Two more Myanmar protesters charged over China mine demo

Two more protesters opposed to a China-backed copper mine venture in Myanmar have been charged with offences that could see them jailed for up to five years, a lawyer said Tuesday. Police are now prosecuting six people arrested in Yangon in protests last month against the mine venture in the central town of Monywa, which has been dogged by complaints of land-grabbing and environmental damage. "Six people are now charged and police are looking for evidence against two others," lawyer Robert San Aung told AFP after a hearing in Yangon's Dagon township. Small but regular demonstrations have been held in recent weeks outside the Chinese embassy in Yangon and its consulate in Mandalay following the fatal shooting last month of a female protester near the Letpadaung mine. Khin Win, in her 50s, was killed on December 22 when police opened fire on protesters trying to stop the mine company building a fence in territory disputed with local farmers. Four of the Yangon protesters, who have been held in the city's notorious Insein prison since late December, had already been charged. The mine -- run by Chinese firm Wanbao as part of a joint venture with a major local military conglomerate --- has raised questions about Myanmar's reliance on investment from neighbouring China, which gave crucial political support to the former junta. A new quasi-civilian government has implemented major reforms in recent years, including releasing political prisoners and allowing opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi into parliament. But land disputes and battles for the nation's rich mineral resources are posing an increasingly serious challenge. Protesting without police permission is still forbidden. Most of those arrested during demonstrations are charged under Section 18 of Myanmar's criminal code, which carries a maximum one-year sentence. But lawyer Robert San Aung said the six anti-Letpadaung protesters have instead been charged with more serious public order offences, including obstructing police and "harming the image of the nation". "The charges are disproportionate. They are facing between four and five years in prison," he said.