MAC: Mines and Communities

Burma: Further arrests, as mining protests continue

Published by MAC on 2012-12-17
Source: AFP, AP, Global Post, The Irrawaddy (2012-12-14)

Last Wednesday, several demonstrations were held in Burma in protest at the bloody state offensive, launched on November 29th against monks camped in opposition to the Letpadaung copper mining enterprise. See: Burmese forces viciously assault mining protestors

But, despite the formation of a commission of enquiry into these events, even more activists were arrested.  See: Aung San Suu Kyi commission to "study" Letpadaung copper crisis

The Molo Women Mining Watch Network, in its report Lost Paradise,  details how hundreds of mine tunnels in southern Burma have caused lethal landslides, water pollution and deforestation, impacting around 4,500 indigenous villagers.

Small-scale gold miners have accused the  MNPPC mining company of destroying their homes in an attempt to prevent them returning to their mountains in Mandalay. 

Myanmar makes new mine protest arrests

AFP

14 December 2012

YANGON - Myanmar authorities said Friday they had made a fresh round of arrests in response to a spate of protests demanding an apology for last month's police crackdown on a rally at a Chinese-backed copper mine.

Demonstrations have been held across the country also known as Burma in a continuing show of public anger at injuries, including severe burns, sustained by dozens of monks in a pre-dawn raid on protest camps at the mine.

"Some activists were arrested for questioning," a police official told AFP, asking not to be named. He said they were picked up in the second-biggest city Mandalay for protesting without permission.

Activist organisation the All Burma Federation of Student Unions, which took part in street action this week, said eight people were arrested late Thursday.

Four are still in custody after refusing bail on financial grounds, said the group's Moe Htet Myay.

"They said that they didn't commit any crime. We are monitoring the situation," he told AFP.

Hundreds of monks, supported by activists, staged demonstrations across Myanmar Wednesday to denounce the mine crackdown, which was the toughest action against demonstrators since a reformist government came to power last year.

The wife of Thein Aung Myint, one of the arrested protesters, said her husband was taken from their home in the evening and had not returned.

"I think he was taken because of his involvement in the monk-led protest on December 12," said Khet Khet Tin.

Last week Religious Affairs Minister Myint Maung apologised to some of the country's most senior clerics for injuries to about 99 monks, state media said.

About 100 police also apologised to a group of monks in Monywa soon after the crackdown. But the moves have failed to quell public discontent.

Photographs of the protesters' injuries have stirred an outcry and acted as a reminder of brutal junta-era security tactics, including the notorious crackdown on mass monk-led rallies in 2007 known as the "Saffron Revolution".

The dispute at the Monywa mine centres on allegations of mass evictions and environmental damage caused by the project -- a joint venture between Chinese firm Wanbao and military-owned Myanmar Economic Holdings.

China insists that the contentious points have already been resolved.

Eight people arrested in connection with earlier protests against the mine in recent weeks were released on bail on Tuesday.


Anti-Copper Mine Activists Detained

By Zarni Mann

The Irrawaddy

14 December 2012

Local authorities in Mandalay and Monywa have arrested at least 10 activists involved in protests against the Letpadaung copper mine in Sagaing Division, in the latest effort to quell months of unrest over the controversial project.

In Mandalay, Aung Maing San and four other members of the Upper Burma chapter of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) were arrested at their homes late Thursday evening, as was Thein Aung Myint, an activist from a group that has called for lower commodity prices.

All six were charged under Section 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Act for holding a protest without permission. Relatives and colleagues of the detainees said they are currently being held at the Chan Mya Thazi Court in Mandalay.

The activists, who were protesting against a government raid on earlier demonstrations near the mine site late last month, were offered release on bail, but refused.

"They said they don't want to be freed on bail. They said they accept the consequences of their actions, but didn't do anything wrong -j ust hold a peaceful march to demand justice for the victims of the brutal crackdown," said ABFSU (Upper Burma) spokesperson Ye Yint Kyaw, who met with the detainees this morning.

Meanwhile, four activists from Monywa were also detained yesterday, but have since been released on bail.

On Wednesday, protests were held in many parts of Burma to demand a formal public apology for a pre-dawn raid on Nov. 29 that left more than 70 Buddhist monks injured. The monks were at the forefront of protests against a Chinese-owned copper mine that began several months ago.

One of the monks, 64-year-old U Taikha Nyana, was transferred to a hospital in Bangkok on Wednesday to receive treatment for severe burns, while four others are expected to join him after they receive new passports.

According to a report by the state-run newspaper The New Light of Myanmar on Friday, the government provided financial assistance to the injured monk, who it said was "not in a critical condition."

"The monk left Yangon General Hospital of his own accord this morning to receive medical treatment in Bangkok," the report said. "Due to his financial problem, the government remitted 1 million baht [US $32,600] to Bangkok General Hospital in advance."


Copper mine strikes raise questions in Myanmar

Charles M. Sennott

Global Post

13 December 2012

A stream of protesters, many of them Buddhist monks clad in maroon robes, trickled through the capital Monday as part of what observers here say is a growing movement against the government's brutal crackdown on strikers at a Chinese-backed copper mining project in the northwest.

About 100 protesters carried placards and chanted a phrase that has become their slogan: "Violence is not the solution."

Opposition leader and Nobel peace prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has lent her support to the movement, visiting the strikers at the Lapadaungtaung copper mining project. The project is a joint venture by the military-backed Union of Myanmar Economics Holdings Limited (UMEHL) and a Chinese company called Myanmar Wanboa Mining Copper Limited.

Suu Kyi was elected to parliament earlier this year in elections that were widely seen as a move toward democracy in Myanmar, also known as Burma. She heads a parliamentary commission that is investigating the government's alleged use of excessive force on the strikers at the mine in a series of clashes that began in late November.

"The commission will not shirk its responsibilities and it will hold people accountable," Suu Kyi told reporters this week.

The labor unrest in the copper mining town is the latest example of how China's attempts at ‘soft power' - using economic influence to achieve its goals - rather than the ‘hard power' of military strength, is increasingly being met with popular resistance in Burma.

Many people here and a growing number of their representatives in parliament say that China is going too far in exploiting Burma's abundant natural resources. Via a new network of pipelines, China has siphoned vast mineral wealth and energy in the form of hydropower from dams and petroleum.

China's aggressive business interests and how they impact Burma was chronicled last month in a Global Post Special Report titled, "The Burma Road: China and soft power in a new Myanmar."

"China itself cannot do what it wants to do ... Doing what one wants to do without a compromise is not democratic. Myanmar needs to try promoting democracy." Suu Kyi said.

"We must bravely put forward the truth," she said, explaining that the findings of the commission will first be submitted to President Thein Sein who called for the body to be formed on December 1 in the wake of the violence.

On November 29, police clad in riot gear raided a protest camp outside the mining project and seriously injured 74 people, including dozens of monks, by beating them with truncheons and allegedly spraying them with a caustic liquid that has left many of the injured monks with skin burns. Several of the most seriously burned were being taken to a hospital in Thailand for treatment.

The crackdown has produced condemnation of the government from the international community and sparked a wave of small, but persistent, protests across the country in recent weeks.

Those public demonstrations have prompted a round of arrests of activists. Police officials have maintained that the demonstrations are being held without proper permits. The rising tension comes just three weeks after President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a historic visit to Burma, a diplomatic initiative that was widely viewed as a new spirit of engagement between the US and Burma.

But the strikes at the copper mine raise issues of labor rights violations and of China's aggressive presence in Burma. This has left some observers wondering whether the government of Myanmar, which speaks of a new era of democracy and of opening to the Western world, is staying true to its word.

Kyaw Zwa Moe, an outspoken critic of the government and editor of the English language edition of the independent Irrawadday newspaper, wrote in a recent column:

"The government continues to use the threat of arbitrary arrest to intimidate dissidents. Until this is no longer the norm in Myanmar, it will be meaningless to speak of Myanmar as a democratic or even democratizing nation."

But even as Zwa Moe was writing this strident criticism, the government was for the first time in a long time allowing his opposition newspaper, which is based in Bangkok, to publish inside Burma.

The irony that was not lost on at least one political observer here who said, "We keep taking steps forwards and then steps backwards, but the question everybody is still watching for is whether we are moving forward? It's going to take more time to know."


Allegations of Development Abuses Rife Across Burma

By Charlie Campbell

The Irrawaddy

12  December 2012

In the wake of last month's brutal crackdown on anti-copper mine protesters in Sagaing Division that received global attention, even more community groups have emerged to allege massive environmental and social devastation from various government-led development projects.

Severe health and ecological concerns as well as land grabs, forced labor and related human rights abuses have been independently reported in diverse areas of Burma where large-scale industry or construction has been taking place.

The Molo Women Mining Watch Network released its "Lost Paradise" report on Tuesday that details how hundreds of mine tunnels spanning 3,000 acres in southern Burma have caused lethal landslides, water pollution and deforestation impacting around 4,500 indigenous villagers.

"Dangerous mines must be shut down immediately," said Molo spokeswoman Naw Ah Mu. "Without legal safeguards ensuring protection and benefit for local people, we don't want any more mining in our lands."

Workers at the Mawchi mines in Karenni State commonly suffer from respiratory disease and arthritis caused by unhealthy working conditions, dust and frequent use of explosives, claims the report.

Women mainly toil with bare hands and feet collecting and washing tin nuggets in the mine. Working hours are from 7 am to 5 pm for which employees earn around 5,000 kyat (US $6) per day.

"I am not sure if it was from the mining, but a woman who worked in the mines gave birth to triplets and no child survived. Many children die from diarrhea and typhoid," a local man from Lokharlo Village was quoted by Molo.

The Mawchi mines have been in operation since British colonial times and were once the world's main source of tungsten. Now the project is monopolized by the Kayah State Mining Company Ltd, the military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (UMEHL) and the Ministry of Mining-2.

The Molo Network-formed by members of the Karenni Women's Organization, Karenni Social Welfare and Development Centre and Karenni Evergreen Organization-also documents contaminated runoff damaging farmland and polluting drinking water, as well as local people being forced to serve as Burma Army porters for the project.

Similarly, reports of local people suffering serious health problems near a government-backed mining project in Sagaing Division have also reached The Irrawaddy. Pollution from a copper mine run by China's Yangtze Copper Ltd with UMEHL at the Kyay Sin Mountain has been linked with debilitating symptoms in nearby Kankon Village.

"Smoke spreads across the sky from the mine all day. At first my daughter could see like other kids, but last month she could only see a little and now her sight is even worse," said a local woman. "I don't want other children to suffer the same as my child does."

Environmental devastation to Kyay Sin and nearby Sabae mountains was one of the main driving forces behind recent anti-copper mine protests at the Letpadaung mountain range, also in Sagaing Division, that were brutally crushed by a pre-dawn raid on Nov. 29 in which around 100 monks were badly burned.

Both Wan Bao Company, which operates the Letpadaung project, and Yangtze Copper Ltd are subsidiaries of China's largest weapons manufacturer Norinco, which reportedly sold heavy artillery to Burma's former ruling military junta government before signing the joint venture deals.

Another local mother in Kankon Village told The Irrawaddy that her son suffers from acidic fumes billowing from the mining plant. Sulfur dioxide gas is a common byproduct from intensive copper extraction.

"When he was born, there was no defect-he could cry, shout, breastfeed and everything," she said. "But now he is suffering from some disease. He is like a dead body and not conscious now. I'm living nearest to that acid plant. We told the plant supervisor that our village is suffering various kinds of diseases but they pretend not to hear our words."

Meanwhile, the Students and Youth Congress of Burma and Nationalities Youth Forum (NY-Forum) released their joint "Excluded: Burma's Ethnic Nationalities on the Margins of Democracy and Development" report on Wednesday that documents the experiences of ethnic people who are forced to bear the brunt of Burmese megaprojects.

The study is based upon 261 interviews conducted in seven states and one division involving 10 ethnic groups and nine development projects. These include the Shwe Gas pipeline-stretching from Arakan State to China's southwestern Yunnan Province-and the Dawei deep-sea port in southernmost Burma.

"Our evidence shows that every development project surveyed had some incidences of human rights abuses including forced evictions, land confiscations and forced labor," said Moe Hlaing, a central committee member of NY-Forum.

The report found that almost 90 percent of those surveyed did not receive any information about the development project in their area before it began, less than one percent said a public forum was held for the local community while almost half remained unsure whether their respective project was safe.

Thet Swe Aye contributed to this report from Monywa, Sagaing Division.


Child Illness Not Caused by Copper Mine, Govt Claims

The Irrawaddy

14 December 2012

The controversial Letpadaung mine near Monywa in Sagaing Division did not cause the illness of four local children, who suffer from cerebral palsy, loss of vision and in one case a brain tumor, the Burma government claims.

The children, aged 1 to 16 years, were examined in Rangoon's Children Hospital on the request of Aung San Suu Kyi, who chairs the special commission that investigates the mine project.

Examinations found that the children's condition was not related to exposure to toxic acids from the mine, an announcement in the state-run The New Light of Myanmar said on Friday. "According to the aforementioned examination results, there are no symptoms of exposure to acid," it said.


Monywa children not affected by exposure to acid, govt says

Missima News

14 December 2012

Four Monywa children with severe health problems have been cleared of contracting the illnesses through exposure to acid at the copper mine site near their homes, according to a statement on the President's Office website on Friday.

The children, aged between 20 months and 16 years of age, were sent to Yangon Children's Hospital at the request of Aung San Suu Kyi in her role as Chairperson of the Inquiry Commission formed to investigate the controversy surrounding the copper mine project.

Three of the children have been suffering from cerebral palsy while the other lost her vision after brain tumor surgery. The four were admitted to hospital in Rangoon on Tuesday where they received the necessary medical check-ups by specialists, the report said.

According to the examination results, doctors found no symptoms conducive to exposure to acid, the statement said.

A 16-member commission, headed by Suu Kyi, has been appointed to probe into the Letpadaung copper mine project, which is a joint venture between a Burmese military-backed company and the Chinese Wanbao Company.

The Commission is also tasked with investigating the circumstances surrounding a violent crackdown by riot police on protesters, including Buddhist monks, at the site on November 29.

The Commission is expected to submit an investigation report before December 31.


Protesting gold miners claim homes destroyed

Monks protest across Myanmar to demand formal apology for violent crackdown on mine

Associated Press (AP)

12 December 201

Buddhist monks across Myanmar peacefully demonstrated Wednesday to demand a formal apology from the government for its recent crackdown on protesters at a copper mine that injured more than 100 of their monastic colleagues.

Hundreds of monks in Yangon and Mandalay, the country's two biggest cities, along with Monywa, the town closest to the mine in northwestern Myanmar, and at least six other towns marched in protest Wednesday as security forces stood by without interfering.

The monks said they are not satisfied with the apologies made by the government so far. Police used water cannons, tear gas and smoke bombs on Nov. 29 to break up an 11-day occupation of the Letpadaung mine project, a joint venture between a military-controlled holding company and a Chinese mining company. Protesters want the project halted, saying it is causing environmental, social and health problems.

Nearly 400 monks accompanied by hundreds of lay people marched in a human chain from the east gate of Yangon's famous Shwedagon pagoda to downtown City Hall, the route that thousands of monks had taken in 2007, when they staged a peaceful march against people's economic hardships that was brutally suppressed by the then-military regime.

"We organized this peaceful protest as the government has not yet apologized for the violent crackdown on the monks," said a 46-year old monk known as "Payit," who was detained after the 2007 protest but freed this past January.

Religious Affairs Minister Thura Myint Maung last Friday apologized for the violence to 29 senior monks at a ceremony in Yangon and said the government felt "extreme sorrow that monks and other people were wounded in the copper mine incident," which he said was mishandled by local authorities in Monywa.

"We are not satisfied with the apology because the senior monks do not represent the majority of monks," said Payit. "The government must apologize to the injured monks or respected and revered abbots from the monasteries in the district where many of the injured monks were from."

Nearly 100 people, mostly Buddhist monks, were injured during the crackdown, mostly by burns that protesters said were caused by incendiary devices hurled by police.

The crackdown was reminiscent of those the country faced under military rule, which formally ended when an elected government took power last year. It stirred particular anger because of the violence against monks, who are held in high regard in this reverent Buddhist country.

The heavy-handed action indicated the government is still unsure where to draw the line on public protests, even though Thein Sein's government has been hailed for releasing hundreds of political prisoners and for implementing laws allowing public demonstrations and labor strikes.

Many prominent figures, including opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, had urged authorities to apologize, and Suu Kyi now heads a commission to investigate the violent dispersal of peaceful protesters at the copper mine and advise whether the project should continue.

"Aung San Suu Kyi always sided for the truth and stands for the people. I hope she will continue to do so in connection with the copper mine investigation," Payit said. He said the monks' organization will continue to mobilize similar protests all over the country if its demands for an apology are not met.


Myanmar court grants bail to Yangon demonstrators against copper mine

Associated Press (AP)

11 December 2012

Eight demonstrators arrested for peacefully protesting in Myanmar's largest city against a mining project have been freed on bail.

Aung Thein, the lawyer for two of the activists arrested in the last week of November, says all eight were freed Tuesday but face trial Dec. 24 on charges of inciting unrest. They were originally denied bail on the charge, which carries a maximum sentence of two years' imprisonment.

They protested against the Letpadaung copper mine in northwestern Myanmar, alleging it causes environmental and social damage. They also protested against a violent crackdown on demonstrators at the site.

Separately, a prominent former activist monk arrested Dec. 1 was freed Monday and will not face charges.

The mother of Shin Gambira, also known as Nyi Nyi Lwin, said it remained unclear why he was detained.


Myanmar activists protest jailing of ex-monk

Deutsche Welle

10 December 2012

A former Buddhist monk Shin Gambira, who had been one of the top leaders of the 2007 popular uprising "saffron revolution" in Myanmar, has been jailed again, triggering international concerns.

Shin Gambira - also known as U Gambira - was already known for his criticism of human rights violations in the country when he was arrested on December 1.

The activist was leading a protest rally in support of monks who had demonstrated against the activities of a copper mine.

The Myanmar government has now apologized for the injuries to 99 monks and 11 others in last month's protest outside a giant northern Myanmar copper mine. Thousands of people have allegedly been evicted because of the operation.

However, Gambira remains in custody.

The 33-year-old former monk was jailed in 2008 for his role in a 2007 uprising. He was charged with the forced removal of locks of several monasteries which had been shut and sealed up by the government.

Gambira has been praised for voicing rare support for the Rohingya minority.

A judge then sentenced him to 68 years in jail. However, he was released in an amnesty in January along with other political prisoners.

Family voices health fears

Gambira's rearrest means he once again faces having to serve the decades-long sentence. In addition, there are family fears about Gambira's health, his brother Aung Kyaw Kyaw reported.

"He has been suffering from serious migraines and other health problems," Kyaw said. "He needs his medicines daily. But he was not allowed to carry along his medicines when he was arrested."

On his release in January, Gambira said that in jail he had been strapped to chair for weeks and regularly beaten. In April, for unknown reasons, he renounced monkhood and disrobed, to return to the life of an ordinary citizen.

Gambira's mother Daw Ray said last week that she believed her son had been arrested because of his fight against a northern Myanmar copper mining project - a joint venture between military-owned Myanmar Economic Holdings and a Chinese company.

Gambira was leading the campaign in support of thousands of villagers who alleged that their land had been confiscated to make way for the giant copper mine.

"The government feared that he would lead an even more powerful movement against the mine aiming even to stall its operation. So, the government has arrested him," said Gambira's mother.

International concerns

The international community has also voiced concern about the latest incarceration of Gambira.

The government apologized for beatings that left more than 100 people injured

British Minister of State for the Foreign Office, Hugo Swire, said last week that he would seek his unconditional release and other political prisoners when he visits Myanmar this week.

Meanwhile, the director of Burma Campaign UK Mark Farmaner said Gambira had been targeted for repeatedly raising the issues on human rights.

"Being jailed like this, where he not only faces new charges but also having to serve his original prison sentence of more than sixty years, appears to be a way the government of Burma is warning other activists not to strongly criticize the government," Farmaner told DW.

"U Gambira's arrest shows that the reform process is only skin deep, people who criticize the government still face imprisonment."

Chris Lewa, head of the Arakan Project, which campaigns for rights of the minority Rohingya ethnic group, said the rearrest of Gambira on "trumped-up charges brings back nightmares" from a recent past.

"U Gambira has so far been the only high profile Buddhist religious figure who dared raise his voice against sectarian violence in Arakan and, who strongly criticized Buddhist monks for participating in anti-Rohingya demonstrations and campaigns. Not even Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has done so," said Ms Lewa.

The rights campaigner added that Gambira could play a valuable role in reducing tensions and promoting peace in communally-tense Rakhine state.


Monks stage protest in Rangoon

The Irrawaddy

9 December 2012

Monks took to the streets in Burma's former capital on Saturday to show solidarity with fellow monks who were injured during a crackdown on protests late last month and to demand an apology from the country's president.

In the latest display of political activism by the Buddhist clergy, more than a dozen Rangoon monks gathered under the shadow of Shwedagon Pagoda and marched to downtown Sule Pagoda at 1:30 pm yesterday.

Joined by nearly 100 laymen, the monks carried Buddhist flags and posters showing graphic pictures of monks suffering from severe burns caused by incendiary devices used by police in a pre-dawn raid on six protest camps near the controversial Letpadaung copper mine in Sagaing Division.

The Nov. 29 crackdown was the most violent response to civil disobedience since reformist President Thein Sein took office last year. More than 90 monks were hospitalized for injuries inflicted during the raid.

"We want to know who was behind the brutal attack on our fellow monks. We want the president say something to restore justice," said Pyinnya Wuntha, a 62-year-old monk, during the march.

"Burma is a predominantly Buddhist country but we have been inhumanly attacked since 2007 by authorities who boast that they are devout Buddhists," said another monk, referring to the crackdown on the 2007 monk-led Saffron Revolution.

Since the raid, small protests against the crackdown have erupted across Rangoon, and six people actively involved have been charged with inciting unrest.

However, the police did not interfere with yesterday's demonstration, nor were there any security forces to be seen during the hour-long rally.

Earlier this month, officials, including the religious affairs minister, apologized to the Sangha Mahanayaka, a senior monks body, for what happened during the raid.

"The government is going in the wrong direction. They are apologizing to those who were not affected by their attack," said Buddhist monk Aggha, 27, after reading out a five-point statement that included calls for a presidential apology, the immediate release of those detained and medical care for injured monks.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Buddhist monks in Mandalay, Burma's second largest city, and Monywa, a town near the copper mine, also staged protests yesterday.

In the wake of the raid, the government urgently formed a 16-member investigation commission headed by the Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to probe the incident and whether the mine should continue to operate. It has to submit its findings by Dec. 31.


China vows to respect findings of mine probe

Myanmar Times

10 December 2012

China's ambassador to Myanmar has said his country will accept the decision of the Letpadaung Investigation Commission provided its report is balanced and accurate but warned that halting the controversial mine project will harm Myanmar's image with foreign investors.

The commission, which was formed on December 1 and is chaired by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, has been tasked with probing whether the copper mine project is in the long-term interests of the state and the people and to submit a report with recommendations by the end of January 2013.

"We will accept [its recommendations] if they have good advice to create stronger mutual cooperation between Myanmar and China," Mr Li Junhua told reporters at the Chinese embassy in Yangon on December 7.

He said he welcomed Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's explanation at a press conference on December 6 about how the commission planned to approach its tasks and her emphasis on negotiation.

"Our embassy and company are ready to cooperate with the commission so that the correct result comes out," Mr Li said. "We also expect that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's commission will give report fairly [so that] people understand about the project and believe [it is worth continuing] the project."

However, Mr Li refused to say how China would respond if the commission decided the project should be stopped.

He said that unhappiness over Chinese investments in Myanmar focused on only two projects - the Myitsone dam and Letpadaung mine expansion - and the main criticisms were over relocation and compensation, environmental impacts and profit sharing.

"We made a contract with Myanmar after jointly discussing all issues, such as relocation, compensation, environmental protection and profit sharing, through bilateral negotiations that meet Myanmar's laws and regulations. However, these problems happened because people lack access to this information. So, they misunderstand," he said.

"If people aren't content with [the project] they can claim their wants in right ways. If both sides get angry and make confrontation, we cannot get any agreement. Moreover, if they stop the project without knowing detailed information, there is no benefit for both sides in the future."

Mr Li said the Chinese investor in the Monywa copper mine project, Wanbao mining, began partnering with army-run Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (UMEHL) in 2010. Wanbao is a subsidiary of state-owned arms manufacturer China North Industries Corporation, better known as Norinco.

Under the terms of the 30-year contract for the Letpadaung expansion at Monywa, Wanbao will invest US$1 billion, he said, with the Myanmar government to receive 16.8 percent of the profits, followed by UMEHL with 13.8pc and Wanbao with 13.3pc.

He said the company had paid more than $5 million in compensation for the more than 6000 acres confiscated for the expansion - or about $830 an acre - and built more than 200 replacement homes, as well as a school, monastery and hospital.

He said Myanmar's relations with China would not be affected if the project is cancelled but warned it could dissuade other Chinese companies from investing in Myanmar.

Responding to rumours that Wanbao supplied the weapons police used to break up a protest camp near Letpadadaung on November 29, a clash that resulted in scores of monks suffering injuries, he said it would be the job of the investigation commission to ascertain the truth.

"We should not allege Wanbao produces weapons, although their mother company, Norinco, produces weapons. Wanbao produces mainly copper and doesn't produce weapons. I say openly, I don't know where these weapons come from that were used by the police. I have not yet got any information [to indicate the] company gave these weapons [to the police]. Now, commission is investigating this case so we will know clearly when its report comes out," he said.

He also declined to comment further on the protests at the mine, saying only that China didn't "want to criticise and interfere in the internal issues of another country", but added that he felt "sad" when he heard people saying they didn't want Chinese companies to invest in Myanmar.

He said Chinese companies would be more transparent about their dealings in Myanmar in future to avoid the problems that have plagued the Letpadaung project.

"We will give information openly to the public if the government and [partners are] also willing to do so," he said.

"These current problems are a challenge for the Chinese government and our companies. But we expect these problems to last only a short period and we can solve them by negotiation for mutual benefit."


Weapons used in protest crackdown were meant for Kachin war

Kachinland News

4 December 2012

A police officer from No. 16 police battalion in Sagaing Division said the weapons used to crackdown on Letpadaung protesters on Nov 29 were meant for Kachin war.

The authorities used incendiary phosphorus shells to disperse Buddhist monks and local villagers who have been protesting the expansion of a copper mine project, a joint venture between China's Wangbao Mining Ltd. and Burmese military-owned Union of Myanmar Economics Holdings Ltd., near Monywa.

It is unknown how phosphorus shells were mixed up with tear gas bombs used to disperse protesters in riots.

Burmese army just recently sent 8 infantry battalions from Monywa-based North Western Command to Kachin battlefields to reinforce frontline units.

After suffering high casualties, Burmese Army resorted to use mortar and artillery shells filled with chemical agents in battles against Kachin Independence Army, said a KIA officer. Chemical weapons were reportedly used in battles at Gara-yang, Shwe Nyaung Pin, Sanggang, and Pang Hkawn Yang.

An unusual yellow rain fell was reported in Maija-yang town and surrounding areas near China-Burma border after Burmese army fired a number of artillery shells filled with chemical agents in November of last year. Yellowish residue left on roofs and plant leaves by the rain stirred fears among Maija-yang residents at that time.


KIO condemns government's violent crackdown on Letpadaung protesters

Kachiland News

3 December 2012

Kachin Independence Organization released a statement on Monday condemning government's violent crackdown on Buddhist monks and local civilians. KIO's statement said it hoped public to freely express their will and opinion under current reformed government but government violently suppressed peaceful protesters in Letpadaung on Nov 29. KIO central committee, in the statement, expressed empathy with the monks and local civilians and condemned injustice and violence against protesters.

Kachin Alliance, a network of Kachin communities and organizations in the United States, also condemned the brutal crackdown of peaceful protesters at the Letpadaung copper mine project. The press statement by Kachin Alliance said, "We are outraged by the extent of unwarranted force used against unarmed civilians, peacefully standing up for their rights.

"We stand in solidarity with the Letpadaung protesters, and wish to express our sympathy and support for the scores injured in the crackdown, many of whom are Buddhist monks. We deplored all violence against the monks and villagers as unacceptable. Despite reform rhetoric, government's actions on peaceful Letpadaung protesters show the culture of violence still widely exists in Burma."

Kachin Alliance's statement also said, "We empathize with the Letpadaung cause as more than any other ethnic group; we have borne the brunt of the adverse effects of the government's ill-conceived joint ventures with the Chinese state-owned companies, from the Myitsone dam to the oil and gas pipelines to China.

The demand for a halt to the Letpadaung copper mine is just and timely, before irreparable damage is done to the environment and the livelihood of surrounding communities. We support the protesters in their determination to stand firm in their demands for the safety of their land and livelihood, as the impact will be felt not only in their generation but for generations to come."


Protesting gold miners claim homes destroyed

The Irrawaddy

13 December 2012

Protesting gold miners in Mandalay Division have accused the Myanmar National Prosperity Public Company (MNPPC) of destroying their homes in a bid to prevent them returning to mountains 40 miles (64 km) from Yamethin Township.

Around 70 workers at Moehti Moemi gold mines claim their houses by the worksite have been torn down since the end of last month by the project's controlling company in order to thwart their attempts to restart work.

"We have not been allowed to go back to our homes in Moehti Moemi since our four leaders were arrested in Yayni Township on Nov. 23," said Hlaing Myo Aung, who has worked in the mine for more than 11 years.

The gold miners said their houses are being torched after the company told individual gold miners to leave project's "living zone."

"Two special security forces of around 200 people went to each living zone and told the small gold miners to move," said Hlaing Myo Aung. "The company asked for them to move around 30 houses from zone six and then they set fire to around eight houses including my home on Nov. 29." The local monastery and compound were also destroyed, he added.

Local sources claim the special force involved was formed by MNPPC Manager Soe Htun Shein, and that the company wants to consolidate its position running the mine without independent competitors taking a cut.

Tens of thousands of gold miners began protesting in the first week of June after the MNPPC told them to halt work in the 6,000-acre Moehti Moemi area.

The company reached a verbal agreement with around 1,000 small mining companies and individual miners in December 2011, which allowed them to excavate gold from the area for the length of its five-year government contract. MNCCP is contracted to supply the Ministry of Mining with a certain amount of gold, while the smaller companies would receive half the ore that they excavated and contribute the rest.

The miners called off their protest after negotiations in mid-June as their demands-to be allowed to continue mining, receive compensation for loss of earnings and investment, gain access to mining machinery and be allowed to continue working on a profit-sharing basis as before-were all granted by the MNPPC.

The protest then arose once again after miners complained that compensation was not paid to all those affected and the company was breaking the June agreement. Miners then marched from Rangoon to Naypyidaw in November but were stopped by the authorities en route and the protest leaders were arrested.

Gold miners had a meeting with the Yamethin provincial administrator on Wednesday during which they were told negotiations would be held on the following Monday.

The miners are demanding to be able to keep working in the area, have guarantees regarding work and that those detained are set free. "As their leaders are not yet freed, the date has been moved to next Monday," said Myo Thein, the leader of the Yamethin branch of the main opposition National League for Democracy party.

"As they have a formal written agreement instead of a verbal one, when gold is found the company tends to tell the small miners to stop mining. And that's the problem."

Four leading miners-Saw Naung, Ye Yint Htun, Nay Htet Aung and Naing Win-were arrested three weeks ago and are now being detained at Taungoo Prison after they were charged with incitement under Section 505(b) of the Burmese Penal Code at Yaytarshay Township Court.

Although the authorities in Rangoon bailed leading protesters against the government's brutal crackdown on the Letpadaung copper mine, who were also charged with 505(b), the gold miners claim that their leaders have not been allowed bail.

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