MAC: Mines and Communities

Burmese government rejects independent report on copper protests

Published by MAC on 2013-02-19
Source: The Irrawaddy, Eleven Media Group, AFP, DVB (2013-02-16)

"Land grabs" in emerging economies "wreak havoc on human rights"

The Burmese government has rejected an independent report that confirms earlier allegations of the use of white phosphorus to put down protests against the country's now-infamous Letpadaung copper expansion project. See: Continued controversy around Burmese mining

President Thein Sein says he'll only accept the findings of a commission, which is led by Aung San Suu Kyi, although it has already missed two deadlines to deliver its judgments on the issue.

Meanwhile, the still-conflict torn country has been cited as the "latest flashpoint in an alarming trend" of global land grabs, which "continue to wreak havoc on economic development and human rights around the world".

Two reports, released earlier this month, warn investors in emerging economies - including Burma - that they risk financial and public relations disasters if local people resist the seizure of their resources.

Fraud, Excessive Force Used at Letpadaung Mine: Report

By Simon Roughneen

The Irrawaddy

14 February 2013

KUALA LUMPUR - An investigation by lawyers and activists says that Burmese authorities used "excessive force" on protesters at the Letpadaung copper mine in Sagaing Division during a crackdown last Nov. 29.

The report, released today in Rangoon, says that police used weapons, "including military-issue white phosphorus weapons," to burn camps and inflict second- and third-degree burns on over 100 monks and villagers at the protest site.

The publication of these findings-from an unofficial investigation undertaken by the Lawyers Network (Myanmar) and Justice Trust (USA)-comes two weeks after an official inquiry, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma's opposition leader, missed a Jan. 31 deadline to publish its findings on the mine.

Roger Normand, director of Justice Trust, said that the actions of the Burmese police in carrying out a domestic law enforcement operation were out of the ordinary.

"It is unheard of for police to use incendiary military munitions against peaceful protesters during a law enforcement operation. This raises questions of senior-level command responsibility for resulting crimes and violations of people's constitutional and human rights," he said.

According to the report, on the morning of Nov. 29, "sometime before 3:00 am, the police threw a grenade just in front of the camp, next to the front line of protesters. The device sparked and fizzled like fireworks on the ground for several moments, then exploded with a loud sound and scattered many small white-yellow fireballs. Everything that the fireballs touched instantly burst into flames despite the area being soaked in water. The covering tarps and blankets used by protesters for shelter and protection caught fire. The monks' robes and villagers' clothing also caught fire."

The report added that "the substance continued to burn through clothes, skin, and flesh with a bright white-yellow glow that lasted for several minutes. Those who were burned badly had skin and flesh fall off their bodies. The injured reported suffering intense pain."

The researchers said in late January that the laboratory tests on material taken from the crackdown site indicated that white phosphorus had been used by police. The researchers said at the time that they were awaiting the publication of the Aung San Suu Kyi-led commission's report before publishing their own findings. The lapsing of the Jan. 31 deadline was the second time that the report has been delayed, after an initial deadline of Dec. 31 was postponed.

The official commission was approved by Burma's Parliament on Nov. 23, prior to the crackdown, raising concerns about whether the official investigation's mandate would include looking into the police action on Nov. 29.

The Lawyers Network and Justice USA say that the Burma's President Thein Sein "must ensure that a Government inquiry commission is given the mandate to investigate the police action and recommend prosecution for those found responsible for violations," and added that Burmese officials as well as the military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (UMEHL) and its Chinese partner in the project, Wanbao, should be held accountable for any role the crackdown.

Prior to the crackdown, which prompted a government apology, the researchers say that local officials coerced and tricked villagers and farmers into giving up their land and subsequently denied them permission to protest.

Aung Thein of the Lawyers Network (Myanmar) said that tactics used by officials to get villagers to give up their land were illegal. "The use of coercion and fraud to force villagers to sign contracts is illegal. Under Burmese law these contracts are invalid and can be rescinded by the villagers," he said.

The report says that local officials stepped outside their mandate as civil servants, effectively representing the interests of Wanbao and UMEHL in their dealings with local residents.

The mine has been running under its current ownership since 2010, with Wanbao saying it plans to invest US $1 billion at Letpadaung over 30 years. Wanbao and UMEHL said they have paid out over $5 million in compensation to farmers for land used in the project expansion, which the companies say will allow the production about 100,000 tonnes of 99.9 percent pure copper a year, with 78 percent of workers at the plant to be local hires.

Letpadaung is by some estimates the biggest copper mine in Southeast Asia, and is run as a joint venture Wanbao and UMEHL.

The mine has long been shrouded in controversy, with Canadian company Ivanhoe divesting itself of its holding in 2007 after pressure from rights activists and after disputes over revenue with the Burmese military government. Wanbao's parent company, Chinese state-owned arms manufacturer Norinco, subsequently acquired rights to the mine.

Norinco President Zhang Guoqing met President Thein Sein and senior army officials in the capital Naypyidaw on Christmas Day, less than a week before the first deadline for Suu Kyi's commission to complete its work.

After the meeting, Burma's Lower House Speaker Shwe Mann was reported by China's Xinhua news agency as saying that Burma would "responsibly implement the agreements between governments and between companies, including that between the Norinco Group and the [Burmese] side, stressing bilateral cooperation will not weaken despite some difficulties."


Myanmar rejects 'white phosphorus' claim report

AFP

16 February 2013

YANGON - Myanmar on Saturday dismissed an independent report that alleged security forces used white phosphorus in a crackdown on a copper mine protest last year, which left dozens of people injured.

The pre-dawn raid on protest camps at the Chinese-backed mine in northern Myanmar in November was the toughest clampdown on demonstrators since a reformist government came to power in early 2011.

A network of lawyers sent a canister discovered at the site in Monywa to a laboratory overseas which was found to contain military-issue white phosphorus that can lead to serious injuries, their report said.

But presidential spokesman Ye Htut dismissed the report without commenting on its findings, saying the government would only recognise a separate parliamentary probe being conducted by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

"We do not study or give comment on individual inquiries," he told AFP, adding that the report could "disturb" the work of Suu Kyi's commission.

The lawyers group, which submitted its findings to the Nobel laureate in late January, this week released a final draft of its report claiming government forces used "excessive force" in breaking up the mine demonstration.

It added that senior local officials acted on behalf of the mine -- a joint venture between Chinese firm Wanbao and military-owned Myanmar Economic Holdings -- and "misused their powers to punish villagers opposed to selling their land".

Activists said about 100 people were injured in the crackdown. Some suffered severe burns. The government has since apologised to senior Buddhist clerics over injuries sustained by monks who were at the forefront of the protest.

President Thein Sein's office initially said that tear gas and smoke bombs were used against the protesters, but denied allegations by local media that a form of chemical weapon was deployed.

Chinese-backed projects to tap Myanmar's abundant natural resources have sparked resentment among local residents. Opponents are calling for work at the mine to be suspended to allow environmental and social impact studies.

Suu Kyi's commission was originally supposed to present its findings by the end of January, but the date has been postponed, with members of the inquiry suggesting a decision would not be before late February.

 


China requests Myanmar people to be patient until copper mine project report

Eleven Media Group

12 February 2013

China's Wanbao Company has requested Myanmar public to be patient until the release of the final report regarding an investigation being made by the government into a controversial Chinese-backed copper mine project in Central Myanmar.

Wanbao Company's branch in Myanmar made the request on January 28 by issuing a statement.

The statement said the company was implementing the Latpadaung copper mine project in Monywa Township, Sagaing Region, in accord with Myanmar's existing laws. It believed that the government would protect the legal business interest of foreign investors. The company would continue the project by resolving the ongoing controversy in an amicable and coordinated manner, it added.

The statement also said that the company had transparently cooperated with the investigation commission, which was formed in last December, during its inspection of the project, and the upcoming report would carry correct facts and situations.

The Chinese company therefore has strongly requested the Myanmar media and local people alike to keep calm until the final report comes out together with the directive from the President's Office. And all are required to respect that report, the statement said.

When the Eleven Media asked how the Chinese company would do if the copper mine project was cancelled, Myint Thein, manager from the Myanmar Wanbao Co in Yangon, said on Saturday that such a situation was not expected.

The project is being implemented by military-owned Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited and China's Wanbao Company.

Local people last year staged a days-long protest against the project for environmental and social impacts on the region by setting camps in the project area. Riot police however cracked down the protest camps in last November injuring more than 100, mostly Buddhist monks.

After the police's serious crackdown, the government formed a special investigation commission to probe into the project appointing Aung San Suu Kyi, Lower House MP and chair of the parliament's rule of law and stability committee, as chairperson in December.

The commission submitted an interim report to President Thein Sein on January 19.

Details about the investigation will be released after the final report, according to the commission.


Burma ‘latest flashpoint' in global land grabbing epidemic

Agence France Presse and Democratic Voice of Burma

11 February 2013

Burma has become the "latest flashpoint in an alarming trend" of global land grabs, which continue to wreak havoc on economic development and human rights around the world, two new reports have warned.

Two reports released last week warned that investors in land and resources in emerging economies, including Burma, risk financial and public relations disasters if local inhabitants feel they are getting ripped off.

"Rarely have local communities - and ultimately their national governments - prospered through this development model," said Lou Munden from the Munden Project. "It's even more astounding given that investors often fail to prosper as well. This model proved unsustainable in 2012, nowhere more apparent than in Liberia. And now the conflict in Kachin shows that Myanmar [Burma] could be the next country to fail with this approach."

As Burma slowly emerges from five decades of military rule, international companies have been lining up to invest in the country's vast natural resources, which include precious stones, oil, natural gas and timber. Last week, the government formally clarified the country's new foreign direct investment law for the extractive industries, which will allow foreign firms to hold 100% stakes in oil and gas projects and removes the minimum capital investments previously required. The government is also in the process of liberalising its mining laws.

But most of Burma's resources are found in its volatile border regions, plagued by decades of civil war with ethnic minority rebels fighting for greater autonomy and rights. Despite inking tentative ceasefire deals with most armed group, the central government has stepped up its assault against Kachin rebels in northern Burma, where over 90,000 people have been displaced since June 2011.

"The conflict in the north of Myanmar, like so many around the world, has its roots in land and resource rights - including community forest rights," said Maung Maung Than, project coordinator for The Center for People and Forests. "The leadership of previous governments guiding Myanmar started a race to sell off our natural resources, and our livelihoods have become collateral damage in the process. As our country opens up to the outside world, we need to stay focused on reducing poverty, not increasing it."

For Andy White, the coordinator of Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) in Washington, "the mining sector is the most exposed because it needs a lot of investments." He told AFP: "The mining sector is a ticking time bomb all across Africa and now in Myanmar."

RRI said that "the pace of deforestation in [Burma] has raced forward unabated." Dense forest cover, for example, has declined precipitously, from 45.6 percent of the land in 1990 to just 19.9 percent in 2010, warned the group.

Meanwhile, the Munden Project highlighted the economic risks for companies investing in unstable regions. "When we looked at companies involved in international land acquisitions, we found that they experience an astonishing amount of financial damage," said founder Lou Munden.

This ranged from "massively increased operating costs, as much as 29 times above a normal baseline scenario, to outright abandonment of functional operations when they ignore pre-existing or customary local land rights." Munden emphasised that the financial risks were many and varied from delays in construction timetables to the expropriation of assets "following the loss of insurance coverage."

He commented that "even more troubling, the escalation of risk can be extremely rapid", and that conventional techniques for managing risk were inadequate for coping with insecure local land tenure.

President Thein Sein famously suspended the Chinese-backed Myitsone hydropower dam in Kachin state in September 2011, after a massive backlash from civil society groups over its environmental and social impacts. The China Power Investment Corporation (CPI), which ran the project, subsequently claimed to have suffered "immeasurable" financial losses.


Investors who trample land rights risk bottom line: experts - Anne Chaon

Agence France Presse

10 February 2012

Companies that invest in land and resources in emerging economies risk financial and public relations disasters if local inhabitants feel they are getting ripped off, consultants warned in a report last week.

Many multinational companies are buying stakes in Myanmar's Special Economic Zones. But experts warn that they would be wise not to turn a blind eye to the inevitable eviction of farmers and villagers from their ancestral lands as the projects devour the surrounding areas.

The report was released by a group known as the Munden Project and founder Lou Munden said: "When we looked at companies involved in international land acquisitions, we found that they experience an astonishing amount of financial damage."

This ranged from "massively increased operating costs, as much as 29 times above a normal baseline scenario, to outright abandonment of functional operations when they ignore pre-existing or customary local land rights."

The report was entitled "The Financial Risks of Insecure Land Tenure: An Investment View," and Munden emphasised that the financial risks were many and varied from delays in construction timetables to the expropriation of assets "following the loss of insurance coverage."

He commented that "even more troubling, the escalation of risk can be extremely rapid", and that conventional techniques for managing risk were inadequate for coping with insecure local land tenure.

Projects go wrong when local people feel they have not been adequately compensated and are being deprived of their land, jobs, water and forests.

This can lead to disruption of many kinds, from roadblocks to frequent acts of sabotage and other forms of violence. An investing company which then turns to local authorities to put down the resistance can find that its international image is badly damaged.

The report cited the case of Malaysian industrial group Sime Darby in Liberia which had to suspend the plantation of oil-bearing palm trees in the north of the country under pressure from local communities, and had to renegotiate the amounts paid for land.

Another example occurred in Chile where Chilean company SN Power had to abandon a hydroelectric project with the loss of $23 million already invested because it had not obtained approval from native populations.

An attempt by a biofuels company SEKAB to buy land in Tanzania for a huge plantation which would affect the environment ran into controversy and cost the company more than $20 million.

For Andy White, the coordinator of Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) in Washington, "the mining sector is the most exposed because it needs a lot of investments."

He told AFP: "The mining sector is a ticking time bomb all across Africa and now in Myanmar."

RRI said that "the pace of deforestation in the country (Myanmar)...has raced forward unabated."

The project coordinator for the Center for People and Forests, Maung Maung Than, said that a conflict in the north of Myanmar "like so many around the world, has its roots in community forest rights and land tenure."

White said: "It is hard to believe that national governments still embrace unfettered natural resource extraction, turning over valuable land to international investors and domestic elite.

"In this equation, long-term economic gain is often sacrificed for short-term cash."

Referring to the example of Liberia, and to a failed venture in Orissa, India, by the mining firm Vedanta which damaged its credit rating, White told AFP: "we have a turning point...investors will have to go to London or New York to borrow money."

He commented: "The financial sector will eventually understand that all this is unsound, it's a house of cards."

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