MAC: Mines and Communities

Burmese Daze

Published by MAC on 2012-09-24
Source: Mizzima, Irrawaddy, Dictator Watch

Mining in Burma

Roland Watson

Dictator Watch

16 September 2012

A large protest movement in Burma is now underway, against the joint regime/Chinese Monywa copper mining project in Sagaing Division. The motivation for the protest is the confiscation of 8,000 acres of villager land in Letpadaung, for mine expansion.

This demonstration highlights an underlying issue that should be addressed, now that Burma is taking steps towards economic liberalization: What standards should be applied to new resource exploitation projects?

As an environmentalist, I would of course prefer that there be no new mines, as they are inherently destructive of nature. No matter how you do it, mines destroy natural habitats, and this is generally accompanied with widespread pollution, in the land, watercourses, and atmosphere. However, I recognize that Burma has extensive mineral deposits, and that at least some of them will be mined. This therefore should occur in a way that minimizes the destruction, and communicates the benefits directly to the villagers whose land is mined, and to the country as a whole.

Any new mines, and mine expansion, should only be done following the strictest international standards, which activists around the world have struggled for decades to achieve. The first of these is protection of the property rights of the villagers on whose land such deposits are located.

Since the villagers own the land, they further own the mineral rights (and also the air rights above). This is a fundamental tenet of property ownership, in any society that has a functioning rule of law. This means it is their decision if the land should be mined or not. For example, they may decide to sell the mineral rights at this time, and vacate the land; or hold onto the land for sale at a future date (and hopefully a higher price); or not to sell at all. They should never be coerced to sell, or suffer an outright theft, as occurred at Letpadaung through confiscation.

Landowners who do sell may also receive not only a one-time payment, but a residual participation from the sale of the minerals. This way they profit if the deposit proves to be larger than expected, and also if commodity prices increase over time. Again, under a functioning rule of law, all such terms are negotiated and then included in the contract that actually transfers the land title and mineral rights.

Other standards are as follows:

There should be an independently-prepared environmental impact assessment, before approval for the mine is even given. Indeed, such an assessment may make it clear that the project should not proceed.

This approval (and licensing) by the government, should also be contingent on the development of strong environmental safeguards for the mine's operations, including the treatment and disposal of tailings, water and smokestack effluent, etc.

There must also be appropriate safety equipment and precautions for workers. Mining is an exceedingly hazardous occupation. Miners in Burma should never have to risk their lives unnecessarily, as, for example, is now the norm in China.

Furthermore, the miners must have the ability to unionize, and to strike if such safeguards are not in place.

Finally, and also as part of the project's initial review and approval, a land reclamation plan must be prepared for when the mine runs out. Importantly, this requires that an escrow account be established, to which regular deposits are made during the mine's operation, to fund the reclamation.

No new mine or mine expansion should proceed in Burma until this development model can be followed, including the expansion at Monywa. Also, once the model is established it will set a precedent that should be applied to any new mine in the country, of whatever mineral, and more generally any large-scale development (agricultural, industrial, etc.).

To repeat a point that I have made before, the fact that Burma has extremely limited economic development is not a weakness; rather, it is one of its greatest strengths. With patience and care, the country can be developed in a way that preserves its character, and cultural diversity, and environment. This type of development will yield benefits for decades if not centuries to come.

An additional issue is taxation of the business' profits. It is through these taxes that all the people of Burma will benefit, since the funds can be used for essential infrastructure and programs.

The open questions are: (1) Overall, can this type of development model now be implemented; and (2) specifically, can such projects be organized without corruption so they are properly regulated and taxed, so the regime and its cronies are not enriched, and so the taxes are used for programs like education and health care, not just more military expenditures for the Tatmadaw? I understand that this is asking a lot, but frankly, no new projects should be built until all of these conditions can be satisfied.

This in turn means that any new project should proceed at a snail's pace, to give the country time to learn how to manage developments in this way, and to put in place both the personnel and the systems that are required for it, including for project approval and licensing procedures; taxation; other regulatory structures; new law and legal systems, especially for property transfers; and for all of these, related computer systems.

The protests in Monywa should be expanded into a national movement, if the government refuses to follow this development paradigm.

Sagaing Region government cannot stop copper mine project: minister

Mratt Kyaw Thu


17 September 2012 

Monywa - Sagaing Region Chief Minister Tha Aye said that the local government does not have the right to stop the "Kyayni Mountain" copper mine project in Monywa District.

But he said a long-term solution needs to be found to the strike, which has seen thousands of villagers demonstrate in opposition to the mine and to land confiscation by the authorities, according to one of the leaders of the 88-Generation students group, who met with the minister told Mizzima.

Kyaw Min Yu, a leader of the 88-Generation Student Group in Rangoon who came to Monywa to help facilitate the release, took part in the release of three protesters.

"Thwe Thwe Win, Aye Net, and Phyu Phyu Win were released from Monywa and now they are in the car with me, on the way to Wethme village," he said as he was driving them from the detention center, according to a report by Radio Free Asia (RFA) on Friday.

A fourth activist, Wai Lu, a member of a Rangoon-based activist group helping organize local farmers who live near the mine to protect their land rights, was released from detention in nearby Chaung Oo township, said RFA.

Kyaw Min Yu, also known as Ko Jimmy, said the minister made the remark about a long-term solution on Wednesday during a meeting that included the Sagaing Region's Forestry and Environmental Conservation Minister Than Htike and MP Thaung Sein of Sagaing Region Assembly.

Meanwhile, members of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) in Monywa have made a three-point demand that includes allowing villagers of Wet Hmay Village who took refuge at Myomagat Buddhist monastery last week to safely return to their village, not to harass ABFSU students who have participated in the protest against the mine project and to shut down the project.

Jimmy said the chief minister agreed to all the demands except the closure of the project.

On Sept. 10, 12 protestors were arrested after they staged a protest against the copper mine project, and on the same day, residents in Monywa and villagers from Wet Hmay staged a protest demanding their release.

A female protestor San San Hla, 27, a Wet Hmay villager who was recently released, told Mizzima, "We were arrested cruelly as if we were dogs, and then we were taken into custody. Policewomen were very aggressive. They scratched at us. They pulled our hair. So, we shouted ‘save us'. We don't know where they took the remaining three protestors. But we were released."

About 30 villagers from Wet Hmay Village, who took part in the protest, sought shelter at Myomagat Monastery in Monywa rather than return to their village. The National League for Democracy [Monywa branch], the ABFSU of Monywa and the 88-Generation students group have provided food for the women.

A monk at the monastery told Mizzima that Monywa's Sangha Nayaka Committee [a government-appointed body of high-ranking Buddhist monks] sent a letter telling the monastery not to open a camp for the protestors.

On Sept. 7, villagers of Wet Hmay Village staged a protest demanding the closure of the "Kyayni Mountain" copper mine project and for the authorities to return their confiscated land.

"Even if [they] want to give compensations for confiscated land, we don't want it. We don't want to lose the Kyayni Mountain. And we don't want to leave this land. We want to scrape a living using this land. That's why we staged the protested," Chan Moe, who took part in the protest, told Mizzima.

The Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited and China's Wan Bao Mining Company jointly operate the Kyayni Mountain copper mine project.

An 88-generation student, Myo Thant, told Mizzima that about 200 households from four villages around the area near Latpadaung Mountain have been moved because of the copper mine project.

Monywa Copper Mine Protests Continue

The Irrawaddy

21 September 2012

Around 1,000 people living near a copper mine in Monywa, Sagaing Division, protested on Thursday after they were prevented from plowing their fields, a local resident of the area told The Irrawaddy.

Around 8,000 acres of farmland were confiscated for the Letpadaung copper mine in 2010, and tensions over the project have been high since last month. Protests by locals concerned about the mine's environmental impact have attracted nationwide attention. The mine is operated by the Chinese-owned Wan Bao mining company and the military-owned Union of Myanmar Economics Holding Ltd.

There is a slideshow on the situation at:

Gold miners to get new town

Nay Lin Aung


12 September 2012

Yamethin - The National Prosperity Public Company Limited (NPPCL) is establishing a new town, Minemyonge, for employees of the Moehti Moemi gold mine located in Yamethin Township, Mandalay Region.

The gold miners will be moved to the new town at the end of 2012, said the NPPCL, which operates the gold mine.

Presently, more than 8,800 people including gold miners from NPPCL and 23 smaller companies are in partnership with NPPCL. Gold mine workers, gold traders and others live in a scattering of houses around the mining area. The gold mine project was started in October 2011.

The Moehti Moemi gold mine is located on a mountain area, 8.5 miles from Thayaaye village. The area covered by the Moehti Moemi gold mine is 5,105 acres.

The NPPCL will spend about 500 million kyat (US$ 575,474) to create the new town, according to reports.

The town will have about 122 acres and it will include a police station, a hospital, schools and small resorts.

"The project was started in August. We are setting up the new town in order that gold miners can move starting Dec. 1. Presently, five apartment buildings are being built," said Tun Aung Soe, the project director of the company.

The intention behind the creation of the new town is to separate the working areas and living areas of the miners, said Tun Aung Soe.

"In Minemyonge, the employees from our company and associated companies will live. There will be 3,000 houses for employees. We will run bars for bachelors," said Tun Aung Soe. "We plan to provide them with accommodations like in international mines.

If other people including shopowners and motorcycle-taxi drivers want to live in the new town, they can rent houses from the company at suitable prices, said Tun Aung Soe.

The new town was approved by the Mandalay Region government and Forestry Department and the location is outside a forest reserve, according to reports.

About 2,000 NPPCL employees, more than 8,000 workers of associated companies and more than 289 traders work in the mine area. They represent Shan, Pa-O, Kachin, Wa, Arakanese [Rakhine] and Burman ethnic groups.

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