MAC: Mines and Communities

Burma: Protests against Letpadaung copper project resume

Published by MAC on 2013-04-01
Source: The Irrawaddy, Mizzima News

Indonesian and UK mining companies set to enter the country

Recently, Aung San Suu Kyi appealed to Burmese villagers resisting the Letpadaung copper mine expansion, to accept the project. See: Burma: Suu Kyi tells communities to halt copper mining protests

However, not only have their protests been resumed; three locals are also planning to sue president Thein Sein for his alleged role in last Novembers violent crackdown.

Meanwhile, an Indonesian mining company has it sights on exploiting the country's coal resources.

And London-listed Origo Partners PLC has formed a 50/50 joint venture company with one of Burma's leading conglomerates "to identify investment opportunities across the natural resources and other sectors in Myanmar"

Hundreds resume Letpadaung mine protest

The Irrawaddy

28 March 2013

More than 300 farmers in northern Burma's Sagaing Division have resumed their protests against a controversial Chinese-backed copper mine, saying they will refuse compensation and continue to push for the mine's complete closure.

"No matter how much compensation they give, we won't accept it, because all we want is for the mine to be shut down completely," said one of the farmers from the Letpadaung area near Monywa.

The protesters are also demanding that the government take action against those responsible for a Nov. 29, 2012, crackdown that left around 100 protesters injured, some of them severely. They say they also want an emergency order banning protests lifted.

The farmers say that the mine, jointly owned by the Union of My anmar Economic Holdings Ltd, a Burmese military-owned conglomeration, and Wanbao, a subsidiary of Chinese state-owned arms manufacturer Norinco, has been dumping waste on land owned by farmers who have refused compensation.

Some of the farmers said that they have attempted to obstruct the efforts of mine employees to take over their land. "When we attempted to halt their work, they called the police to drive us back. Later some farmers used big stone slabs to fence in their confiscated lands to prevent the bulldozers," said one farmer.

"They are even trying to get us to give up our lands forever, using some of the former protest leaders to convince us. They say we will get electricity and water. But we won't accept it. We just want to stop the mining for the sake of our future generations," said another.

The protests against the mine began last year, and attracted support from activists around the country. However, farmers in the affect ed area have been divided over whether to continue their protests since a government-formed commission led by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi released a report earlier this month saying the project should go ahead.

Those still pushing for the mine's closure say they will not give up.

"The reason we don't accept the result of the commission is because it doesn't assure our future, our land and our environment, and makes no commitment to bringing the culprit behind the crackdown to justice. We will continue to protest-with permission from the authorities-until the mining stops," said one protester.

Is This the Wrong Century for Coal to be King in Burma?

William Boot

The Irrawaddy

28 March 2013

The plan by Indonesian company Bukit Asam to invest in building a coal-fired electricity-generating station in Burma is the third by a foreign business to see coal as a potential quick-fix solution to the country's woeful power shortage.

Malaysia's Mudajaya Group in February proposed building Burma's biggest power plant, a 500 megawatt coal-fueled facility in Mandalay, and Thailand's construction firm ITD earlier declared hopes for a major coal venture to power its ambitious port plans at Dawei on Burma's southeast coast.

But there are major problems associated with such aims. First, there isn't a lot of coal available. Second, the Naypyidaw government doesn't seem very keen on coal-fueled projects.

Naypyidaw blocked plans by ITD to build a massive 4,000 MW coal-fueled power station at Dawei, supposedly on environmental grounds. The Mudajaya Group says its plant is subject to what it termed feasibility studies plus copper-bottomed investment reassurances from the Mandalay authorities.

Bukit Asam meanwhile proposes a 200 MW coal power plant located at the mouth of a coal mine which probably does not exist yet. The Indonesian government-owned coal company said it planned to invest up to US $80 million in Burma.

"There is already a research team that has done a study on it," Bukit Asam's corporate secretary Joko Pramono told the Jakarta Globe newspaper, without disclosing where his firm proposed to mine in Burma.

Bukit Asam is working on a similar coal-mouth mine and power-plant investment with an international flavor as it seeks to diversify from an Indonesian coal industry suffering from a regional slump. This is in Indonesia's northern Sumatra Island, but instead of supplying electricity to the domestic market which suffers severe shortages, it is planning to export power via undersea cable across the Malacca Strait to Malaysia.

If all three Burma coal projects became a reality, they would more than double Burma's electricity-generating capacity, but concurrently there would need to be an improvement and expansion of the country's dilapidated electricity-distribution infrastructure.

Burma's main coal resources are located in the central region in about a dozen small fields dotted around Mandalay. There has not been a detailed geological survey for years and estimates of reserves range from the Ministry of Energy's 270 million tonnes to 750 million tonnes suggested by the US's Energy Information Agency.

There are only three or four mines in production on a commercial scale, delivering about 1.5 million tonnes per year. Only one of these fuels a power plant, near Pinlaung in Shan State.

Fuelling the power plants proposed by the Indonesian, Malaysian and Thai firms would require about 10 million tonnes of coal per year, depending on the efficiency of the installed equipment, Hong Kong-based energy industries analyst Vince Lomax told The Irrawaddy.

The Tigyit open-cast mine and a 120 MW power plant at Pinlaung, built by the China National Heavy Machinery Corporation in a partnership with military-linked firms, predates recent concerns for the environment voiced by President Thein Sein's government.

Built cheaply, it operates without most of the filtering technology available to reduce ash, sulphur and CO2 emissions, according to Source Watch of the US.

"If the Myanmar government is really concerned to avoid the pollution problems of some other countries in the region it might want to consider using natural gas rather than coal," analyst Lomax said. "Gas is much cleaner burning and it's a major resource in the country. On the other hand, gas turbine equipment is more expensive than plants for coal-burning systems."

Burma's Ministry of Energy has previously declared that from this year any new natural gas discoveries will be subject to priority domestic consumption rules ahead of export.

The outbreak of communal violence across central Burma has heightened concerns that the army generals might be induced to move back to take full control of the country and make foreign investors pause in committing to large capital projects. This concern has not been helped by calls for the European Union not to permanently abandon its suspended economic sanctions against Burma when they come up for review soon.

The EU only suspended its sanctions in 2012 for one year pending a review of reform progress on April 22 this year.

"We are concerned that the premature lifting of European Union sanctions will undermine the reform process in Burma, and could even encourage further serious human rights abuses," said the European Burma Network, comprising 12 NGOs from Sweden to Italy, in a statement on March 26.

"We believe that European Union members have a tendency to highlight the positives while ignoring some important and harsh realities on the ground."

The Network said the EU's conditions for finally ending sanctions have not yet been met and human rights abuses continue in Burma.

Meanwhile, the only quick-fix seemingly readily available for the Naypyidaw government to ease Burma's acute electricity shortages is more expensive and temporary portable generators.

Japanese media reported this week that Mitsubishi Heavy Industries has sent more than a dozen diesel-fueled generators to Rangoon. They have a combined electricity generating capacity of 13,000 kilowatts, or 1.3 MW-enough energy to power a few hundred homes for a few hours.

Origo forms JV with Serge Pun

Mizzima News

5 March 2013

London-listed Origo Partners PLC last week announced it had formed a 50:50 joint venture company with Serge Pun & Associates (Myanmar) Ltd, one of Myanmar's leading conglomerates, with a view "to identify investment opportunities across the natural resources and other sectors in Myanmar."

Origo's primary policy is a focus on supplying Chinese energy requirements. It owns stakes in metals and mining, notably coal, gold, copper and iron ore, and has a significant presence in Mongolia.

"Following the start of liberalisation in Myanmar, the country has the potential to become a significant supplier of goods and raw materials to global markets, in particular China, and it is hoped that the Joint Venture will enable Origo to capture this opportunity," the firm said in a statement.

"The Joint Venture will initially focus on opportunities in metals and minerals exploration, specifically in copper, gold, nickel and other mineral deposits, and is undertaking country-wide geological mapping," it said.

Origo said it was also looking into the broader natural resources sector, particularly in agriculture, where it is investigating opportunities alongside Serge Pun's affiliate Yoma Strategic Holdings Ltd.

"The Joint Venture will be headquartered in Yangon, Myanmar, within SPA's [Serge Pun's] offices allowing it access to infrastructural and logistical support," the company said.

Letpadaung Residents Make Bid to Sue Thein Sein

By Nyein Nyein

The Irrawaddy

5 March 2013

Three women from villages in the area of the controversial Letpadaung copper mine in Sagaing Division say they have moved to file a lawsuit against President Thein Sein for his alleged role in a crackdown on anti-mine protesters on Nov. 29.

The women-two from Hsetae and another from Moegyoepyin, which are among the 26 villages in the area of the copper-mine project-say they submitted their complaint to Salingyi Township Court yesterday and were told to return next Monday to find out if the case has been accepted.

The women said they named themselves as plaintiffs and Thein Sein as the accused.

Yee Yee Win, one of the plaintiffs from Hsetae, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that they decided to pursue legal action against the president because he has so far failed to hold anybody to account for the pre-dawn crackdown, which left nearly 100 protesters, including Buddhist monks, injured, some seriously.

She said that villagers from Hsetae were among the protesters, who were attacked with incendiary devices when local authorities moved to shut down their protest camp three months ago.

The Letpadaung Copper Mine project is a joint venture between the Burmese military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (UMEHL) and its Chinese partner, the Wanbao company, which is a subsidiary of Norinco, a state-owned arms manufacturer.

Local people say 7,800 acres (3,156 hectares) of farmland were confiscated from them in 2010 for the project. The protests began last year after farmers in the area said their fields were being contaminated by the waste from the mine.

After the crackdown in November, the government formed a commission headed by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to determine how the incident occurred. The villagers said they spoke with Khin San Hlaing, an MP from Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, in December, but the commission has yet to announce when it will complete its inquiry.

Aung Zaw Oo, a commission member, said they have already submitted their findings to Suu Kyi, but it was unclear if Thein Sein, who ordered the formation of the commission, has seen it yet. The president is due back in Burma on Friday after completing a 12-day trip to Europe.

The lack of any discernible progress continues to frustrate local people and others around the country. Since the protest camps were reopened on Dec. 12, large-scale demonstrations have been held on the 29th of each month to call for the closure of the mine and demand justice for the victims of the police action. (The latest protest was held on Feb. 28.)

Just as the Letpadaung case has attracted nationwide attention, similar issues in other parts of the country have also caught the notice of the anti-mine protesters.

"We don't want any more crackdowns like that," said Yee Yee Win, referring to a violent clash between police and farmers in Maubin, Irrawaddy Division, last week that left dozens of people, including policemen, injured.

"If the government ignores the suffering of villagers, there will be continuous trouble," she added.

Thet Swe Aye contributed to this report.

Despite Ceasefire, Shadow Hangs over Border Economic Prospects

By Simon Roughneen

The Irrawaddy

5 March 2013

KUALA LUMPUR - Dozens of civilians in Burma's Karen State say they are not being consulted prior to commercial projects being undertaken close to their villages, in some cases complaining that their land has been expropriated to make way for dam building, mining, agriculture and infrastructure projects.

Research by the Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG), which includes over 2,500 oral testimonies gathered during 2011 and 2012, suggests that legal gray areas could see investment in the conflict-str icken region, but at the expense of locals, hundreds of thousands of whom have migrated to Thailand to work or have fled to decades-old refugee camps on the Thai side of the border.

While welcoming steps undertaken by the Burmese government to curtail land grabs, which have seen violent protests elsewhere in the country, the KHRG said in a report released today titled "Losing Ground" that a combination of conflicting laws and a lack of access to information about existing laws is a violation of Karen villagers' rights.

A January 2012 ceasefire between the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and the Burmese government army has prompted hopes that some economic development could come to the impoverished region, the site of what is often described as the world's longest-running civil war.

The KNLA has fought for greater autonomy off and on since the late 1940s. Between three and six million of Burma's estimated 50-60 million population are thought to b e Karen, living in Karen State or regions elsewhere in the center or south of the country.

A peace deal remains a distant prospect, however, and parts of Karen State are off-limits due to landmines. "While the cessation of armed conflict has made the area more accessible to investment and commercial interests, eastern Myanmar remains a highly militarized environment," said the KHRG, which researches human rights issues in rural areas of eastern Burma.

Karen State and other ethnic minority regions of Burma are among the poorest places in Asia, with few jobs and most people living as subsistence farmers in rugged terrain.

And while the tentative peace between the KNU and the Burmese government could facilitate investment and, in turn, jobs for locals, that seems a long way off. In mid-February, leaders of the Karen National Union (KNU), the political wing of the KNLA, told Burmese Vice-President Dr Sai Mauk Kham that "the ceasefire between the government and the KNU hasn't reached a lasting peace stage yet."

Karen News reported that the KNU leadership told the Burmese that "we need to have this in place before we can move forward to the development project stage [for Karen State]."

Nonetheless, governments in Burma and Thailand, backed by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), are keen to enhance transport links across the Thailand-Burma border, focusing on the Myawaddy-Mae Sot crossing, a key trade node between the two countries, which share a 1,800-km land border. Myawaddy is a border town in Karen State, linked by bridge to Thailand's Mae Sot, where a Chinese delegation visited last weekend to assess prospects for business across the border.

Eighty-five percent of Burma-Thailand trade is overland, says economist Jared Bissinger, who describes the crossing as "the major corridor for moving goods between the countries," with Mae Sot a six to seven hour drive to Thailand's 10 million population capital Bangkok.

If the two countries can make progress on creating a so-called "special economic zone," or zones, around the two border towns, it could boost economic prospects on the border, says Bissinger, a Rangoon-based economist.

"It makes geographic sense and that's why people have been trading using this route for a long time. It's definitely a viable and important project," he adds.

The Myawaddy-Mae Sot hub could, in time, help link Rangoon with Thailand and the wider region.

"This corridor has the strongest economic rationale of land-based connections to neighboring countries in the short-to-medium term," says James Lynch of the ADB, which as far back as 1998 marked out the Myawaddy crossing as key to its Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) transport links proposal, which would link Moulmein in Burma with Da Nang in Vietnam.

However, on the Burma side, road networks will require a drastic overhaul to cut drive times to the main commercial city Rango on, currently a more than 10-hour drive from Myawaddy.

One road project coming under fire is the highway linking the proposed multibillion port in Dawei, on Burma's southwest coast, with Kanchanaburi in Thailand, 250 km south of the Myawaddy-Mae Sot crossing.

In "Losing Ground," the KHRG said that Karen villagers expressed "fears about destruction of land in K'Maw Thwe Village tract due to the building of the proposed Deep Sea Port Highway," going on to say that representatives of Italian-Thai Development (ITD)-the Thai conglomerate that won the contract to develop the Dawei port-did not specify what compensation it would give to affected villagers.

In December 2012, ITD reportedly put $30million in total compensation money for people displaced from their lands around the port area, in Burma's Tenasserim Division.

If it proceeds, the Dawei project will likely benefit Thailand more than Burma, meaning that industrial and port activities long stymied in Thailand due to environmental protests could proceed next door in Burma, where regulations are less strict.

However, Dawei is stalled, with the Thai government recently acknowledging that Japan, at one stage regarded as key backer of the project, is having second thoughts, focusing instead on developments closer to Rangoon.

Military Involved in Massive Land Grabs: Parliamentary Report

By Htet Naing Zaw and Aye Kyat Khaing

The Irrawaddy

5 March 2013

RANGOON - Less than eight months after a parliamentary commission began investigating land-grabbing in Burma, it has received complaints that the military has forcibly seized about 250,000 acres of farmland from villagers, according to the commission's report.

The Farmland Investigation Commission submitted its first report to Burma's Union Parliament on Friday, which focused on land seizures by the military.

According to the report, the commission received 565 complaints between late July and Jan. 24 that allege that the military had forcibly confiscated 247,077 acres (almost 100,000 hectares) of land. The cases occurred across central Burma and the country's ethnic regions, although most happened in Irrawaddy Division.

The report said farmlands were confiscated for six different reasons: the expansion of urban areas; expansion of industrial zones; expansion of army battalions and military units; construction of state-owned factories; implementation of state-run agricultural and animal husbandry projects; and land allocation to private companies with linksto  the military.

The commission recommends that undeveloped lands are returned to their owners or handed over to the state. In cases where land has been d eveloped, affected farmers should receive adequate compensation from the military, the report said.

Pe Than, Lower House MP for the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party and a commission member, said Burma's military Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing has acknowledged that the military has been involved in land seizures in the past and would seek to address the issue.

"When I met with Vice Sen-Gen Min Aung Hlaing at the end of February, he confirmed to me that the army will return seized farmlands that are away from its bases, and they are also thinking about providing farmers with compensation," he said.

Pe Than said the parliamentary report on military land grabs was submitted to Parliament first because these cases are less complex, have complete data and are more obvious to prove. Further parliamentary reports on other forms of land-grabbing are due to follow.

Lower House member Thein Nyunt said parliamentarians would discuss land-grabbing issue s and possible amendments for the existing land laws in coming weeks. "Compensation for confiscated land will be on the agenda, too," said the opposition MP.

Burma's military junta ruled the country for decades and land seizures by the army were widespread and local dissent was brutally crushed.

After a nominally civilian government took over 2011, the military let it be known that it would end such practices, but whether it will do so remains to be seen. Land-grabbing by powerful private companies meanwhile, has increased rapidly in the wake of Burma's socio-economic reforms.

Land rights activist Han Shi Win said Burmese law states that the military should return unused farmlands and compensate for seized land.

"Article 31 of the Farmland Law states that if no work is done on a confiscated land within six months, the land shall be returned to its owner. That's why we are trying to bring back land to farmers," he said. "But the army does not follow th e law."

Han Shi Win said the Central Land Management Committee, chaired by Minister for Agriculture and Irrigation Myin Hlaing, had done little to properly implement the law in land seizure cases.

The activist warned that if the long-festering land grabbing complaints were not dealt soon angry farmers might resort to violent protests, such as in Irrawaddy Division's Maubin Township, where dozens were injured and a policeman killed when villagers clashed with security forces on Feb. 26.

In the Irrawaddy Delta, farmers are becoming increasingly bold in demanding back their land or compensation, now that the government is becoming more tolerant towards public protest.

During a government ceremony to mark Peasants Day on Saturday, about 700 hundred villagers from Shwepyitha Township, located on the northern outskirts of Rangoon, came to demand that authorities resolve their complaints.

Supported by the local Diversity Party, they handed out pamphlet s stating that 1,742 farmers lost about 11,000 acres (4,422 hectares) since 1986 to private companies, such as Zay Ka Bar, Yuzana Group and Htoo Group-the latter firm is owned by Tay Za, a business crony of the former junta.

The groups' leader San Win Myint said the farmers demanded that authorities to resolve the complaints which they sent to the Rangoon Division's Land Seizures Inquiry Commission.

"We are celebrating Peasants Day here ... but we don't have any plot of farmland," he added bitterly.

Aung Thein Lin, a member of the Rangoon Division Land Seizures Commission who was attending the ceremony, told reporters that the complaints were being dealt with in accordance to law and that farmers could get compensated for the value of the land at the time of confiscation.

"We ... are now making inquiry about land grab situation in Shwepyitha Township. After that, we will send the report to Parliament," said the Lower House MP, who belongs to the ruling Un ion Solidarity and Development Party.

Khin Maung, a farmer from Lein Kone village in Shwepyitha Township, said the community would not accept the paltry compensation sums that the government was likely to offer.

"We will only have 800 kyats [US $0.93] per acre under the existing law for my land that was grabbed," he said. "It is not fair for us to get such low compensation."

Khin Maung warned that if farmers' demands were not met, they would retake control of their old lands. "We will start to plant our farm plots again in 2013," he said.

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