine, located in Monywa, about 60 miles west of Mandalay, is a joint venture between a Myanmar military-controlled holding company and China's Wanbao Mining Copper. It has been the scene of violent confrontations in the past. In 2012, it was the scene of a violent crackdown when villagers alleged their land was being taken away from them with minimal compensation. Construction of the mine was stopped during intense opposition. That opposition was follow by police firing smoke bombs containing white phosphorous on protesters.
Work restarted on the mine in October under a new contract where more profits would go toward Myanmar’s central government. Wanbao has also begun a public relations campaign to improve the project's image. They have promised to donate more than $1 million a year for social investments in villages surrounding the site. The new agreement also leaves Wanbao with less of the profit -- now only 30 percent compared to 51 percent with the initial contract.
Activists and villagers said the mine is causing environmental, social and health problems.
“[Wanbao] needs to give farmers back their land, or the compensation that they are really worth,” Han Win Aung, an activist in Monywa who said he wasn’t involved with but supports the kidnappings, said. “We want the project completely halted.”