YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar police fired on protesters near a mine at the center of a long-running land dispute on Monday, killing one person and wounding 20 others, media reports said, as the China-linked company announced plans to expand the project.
A Myanmar television station and website, the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), said that one person was killed during the protest near the Letpadaung copper mine in central Myanmar.
Khin San Hlaing, a parliamentarian with the opposition National League for Democracy, cited witnesses as saying a woman died after being struck in the head by a bullet.
The mining company, Myanmar Winbao, confirmed a person was killed.
“The events leading up to her death are still unclear,” company spokesman Cao Desheng said in a statement. “We understand the police were at the scene, and we hope they will start investigating this event.”
Local police contacted by Reuters said they had no information about the protests.
Earlier on Monday, Wanbao, which is a unit of the Chinese weapons manufacturer China North Industries Group Corp, said it would “be extending its working area in the Letpadaung copper project to comply with requirements of its investment permit”.
“Construction is proceeding as a result of broad community support for the project,” the company said in a statement, adding that two percent of the mine’s profits would be spent on community development.
The deadly protest comes as Myanmar’s semi-civilian government, which took power in 2011 after 49 years of military rule, faces criticism for rights abuses including cracking down on journalists and against protests.
United States President Barack Obama warned during a November visit that the country was backsliding on reforms.
Local residents have protested against the Letpadaung mine in Monywa, about 100 km (60 miles) west of Mandalay, saying thousands of acres of land have been confiscated to enable the project to proceed.
In November, Amnesty International urged the government to halt work at the site, saying land had been acquired through a flawed process and that other social and environmental issues must be resolved.
The rights group also said authorities have yet been held accountable for attacks on protesters two years earlier. In November 2012, more than 100 people including at least 67 monks were hurt when riot police raided camps set up by protesters.
Additional reporting by Minzayar Oo in YANGON; Editing by Jeremy Laurence