Miners from the Moehti Moemi goldmining region of Mandalay Region’s Yamethin township are walking from Yangon to Nay Pyi Taw, where they plan to protest in front of government buildings.
On Thursday, November 8, 85 of the miners set off from Yangon to Nay Pyi Taw after holding three protests in the former capital, said Ko Youte Kyi, a member of the group.
They expect to arrive in Nay Pyi Taw around Tuesday, November 20, where they will seek permission to protest in front of the Ministry of Mines, Pyidaungsu Hluttaw and the office of Myanmar National Prosperity, the company with which they are embroiled in a long-running dispute over an agreement to mine gold at Moehti Moemi.
Myanmar National Prosperity won a tender to mine gold in the area in late 2011.
But in June, workers from the hundreds of small mines at Moehti Moemi began protesting after the company allegedly reneged on an earlier verbal agreement to split all gold found in the area 50-50.
Myanmar National Prosperity officials reportedly made the promise to the small mining companies and individual miners in December 2011, saying they could excavate gold from the area for the duration of its five-year contract with the government.
After holding several illegal protests in the mining area, the miners applied for permission to demonstrate in Yamethin but were rejected twice.
About 30 of them then protested in front of Myanmar National Prosperity office in Yangon on November 3, 6 and 8, after which they decided to walk to Nay Pyi Taw.
The group miners stopped and slept at Htaukkyant War Cemetery and the next evening stayed at a monastery in Bago. The following day they slept at a National League for Democracy office and then on Tuesday, November 13 stayed in Nyaunglebin, said Ko Nay Aung Htet, another of the miners.
By Friday, November 16 they had progressed to Taungoo.
“The reasons why we walked to Nay Pyi Taw are to show the public that we are protesting as well as that we can’t afford [to travel a different way]. Also, Nay Pyi Taw is close to Yamethin, so we can just walk back to where we stay afterwards. We are not protesting while we walk, we just walk normally,” Ko Nay Aung Htet told The Myanmar Times this week.
“When we arrive in Nay Pyi Taw we will apply for permission to protest.”
He said the group had received assistance from members of the clergy, administrative officials, NLD members and even Special Branch officials.
“Instead of blocking our way, the government officials helped us out,” said Ko Yaute Kyi.
“Some members from the NLD helped us by walking with us. Some of them gave us some medicine. However, the background of the people helping us has changed from one town to the next.”
Ko Thaw Lin, a senior member of the Myanmar Science and Arts University Network who has been helping the miners, said he was “very worried” about the safety of the group.
“They have nothing. I’m worried some of them might collapse because of exhaustion … I’m also worried they could be arrested.”