MAC: Mines and Communities

Burma: no let-up of copper mining agitation

Published by MAC on 2013-09-16
Source: RFA, DVB, Reuters (2013-09-12)

Burmese democratic campaigner, Naw Ohn Hla, was imprisoned last month for protesting against the Letpadaung copper mine expansion. Now she has been transferred to a new jail, fuelling speculation that she has been on hunger strike. (For recent MAC posting see: Burma: Activist jailed 2 years for Letpadaung protest).

Meanwhile, the Burmese authorities have been urging villagers displaced by the project to accept financial compensation, promising them employment opportunities and what they claim will be a flourishing 'mine city.'

Indonesia is the world's biggest source of internationally-traded tin. Recently its government halted tin exports, stipulating that future supplies should be marketed through a local exchange. As a result, China - the world's top importer of the metal - has turned to Burma as a source of tin, more than doubling its previous demand.

Jailed anti-mine activist Naw Ohn Hla transferred

Democratic Voice of Burma

12 September 2013

Burmese activist Naw Ohn Hla, who was imprisoned last month for protesting against an unpopular copper mine project, has been transferred to a new jail with better health care facilities, fuelling speculation that she has been refusing food.

An official at Monywa prison, where she had been held, confirmed to DVB that Naw Ohn Hla was transferred to Mandalay on 11 September.

"Since our prison doesn't have a hospital, we asked senior authorities to transfer her to [Obo] prison which has medical facilities complete with doctors and equipment, so that she can get more extensive health care," said U Htwe.

But he refused to verify rumours that the 52-year-old veteran activist has been staging a hunger strike since being sentenced to two years' imprisonment for sedition in late August, saying only that she was "in good health".

Naw Ohn Hla initially refused to attend her trial, which she slammed as "unfair", but was forcibly dragged into her final court hearing by two female police officers.

One of her close aides, activist Kyaw Aye from the Former Political Prisoner Organisation, said he had been visiting her in prison, but that the transfer would make it harder for him to do so and expressed concerns for her health.

"I suspect they probably forced her to [accept] the transfer by making threats," said Kyaw Aye.

Naw Ohn Hla was sentenced to two years in prison with labour by Monywa township court on 29 August for leading an "unauthorised" protest against the controversial Latpadaung copper mine with a group of other women. The court ruled that she had violated article 505(b) of Burma's draconian penal code which bans activities that u pset "public tranquility".

She is the latest in a string of activists to be arrested and jailed under Burma's arbitrary laws since reformist President Thein Sein took office.

The 52-year-old, along with the other women, still faces charges of demonstrating without permission, which could add an extra year to her sentence. According to her lawyer, the women had applied for permission to protest five times, but were repeatedly turned down by the local authorities.

The Latpadaung project has provoked outrage from locals who say it will cause irreversible environmental damage and has forced hundreds from their homes.

The joint military and China-backed venture rose to notoriety last year when the government led a bloody crackdown on a group of peaceful protestors, resulting in dozens of monks being severely burned. A controversial investigation led by Aung San Suu Kyi later ruled that the project should go ahead, despite local objections.

Naw Ohn Hla is a former member of the opposition party, the National League for Democracy, and spent several stints in prison under the former military regime.


Myanmar Offers Jobs, Development to Woo Villagers Hit By Mine Project

RFA

12 September 2013

With the clock ticking away for the resumption of a China-backed copper mine project in northern Myanmar, the authorities have appealed to protesting villagers displaced by the controversial project to accept financial compensation, promising them employment opportunities and a flourishing 'mine city.'

Hla Htun, a minister in President Thein Sein's office, said the people's support for the Letpadaung copper mine in Sagaing division's Sarlingyi township was critical because the authorities were moving to make the project compatible in terms of the environment and public health based on recommendations by a parliament-led investigation commission.

The project, which was suspended last year after mass protests, is set to resume operations in October but at least 11 of 26 villages in Letpadaung-as of Aug. 11-have rejected the offers of compensation by the Chinese company Myanmar Wanbao Mining Copper Limited, which is running the mine as a joint venture with the Myanmar military-backed Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings (UMEHL).

"People have the right to protest according to law but the nation will derive good benefits from this project and it will also support regional development," Hla Htun told RFA's Myanmar Service.

"We have to consider this as an ideal project because the international community is watching," he said. "All relevant authorities have visited the area and explained [to the villagers] to understand this. Some understand our explanation and they don't want to protest anymore, but there are some people who still want to protest. We will continue explaining to them."

A brutal crackdown in November last year on protests against the expansion of the mine provoked a public uproar and prompted the government to form an inquiry commission headed by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to look into the future of the mine.

The commission recommended earlier this year that the project be allowed to continue but with some modifications and suggested compensation for villagers that are higher than that offered when the project originated under the country's former military junta regime.

Compensation

Hla Htun said the Chinese company had paid total compensation of 7.3 billion kyat (U.S. $7.3 million) to villagers, including for rehabilitating wells, since 2011.

Following the commission's report, the Chinese company had paid 46 percent of the 6.72 billion kyat (U.S $6.72 million) allocated for compensating villagers, he said. In the first compensation installment in 2011, some 4 billion kyat (U.S. $4 million) was distributed to villagers.

If villagers do not accept the compensation by a Sept. 30 deadline, the unclaimed money will be channeled to a development fund for the Letpadaung region, the minister said.

The villagers are also being assured jobs at the mine as well as better infrastructure in the region as the authorities move to implement recommendations by the commission, which had sought greater transparency for the project and procedures to address environmental concerns.

"When we use the country's natural resources now, we have to follow international standards, not like in the past," Hla Htun said. "Before that, investors worked only for their profit. Now, they have to also consider the local people's development."

Employment

He said the authorities were also mindful of employment opportunities for villagers who had to forgo their land for the copper mining operations.

"We have a plan to hire 1,900 workers when the project begins soon. People who don't have jobs because they lost their land would have jobs," he said.

The government would also ensure that the Letpadaung area would enjoy better facilities for business, education and healthcare as well as improved infrastructure, including roads and power supply, he said.

"We'll build new villages with power, water systems, good roads, schools for the people."

Hla Htun said that the Wanbao company, a subsidiary of Chinese state-owned arms manufacturer Norinco, is also building a district hospital to be completed in five months as part of larger government plans to develop the area.

"The Letpadaung region will be a 'mine city' in the future," he said. "I want the people to understand our efforts for them and to collaborate with us for our country's future development."

The project is set to resume next month under a renegotiated deal that gives the government a larger share of the mine's profits. It also requires that two percent of the net profit go toward corporate social responsibility with a focus on immediate communities.

"The new contract was discussed in parliament and at a press conference. Everybody was satisfied because we got what we should get," Hla Htun said.

Residents of 11 villages in Letpadaung said last month they will continue to refuse the compensation, which they consider as too low.

Activist Mar Mar Cho, a local resident, told RFA that one of the demands of protesters was to seek an end to the attempts by the inquiry commission's report implementation committee to "force" residents before the Sept. 30 deadline to accept the new compensation of 1,200,000 to 1,500,000 kyat (U.S. $1,200 to $1,500) per acre for lands taken over by the mine.

Residents have also demanded that action be taken against security forces responsible for the use of phosphorous in the November 2012 crackdown, as well as against those who "violently" raided protesters at a local monastery in Zeetaw village last month.

Reported by Win Naing for RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.


China boosts tin ore imports from Myanmar as Indonesian supply dries up

Reuters

9 September 2013

China's tin industry is turning to Myanmar to help plug a gap in the supply of raw materials after new trading rules in the world's top exporter Indonesia squeezed its major source of refined tin.

China, the world's top metals consumer, has more than doubled its imports of tin ore and concentrates from Myanmar this year, shoring up an alternative source of the metal used mainly for solder in its vast electronics industry.

Pulling in more ore from Myanmar -- still a relatively small player -- will add to China's efforts to source tin from Bolivia, Japan, Malaysia and LME stockpiles, and could crimp sales by Indonesia in the long-term, said industry experts.

"Myanmar isn't going to solve China's problem s - Indonesia is the dominant exporter in the world," said Stephen Briggs of BNP Paribas in London. "But China is clearly trying to diversify its sources, whether it's tin or anything else. It certainly isn't a great thing for Indonesia."

China has relied on Indonesia for the bulk of its tin imports, taking more than 15,000 tonnes last year, but sales have slumped since the Southeast Asian nation ruled that producers could only sell ingots of the highest purity, a move aimed at boosting the value of its exports.

The Indonesian market has been further muddied by government attempts to ensure all of its tin is traded through a local exchange, a move which has yet to gain traction with customers, and its biggest exporter has halted shipments.

China's imports from Indonesia fell 72 percent in July from a year earlier to just 484 tonnes of refined tin.

By contrast, tin ore shipped from Myanmar across the border for processing in Yunnan, China's key tin producing province, more than tripled in July to 8,392 tonnes, China trade data shows. Imports for the first seven months of the year are already more than total for the whole of 2012.

The Myanmar figures are for tin ore and concentrate and do not specify tin content, so it is not possible to work out how much tin would be produced from the increased exports.

Traders put Myanmar's total production at the "low single-digit thousands" of tonnes, compared with 100,000 tonnes for Indonesia.

China also produces about 100,000 tonnes of tin a year, but faces a shortfall of 50,000-60,000 tonnes, which it meets through recycling and through imports of unrefined ore and refined tin, said Peter Kettle of global industry group ITRI.

Chinese buying could help speed development of Myanmar's fragmented industry as political changes lead to increased investment.

"We could see Myanmar emerging in the long run as quite an important tin producer," said Kettle.

"There is quite a bit of interest in the long-term with the changes in the political regime and encouragement of international investment," he said.

Traders are also eyeing the country but say China is likely to be the dominant buyer for the near future.

"We make some efforts to get into that country but it's not easy," said a source at an international trading house.

"There is a lot of artisanal mining there. You need to be prepared to go into the country and pay people in cash and arrange logistics yourself, and I'm sure the Chinese are able to do that," he said.

(Additional reporting by Aung Hla Tun in Yangon; Editing by Richard Pullin)

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