MAC: Mines and Communities

Ottawa to Lean on Ivanhoe

Published by MAC on 2003-06-25

Ottawa to Lean on Ivanhoe

Canada Seeks help from big Myanmar investor to free Suu Kyi

Geoffrey York in the Globe and Mail ROB

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Beijing - Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham says he will plead for help from a Canadian mining company, one of the biggest investors in Myanmar, to put pressure on the country's military junta to release the jailed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

But he continued to reject the idea of Canadian economic sanctions against the military regime, including a ban on trade and investment, even though Myanmar's own democratic opposition movement has asked for international sanctions.

Ivanhoe Mines Ltd. of Vancouver, which has spent at least $60-million on a joint-venture copper mine in Myanmar, is one of the largest and most active foreign investors in the country. At its annual meeting this month, Ivanhoe said it saw no reason to pull out of Myanmar (also known as Burma), and it insisted that it is bringing jobs and other benefits to Myanmar's people.

Mr. Graham, speaking in Beijing on Monday, said he will contact Ivanhoe upon his return to Canada this week. "We're trying to find out what their plans are and tell them exactly what kind of leverage and pressure they can bring on the Myanmar government," he said in an interview.

"I'll ask them to use whatever leverage they have, if they have any, to let the government know that Ms. Suu Kyi should be released. Part of their corporate responsibility of being in Burma is to speak to anyone they know in authority and tell them the imprisonment of Ms. Suu Kyi is totally unacceptable."

Ivanhoe should not invest any further money in Myanmar under "present conditions," and the mining company's shares will be discounted by the stock market until it agrees to withdraw from Myanmar, Mr. Graham said.

"They should realize themselves that this is not an investment that is good for their company," he said. "But for Canada to lay down rules as to exactly what countries Canadians can invest in is something we only do in very rare circumstances."

Asked if the continued imprisonment of Myanmar's opposition leader is one of the rare circumstances that justify action, he answered: "It is an exceptional, an important circumstance." But he added: "If Ivanhoe pulls out, they won't have any leverage whatsoever."

Mr. Graham has already asked the Canadian immigration department to stop issuing any entry visas to leaders of the Myanmar regime. But he questioned the effectiveness of a ban on imports from Myanmar. "It hits the poorest people in the country who produce these products. It's not going to hit the leaders."

Human rights activists noted that Ms. Suu Kyi herself has called for economic sanctions against Myanmar. She would not have issued such a call if sanctions would hurt the people, they said.

"Canada's reaction so far has been rather weak - mere lip service," said Shareef Korah, program director for Canadian Friends of Burma, an Ottawa-based group.

Meanwhile, the Canadian government was also raising questions about human rights in Hong Kong and mainland China. It expressed concern that a planned new law in Hong Kong could allow Beijing to outlaw any dissident group that is considered a "subversive organization." And in a speech to government officials and scholars in Beijing on Monday night, Mr. Graham warned that China should not use its antiterrorism campaign as a "pretext for repression".

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