MAC: Mines and Communities

Burma's copper cauldron continues to boil

Published by MAC on 2013-04-09
Source: The Irrawaddy, Mizzima News, statement

Australia offers "advice" on "resettling" villagers

Many farmers, rejecting advice by the Aung San Suu Kyi-chaired Commission to abandon  resistance to the Letpadaung copper mine expansion, have now refused compensation  for land they were forced to sacrifice to the project. See: Burma: Protests against Letpadaung copper project resume

The Asian Human Rights Commission has published a detailed examination of the Commission's report, contrasting its deficiencies with findings by the 88 Students Generation group and the Lawyers Network, Upper Burma, which were publshed in January.

Meanwhile, Burma's usually highly-reliable Irrawaddy newspaper says that:

"Australia is drafting Burma's mining law, and the two countries are forming agreements in the mining sector."

According to the The New Light of Myanmar, Australia's ambassdor to Burma has also met the country's minister responsible for resettlement, where they discussed "relief" and "resettlement."

Letpadaung Farmers Reject Compensation

By Nyein Nyein

The Irrawaddy

4 April 2013

While hundreds of farmers have received compensation for land taken from them for the controversial Letpadaung copper mine, many others are refusing to take the money.

The government committee tasked with providing compensation to residents around the mine in northwest Burma said that 570 farmers had received a total of 17.8 million kyat (US $20,300) for more than 1,700 acres of land, according to a statement released on Wednesday.

But the committee has also received 177 complaints to reject the compensation, it said.

"We do not accept the compensation because we do not want to leave our land," said Myint Aye, from Moegyopyin village, one of 26 villages on the Letpadaung mountain range in Monywe District, Sagaing Division.

More than 7,000 acres of farmland were confiscated in 2010 for the Letpadaung copper mining project, a joint venture between the Chinese Wanbao company and Burma's military-owned Union of Myanmar Economics Holdings.

Protests against the project began last year, with activists citing environmental concerns such as the piling of mining waste on village farmland.

A police crackdown on peaceful protesters in late November left more than 100 people injured, mostly Buddhist monks.

A government team led by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was formed after the crackdown to investigate the mine and determine whether the project should continue. The team last month recommended that the project continue and farmers be compensated for their lost land.

An implementation committee was formed to distribute compensation for farmland seized in Salingyi Township of Monywa District.

Village officials last month invited residents with a loudspeaker announcement to visit the township administrative office for the money.

"But we didn't go," one resident told The Irrawaddy.

A monk from Hse Tae, one of four villages forced to relocate last year, said some farmers took the compensation because they believed they had no other option.

The monk added that about 150 households remain in the village and have refused the compensation.

"The [implementation] committee pays one million kyat for an acre of farmland, but some claim that this rate of compensation is too low to even think of taking it," he said.

Among them is Myint Aye, whose 10 acres of land have been affected by the mining project.

"We are going to plant sesame and pigeon peas soon, so we're protecting our farmland from being filled with waste from the Wanbao company," said Myint Aye.

In a statement on Wednesday, the implementation committee said it would "continue the granting of compensation" and "act on suggestions" of the inquiry led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

The anti-copper mine protests have resumed daily since last week, when hundreds of protesters demonstrated and posted signs on their land reading, "This land is not for sale" and "End the copper mine project."

The protesters have received permission to assemble.

"Now we're being very careful about our security," said Myint Aye. "So we made sure to get permission to protest before starting.

"Our land was confiscated, and the land could bring harm to our villagers."

BURMA: Two sharply contrasting reports on the struggle for land at Letpadaung

A Statement from the Asian Human Rights Commission - AHRC-STM-073-2013

3 April 2013

The Asian Human Rights Commission has since mid-2012 closely followed, documented and reported on the struggle of farmers in the Letpadaung Hills of central Burma against the expansion of a copper mining operation under a military-owned holding company and a partner company from China.

After repeatedly being refused permission to demonstrate against the operation under the terms of the country's new antidemocratic public demonstration law, the farmers began public protests, which were met with a range of rep ressive measures, culminating in the night time attack on encamped protestors last November.

The attack received international media coverage because the police fired white phosphorous into the protest camps causing extensive burns to protestors, the majority of them monks who had joined villagers in resistance to the mine project.

In recent months two reports have been issued, in Burmese, on the struggle against the mine.

The reports make interesting reading because they represent very different perspectives and understandings of the issues for the affected villagers in Letpadaung. One is the official report of an investigative commission headed by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, published in the 12 March 2013 edition of the state newspaper.

The other is an unofficial report by the 88 Students Generation group and the Lawyers Network, Upper Burma, issued before the official report, on 21 January 2013. Whereas the latter report represents a genuine effort to identify the causes for the opposition to the mine and speak to the human rights questions concerned with events in Letpadaung of 2012, the former is little more than an exercise in playing at politics, and an attempt to sidestep and obfuscate the questions of human rights involved through the use of "information" that conceals more than it reveals.

Although the official report is described as "investigative", it is clear from a reading of the report's contents that its members have either unintentionally or deliberately misconstrued their role as fact finders. The report is concerned primarily with the interests and needs of the state and specifically, with its interests and needs in maintaining good relations with the government of China and its business interests.

As such, it is not really a fact-finding report at all but an exercise in public relations cast as an inquiry. Perhaps this outcome of the commission's work should not come as a surprise, given that six of its 1 6 members were government officials, and one from the national human rights commission is a retired ambassador who would from professional experience understand obfuscation on human rights issues much better than documentation and reporting on facts, but that the other members of the commission, including Aung San Suu Kyi, have lent their names to a report that is investigative in name only is more than disappointing--it constitutes a betrayal of the values that they claim to represent.

The report's authors were asked first and foremost to consider the long-term "national" interest, and throughout the report the national interest is invoked, but nowhere is it explained or queried. What constitutes the national interest is presumed to be the interest of the state--and the word used in the report to describe the national interest can also mean, quite literally, that of the state.

The national interest as construed by the report's authors clearly does not correspon d with the interests of the people affected by the expanded mining operation, since it is measured only in terms of the financial benefits accruing from the mine--benefits that are swallowed up by the military-owned partner company in the project. The national interest is also construed as a matter of international relations and the vested interests of overseas investors, rather than those of citizens, since the authors' signal their concern that closing the mine project might undermine the flow of capital into Burma, and also cause bilateral difficulties with China that might not be resolved.

Thus, rather than asking questions about the nature of the "national interest" as it applies to a military-backed and owned project in Burma and situate these questions in an idiom of rights, the commission has instead relied upon imagined future scenarios whereby the interests of Burma's army company are conflated with those of its government and those of its people to account for why the mining operation deserves to continue.

The official report's authors also have not seriously considered the possibility that the operation might not be continued, as demanded by protestors. They largely omit from their discussion the circumstances whereby local people have been repeatedly and systematically forced off lands in the name of the national interest without regard to their interests, smothering questions of dispossession and inequality under a blanket of legalese typical of official documents produced by governments in Burma over successive periods, which pretend as if the existence of enumerated documents and legal instruments serve to give guarantees to citizens that commitments made to them will be respected later, when empirical evidence points to the contrary.

They also conceal questions of power and the use of coercion behind the enumeration of data about market values of land and compensation that ignore questions of the wishes of the land 's occupants. Additionally, the authors obscure the real issues with which they ought to have been concerned with technical data and terminology parroted from official and company sources, which lend an air of scientism and give the appearance of serious research while avoiding deeper questions.

Consequently, at its bottom line, the report constitutes not an investigation and fact-finding document but a cost-benefit analysis in which those directly affected by the mine's expansion are all but omitted from the phony equations used to justify the project's continuance.

Perhaps the worst part of the official report is its account of the police attack on the encamped protestors that left over a hundred hospitalised. Much of this account reads like a police version of events, rather than a recording of a savage assault on peaceful demonstrators. The report again resorts to a reliance on description of subsidiary details to avoid the larger questions about the use of force: concentrating on the distances between police and protestors, the flammability of materials on the camp sites, and other features of the event that serve to partially describe but not actually explain what happened and why.

The abject failure of the report to deal with the true character of the attack and go to the root issues is manifest in its failure to identify who was responsible for the use of phosphorous or even ask questions to this effect. Instead, the report offers three generic recommendations on better training and reform of the police to prevent such incidents in the future; recommendations that could have been arrived at without the need for any inquiry of this sort at all.

That police might learn of the limits to what they can or cannot do in such cases through effective prosecutions of police who commit criminal acts, such as firing incendiary weapons into crowds, is a concept that does not appear to have even been entertained by the report's authors. In its closing recommendations, the report goes so far as to imply that the police did not intend to deliberately cause injuries to the assembled demonstrators, but that they had been wrong to launch the attack in the middle of the night since they supposedly could not see that they were setting people on fire, and they had lacked training on how to use equipment effectively and safely. Thus rather than serving as fact-finders, the report's authors conclude as apologists for the agents of atrocity.

By contrast to the official report, the unofficial report on the mine is not only much more "factual" in its contents but is also unencumbered by the jargon and scientific pretence of its counterpart. In part this difference in contents reflects that lack of access that this report's authors had to official sources--since their requests to meet and talk with officials and look at the documents made available to the members of the official commission were rebuffed. But in part it is also because their report has clarity of vision and a sense of purpose that the official report does not. It is a report written with a view to exploring, explaining and standing up for the human rights issues at stake in Letpadaung. As such, it is a much more important report, worthy of serious reading by all concerned persons, than its official counterpart.

The authors of the 37-page unofficial report interviewed over 60 locals in the Letpadaung region, and over 20 witnesses to the attack on encamped protestors. Their findings concentrate on virtually all of the human rights aspects of the events in the region absent from the official report: significant not only because they serve to reveal what has gone on there during the last year but also because they account for the strong resistance to the expansion of the mining project in the region.

They observe that contrary to the "national interest" idiom of the official report, in fact the benefits of the project have thus far accrued almost exclusively to the joint venture partners in the mining project. They describe how farmers in the region have been repeatedly and forcibly dispossessed from their land through a range of coercive techniques, including unlawful arrest and detention, and dismissal from office of local officials who--cognisant of the true effects of the mine--have declined to cooperate in the systematic repression of local people.

According to the report, at one point a local official warned uncooperative farmers that if they failed to cooperate with the Chinese then they risked an invasion that would leave them destitute--essentially a crude conceptualisation of precisely the same reasoning of the official report's authors that led them to equate national interest with bilateral interests.

The unofficial report also discusses in detail the synchronised police raids on the protest camps, setting out in vivid detail not only the horrendou s and unjustified manner in which the attacks were conducted, but also noting the absence of significant assistance given to affected persons in the aftermath. The accounts of witnesses leave little doubt that the police behaved as if on a war footing, attacking an enemy emplacement rather than some crude shelters designed to protect demonstrators against the elements, not against incendiary weapons.

The military style of the attack, it must be added, is clearly a consequence of the last few decades of steady militarisation of the police force, throughout which time police units were treated as auxiliary forces for the army and given combat training. Consequently, under circumstances like those in Letpadaung it is hardly surprising that they behave in the manner of an armed force storming an enemy rather than a civilian force enforcing law. And although the matter may be thus stated briefly, a vast gulf separates these two methods of training and discipline; a gulf that will take a considerable time to bridge.

The unofficial report raises a series of critical questions that its authors, due to limited resources and scope and lack of cooperation from the authorities, have flagged as requiring answers. These questions include:

1. Who required of local authorities that they coerce villagers to sign documents agreeing to hand over land to the project?
2. Who issued the police with white phosphorous, and who gave the orders that it be used to disperse protestors?
3. Who will take responsibility for the injuries and other losses of the protestors?
4. How will the grievances of affected villagers be addressed?
5. How will the democratic process take into account the wishes of local people affected by the mine?

All of these questions are highly pertinent, and questions of precisely the sort that need to be asked in an investigative report on an incident of this sort, and answers for them sought. Unfortunately, the ans wers are not available in the official report, because the questions have themselves gone largely unasked. Therefore, we are forced to continue asking them, in the hope that those who pretend to have answers will take the questions that really need to be answered seriously.

At the end of the day, these come down to questions concerning whether or not the rights and interests of affected villagers in Letpadaung--rather than nebulous expressions of the national interest--will be treated as paramount; whether or not those officials responsible for abuses of authority and for the attacks on encamped protestors will be held responsible; and, whether or not institutional changes will be affected in Burma to move the country from rule-of-law rhetoric towards legal and political designs that afford guarantees to persons affected by projects of this sort that their rights actually amount to something.

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

Latpadaung committee seeks continuation of project

Rosie Gogan-Keogh


4 April 2013

In a press release published in The New Light of Myanmar on Thursday, the investigation commission for Latpadaung copper mine project announced that it is following "ways to continue the project by fixing flaws in the findings and laying down plans to fully serve the national interest, the interests of local people and the interests of the future generation."

The commission is currently also addressing the issue of compensation for farmers displaced from their lands throughout the project, and it announced that 570 farmers have received compensation of 1785.675 million kyat (US$2 million) for 1753.71 acres of their confiscated lands.

Naing, a local farmer, previously said to Mizzima that, "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."

Other farmers have refused to accept the compensation and the committee has received 177 complaints, of which it has settled 33, regarding the hierarchy of land types from farmers.

Aye Aye Khaing from new Tone village said to Mizzima last month 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.

The committee has, so far, scrutinized that 7867.78 acres of lands have been confiscated; 6965.54 is the area needed to implement the project; and, 902.24 acres could be withdrawn from the project.

Both of the contractors at the Latpadaung copper mine-the Myanmar Wanbao Mining Copper Ltd and Myanma Economic Holdings-welcomed the previous Inquiry Commission's initial report and confirmed that they intended to follow its recommendations.

The current investigation committee comprises 15 members, including: the chairman, Minister Hla Tun; Geng Yi, an official of the Myanmar Wanbao Company; and Dr. Aung Tun Thet, a member of the Myanmar Investment Commission.

On November 29, more than 100 monks and residents were injured during a violent police crackdown at protest camps in Latpadaung copper mine area. Two Buddhist monks were severely injured during the crackdown and were sent to Thailand to receive medical treatment.

Australia Advising Burma on Mining Law


4 April 2013

Burma's Mining Minister Myint Aung met Australian Ambassador to Burma Bronte Nadine on Wednesday in Naypyidaw, according to MNA News. The report revealed Australia is drafting Burma's mining law, and the two countries are forming agreements in the mining sector.

At another meeting on the same day, The New Light of Myanmar reported Nadine met the government minister responsible for resettlement, where they discussed "relief" and "resettlement."

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