MAC: Mines and Communities

Burma: the "Win and the Wang" of the Letpadaung copper conflict

Published by MAC on 2013-03-25
Source: The Irrawaddy, DVB, Khaing Khaing

China's special envoy to Burma, Wang Yinfan, has adopted a conciliatory attitude to those who have risen up in opposition to the Letpadaung copper mining operations.

He admits there have been shortcomings in the recent past, adding: "We have to prove with our acts that the contract is beneficial for both countries and both peoples, including the local population".

For his part, Win Tin, the "patriach" of the National League for Democracy, headed by Aung San Suu Kyi, says the mine has created the "greatest conflict" faced by his party in the past two years.

Suu Kyi recently called on the local population at Letpadaung to desist from protesting against the mine. See: Burma: Suu Kyi tells communities to halt copper mining protests

According to Win Tin:."From the beginning I wasn't happy to work with the military, but Aung San Suu Kyi has a very lenient and generous opinion of military figures...[T]hey have put themselves in a very strong position with the Constitution. They have people everywhere - in Parliament, in the civil service, in every part of the economy - they rule everything."

NLD Patriarch Defends Suu Kyi's Copper Mine Position

By Eric Randolph

The Irrawaddy

18 March 2013

RANGOON - Opposition figurehead Win Tin has defended Aung San Suu Kyi's role in the controversial copper mine commission that triggered mass protests last week, saying "this is how leaders should behave."

Suu Kyi faced hundreds of protesters in the area around the Letpadaung copper mine after a parliamentary commission, which she chaired, said the project should not be canceled despite environmental concerns.

Win Tin, the 82-year-old patriarch of the National League for Democracy (NLD) who spent 19 years as a political prisoner, admitted the dispute was the greatest challenge the party had faced since Suu Kyi was released from detention over two years ago.

"Many people feel she should not have taken this position [on the future of the project], and there are fears that she is absorbing the criticism that should rightly go to the military," said Win Tin at his home in central Rangoon.

"But there is also admiration for her bravery and courage to face up to big problems like this. This is how leaders should behave."

Locals remain adamant in their opposition to the copper mine, which is a joint venture between the army-backed Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd and China's Wenbao Group, a subsidiary of arms manufacturer Norinco.

"She is the only one that can handle this problem. If the military had dealt with this, the problems would have become much deeper."

Win Tin also spoke about his hopes for the future of the NLD in the wake of last week's first-ever party congress.

"We have some disputes and problems but overall our elections at grassroots were successful. In the past we were very centralized [as a party], but in the future we have vowed to hold more democratic dialogue," he said, referring to criticisms that the party is tightly controlled by an aging group of veteran leaders.

He said the party had made efforts to welcome new blood, with eight younger members brought into the Central Executive Committee alongside seven 'old hands.'

"Before this congress, we didn't know what sort of people were coming. There were elections in 15,000 wards and villages across the country and we didn't know about their education level or political inclination. Some may be quite unfamiliar with political matters, but we have started training and will do it very seriously."

He also reiterated his concerns over the close relationship Suu Kyi has evolved with the military.

The military "have played this game very well," he said. "Not because they have softened their ideas, but because they have put themselves in a very strong position with the Constitution. They have people everywhere - in Parliament, in the civil service, in every part of the economy - they rule everything.

"From the beginning I wasn't happy to work with the military, but Aung San Suu Kyi has a very lenient and generous opinion of military figures. It is not just a tactic, she has been saying this for many years."

Chinese Companies Must Act Responsibly: Envoy

By Patrick Boehler

The Irrawaddy

18 March 2013

RANGOON - Chinese companies should improve their sense of social responsibility when operating in Burma, China's Special Envoy Wang Yingfan told a group of selected Burmese opposition politicians, scholars and journalists in Rangoon on Saturday.

Wang tried to dispel grievances that have strained Burma's relations with its biggest foreign investor, ranging from China's role in the military conflict in Kachin State to cross-border crime and environmental protection.

The septuagenarian former ambassador to the United Nations is one of China's most eminent diplomats. Wang has dealt with China's hottest foreign policy topics including the handover of Hong Kong and Macao to the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999 and the country's territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

His visit to Naypyidaw and Rangoon coincides with a visit by the American special envoy to Burma, W. Patrick Murphy, who has made the ethnic tensions in Arakan State the focus of his trip.

Wang praised the recently issued report on the controversial Letpadaung copper mine, which is partly run by a subsidiary of a Chinese defense manufacturer, for its detail and level of transparency. "It says clearly that there have been many shortcomings. If t his project is to go ahead, both sides have much do."

During a protest against the mine in November dozens of people, including monks, were left injured after police used white phosphorus smoke grenades to disperse the crowds. A commission chaired by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi issued the report on the crackdown, the legality and environmental impact of the investment last Tuesday.

"When we signed this contract, it relied on the environmental legislation of your country at the time. Now, you have raised the environmental standards," Wang said. "These companies should have a sense of responsibility towards society."

"We have to prove with our acts that the contract is beneficial for both countries and both peoples, including the local population," Wang said.

"Chinese companies have just started to go abroad," he said. "We lack international experience and we lack relevant human capital. Chinese companies going abroad are very weak in their public relations work, but they will improve."

Wang said that he has yet to meet representatives of Chinese companies investing in Burma. "I will try to find time to meet them when I return to China," he said.

He denied allegations that China was artificially prolonging the civil war in Kachin State, which has re-erupted in June 2011. Wang, who chaired peace talks between the Kachin Independence Organization and the Burmese government in the border town Ruili a week ago said that Chinese interests suffered from further hostilities. "Peace serves our interests much better," he said.

China has hosted several rounds of talks between the two sides over the last two years. Accidental shelling of Chinese territory during the Burmese army's Christmas offensive against the KIA had prompted a furious response by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Chinese air force denied local reports that Burmese jets used Chinese airspace when attacking KIA positions.

"Many of our interests, including some economic projects, have suffered from the fighting," he said. "We are among those who lost out."

He said that China has told both sides that the war has to end. "In order to solve the conflict, fighting is unacceptable. A military solution is unacceptable."

Wang said that China has investigated reports of supplies of armaments to the Kachin Independence Army and "dealt with the issue."

"Neither the Chinese government nor the military will support the Kachin side to continue the war," he said. "The providing of weapons is out of the question."

Wang called on Burmese authorities to work more closely with China in combating cross-border crime. "We can share intelligence and take measures together," he said.

Last year has marked a peak in arrests and seizures of smuggled goods at the border. Border police confiscated 1,143 arms and five tons of drugs in 2012, according to the Yunnan Police Security Bureau. Yunnan police said they deported 5,228 Burmese civilians and stopped 85 militiamen from entering China. Jade supply in China has dwindled after a crackdown on illegal imports from Burma.

"Are there many shady things happening in the border areas? Yes, there are. But these things are not our government's policy," Wang said.

"China has illegal traders, smugglers, crooks, even some big crooks that come to your country and defraud your government and companies," he said. "China's central government and the provincial government in Yunnan have a clear policy: We do not support any illegal behavior."

President Thein Sein will discuss these matters with his new Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping during a visit to Beijing scheduled for early April, Wang said. The visit would be Thein Sein's third trip to the country since he assumed the presidency in March 2011. He last held talks with Xi in Septe mber, when the then Chinese vice-president called on Burma to guarantee the "smooth implementation of major cooperation projects."

"Changes are fast, changes are momentous," Wang said on Saturday. "The Chinese leadership supports Burma's opening up. There are so many requests and expectations coming from the Burmese government. We pay attention to them."

Among those who attended the meeting with Wang were the leader of the National Democratic Force, Khin Maung Swe, the National League for Democracy's Nyan Win and former exiled activist Aung Naing Oo, who is now working at the Myanmar Peace Center. The Chinese diplomat's repeated efforts to engage them in a conversation was for the most part met with with cordial, yet strained silence.

China's new ambassador to Burma Yang Houlan, a career diplomat with previous postings in Afghanistan and Nepal, is set to arrive in Rangoon next week.

Suu Kyi squares off with protestors for second day

Democratic Voice of Burma

14 March 2013

Aung San Suu Kyi confronted hundreds of disgruntled residents in central Burma on Thursday, as anger continues to mount over her failure to oppose the development of a controversial Chinese-backed mine nearby.

The Lady drifted between utter exhaustion and rage as she argued with residents in Tonywa village following the release of her commission's controversial report earlier this week, which said the Latpadaung copper mine project in Monywa should continue, despite widespread local opposition.

"You said you wouldn't trick the people!!" sobbed one local. "Don't come here Daw Suu - we feel bad for General Aung San's name."

Although the report called for locals to be "compensated" for the loss of their land, many have insisted that both the preservation of the mountain and the environ ment were equally important. But Suu Kyi only asked: "Why do they want the mountain?"

"Farmers aren't capable of doing office work and their livelihoods are deteriorating and the religious buildings [sponsored] by the farmers are also going to be destroyed, and for that around 200 local villagers are still protesting at a camp on the Leikhun Hill," said an angry local man. "How are you going to guarantee their lives?"

At one point Suu Kyi asked why some protestors had not attended the town hall meeting. "They said they don't want to see you. They said they cannot accept your report at all," retorted the man.

When asked if the residents had read the report, he said they had but burned it immediately after.

Emotions throughout the day were at a fever pitch. Some protestors cried, while others screamed as Suu Kyi travelled to two villages near the Latpadaung mine to defend her commission's report and cons ult with locals.

At one point, Suu Kyi's security detail had to physically restrain one local and outside of Tonywa village, locals surrounded her vehicle to voice their complaints, while the opposition icon stared listlessly into the mob.

Less than a year after joining the country's quasi-civilian parliament, the famed democracy icon has courted a series of controversies, including her silence on ethnic minority rights. But this week's protests represent the Lady's biggest confrontation yet with grassroots communities inside Burma.

The Latpadaung Copper Mining project is a joint venture between military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings and its Chinese partner Wanbao, which is owned by an arms manufacturer.

The project has led to the confiscation of about 7,800 acres of farmland in total and forced farmers from 66 villages in the area to relocate. In November, police used water cannons and incendiary devices to disperse protestors, of which about 100, mostly monks, were seriously burned.

An independent investigation claimed riot police had used military-issued white phosphorous against the demonstrators, but the official commission, chaired by Suu Kyi, insisted that the fire was ignited by phosphorous present in the smoke canisters. Her report also did not call for the prosecution of anyone responsible for ordering the crackdown, but rather placed the blame on "poor" training of riot police.

The Latpadaung case has helped highlight the rise in land grabs in the country. Legal experts claim Burma's shaky legal infrastructure allows for the forced relocation and appropriations to continue unhindered. But farmers are also feeling increasingly empowered to challenge authorities, who confiscated thousands of acres of land during five decades of military rule in Burma.

Latpadaung farmers disagree over compensation

Khaing Khaing

20 March 2013

Farmers in the area surrounding the Latpadaung copper mine have told Mizzima that they have had to accept compensation for their seized farms because of waste earth dumped on their lands; however, some farmers have refused to accept the amount of compensation offered.

"We cannot work on our farmland after they dumped the waste earth from the copper mine production, so we might as well accept their compensation," said Naing, a farmer who lives in the village closest to the site.

Myint Naing, another local villager, explained that they received 1 million kyat (US$1,130) per acre as compensation and that the villagers from this village cannot work on their farmlands anymore after their lands were bulldozed.

"First, they said the compensation would be 500,000 kyat per acre ($565) but they paid actually 1 million kyat ($1,130). More than 50 farmers from our village accepted this compensation with full satisfaction. We don't know yet what the remaining 20 farmers will do," said Myint Naing.

Myint Myint Aye from Mogyopyin north village said that they did not accept this compensation money for their farmlands as they are still protesting against the copper mine project.

"The compensation money has been issued in our village since March 17, but the villagers will not accept it," she said.

Aye Aye Khaing from new Tone village said that they could not accept the compensation as it was much lower than the current market price of 4 million kyat ($4,545).

"We have not accepted this money since we have not yet signed the agreement with Wanbao and the compensation amount is too low," she said.

On March 19, state-run newspaper The New Light of Myanmar reported that the land compensation for seized farmlands had been issued to the villagers in the copper mine project area, with 335.1 million kyat ($380,000) paid to 111 farmers in Phaungkatar and Ywashe villages on March 17, and that 559.8 million kyat ($635,568) had been paid to 163 farmers between March 16-17.Myint Naing said that bank branches of Myanmar Economic Bank, Myawaddy Bank and Yoma Bank were reportedly opened for depositing compensation money but that he had not seen the banks yet.

Suu Kyi's unsteady pedestal - Myat Thu Pan

Mizzima News

19 March 2013

Something is not right.

It seems Aung San Suu Kyi is taking on what should have been the government's job. Her work on the Latpadaung Inquiry Commission was to find facts-not to make decisions for the government, because she does not lead the government. Thein Sein does.

Suu Kyi can make recommendations as decided by the Commission but that does not mean the government is going to do everything the Commission recommends. That was not made clear to the villagers by Suu Kyi from the start of the Commission's work.

Presumably there is confusion in the villagers' minds about the approach Suu Kyi took in presenting the report. They look upon her as if she were the decision-maker. And of course she has assumed the role of talking and responding to the villagers as if she were the decision-maker. That, of co urse, lets Thein Sein off the hook.

Whatever it is she needs to take stock of to remedy the situation, the damage has already been done. Recovering her composure is going to be a big challenge; she has fallen off the pedestal that the general public built for her.

It may not be in her best interests to pursue the course she is taking. By asking the question, "Why do they want to keep this mountain?" she is making the most damaging statement of all, exposing the chasmal gulf between herself and the villagers.

She is clearly talking with her head not with her heart. Does she expect these aggrieved villagers to accept her explanation that by allowing the copper mine to proceed they are helping the national economy? Are rural people dispossessed from their lands expected to be empathetic to the role of foreign investors or the geopolitical importance of Myanmar's relations with China?

Suu Kyi keeps repeating that she is not see king popularity, but that does not ease the wrath of the villagers. After all, they have lost everything-the issue is NOT about her.

Suu Kyi claims she is looking out for the future of the country; but aren't the people the future of the country?

She may be addressing only 300 people, but in reality some 40 million villagers are listening to her all over the country.

Without our mountains and forests our beautiful country could turn into a desert like the Sahara, or a region like Isarn in northern Thailand which is the victim of slash and burn farming, a region that became so unfertile that poor villagers began to sell their daughters into prostitution.

If this issue cannot be resolved peacefully, then we should anticipate explosive situations all over the country involving farmers whose land has been confiscated. They are going to be very fearful. Some may be hysterical. Once panic sets in, things may spiral out of control . Then what?

All stakeholders need to look at the near future, not just from an economic angle but from a political perspective.

Myanmar cannot be allowed to lose what it has fought so hard to gain.

Myat Thu Pan is an interested observer of the political, socioeconomic and crucial issues happening in present-day Myanmar.

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