MAC: Mines and Communities

Burmese citizens refuse to take mining on the Chin

Published by MAC on 2013-10-02
Source: Myanmar Times, RFA, IBT (2013-09-29)

Meanwhile, "[Burma's] ... jade mining industry ... remains mired in a humanitarian catastrophe two years after the reform government took over control --  tens of thousands of workers are exploited and heroin is abused on an unprecedented scale, creating the world’s largest HIV-infected community.

Chin urge transparency on Mwe Taung mining project

Myanmar Times

20 September 2013

Chin political parties and residents are calling for transparency over a Chinese-backed project, with some warning that the project could lead to a repeat of the unrest seen at the Letpadaung copper mine.

Geological studies of the Mwe Taung Phar Taung area - on the border of Chin State's Tiddim township and Sagaing Region's Kale township - show three deposits of mixed nickel and iron capable of providing nearly 17,000 tonnes of pure nickel annually.

A survey carried out by Chin political parties, civil societies and MPsfrom September 2 to 9, however, shows that many residents in the area are concerned about the potential impact on their businesses and the environment.

"There are at least 14 villages that rely on th e mountain," said U Zo Zam, chairman of the Chin National Party and a Chin State Hluttaw representative for Tiddim, said at a press conference in Yangon on September 16. "Locals are concerned for their livelihoods because they don't know the details about the project. It's necessary to implement the project transparently."

The Chin political parties have issued a joint statement listing seven demands concerning the project, including enacting a law on profit allocation from natural resources, improved environmental protections and more dialogue with locals, since many don't know exactly what's happening with the project.

"We are concerned our present situation will be destroyed by the project," said U Thang Pi, who lives in Tiddim township.

According to the survey, one point of concern is that both companies linked to the project are Chinese. Financial backing - nearly US$500 million - is said to be coming from North Mining Investment, while Kenbo - active in Myanmar's mining sector under the military government - is implementing the project. The poll showed residents feel development in the area should only involve companies from democratic countries. They perceive that Chinese companies only focus on their own interests and neglect those of residents, the poll found.

Neither company is connected to the controversial China-backed copper mine at Monywa in Sagaing Region, which has been the subject of at times violent protests, but residents say they are concerned that they will face similar land confiscations and evictions at Mwe Taung Phar Taung. They warned that this could lead to potential unrest.

"We are now worried because we heard that the project is financed by the same company that has invested in the Letpadaung project," said U Lian Thwung from the Chin Mountain Resources Watch Group. "Villagers [at Letpadaung] are in trouble because of them. There are a lot of land dispu tes there. There can be no faith in Chinese companies whatsoever."

At a meeting on September 7 between four Chin political parties and the Chin State government, state officials said those wanting to know more about the Mwe Taung Phar Taung project would need to get the details from the central government, U Zo Zam said.

"The state government said there is no agreement between the Union government and North Mining Investment company for the project. We will contact the relevant governments, companies and embassies to inform them of the facts we have now. Then we will try to discuss [the project] in a meeting with union officials. We will also ask some advice from international groups," U Zo Zam said.

However, state-run newspaper Myanmar Ahlin reported on March 30 that North Mining Investment had taken over the project because another Chinese company, Kan Bau, had been given permission but failed to implement the project. The paper also said t hat the Chin State government would get US$500,000, or 2 percent of the profits, each year if the project is successful.

Chin National Party general secretary Salai Ceu Bilc Thang said if the project goes ahead the state should get significantly more profit.

"The Union government should get at least 51pc of the profit," he said. "And the Chin State government should get at least 20pc."

Neither of the investors could be reached for comment and the Chinese embassy in Yangon did not respond to a request for comment. - Translated by Thiri Min Htun


Myanmar authorities pledge to preserve religious buildings at mine site

Radio Free Asia

29 September 2013

Authorities in Myanmar on Monday agreed not to relocate religious buildings within a construction site at a controversial Chinese-backed copper mine until a ruling is issued by parliament, officials said, buckling to demands by villagers opposed to the project.

The decision to hold off the relocation of the buildings, which include the historic ordination hall dedicated to local Buddhist monk Lete Abbot, followed a weekend protest march against the Letpadaung copper mine in Sagaing region by more than 60 activists and monks.

The mostly-female protesters began a 120-kilometer (75-mile) peaceful march from Mandalay region to the mine site near Monywa on Sunday, engaging in minor clashes with police in Sagai ng region who stopped them from proceeding and detained several of their number.

The detainees were later released following negotiations in which authorities informed the protestors that they would face legal action if they continued their march.

After protesters stayed overnight at a nearby monastery in Sagaing, they signed a four-point agreement with officials on Monday that included provisions for the religious buildings at the copper mining site to remain intact for at least about six months pending a resolution by parliament.

"We demanded three points: Not to do anything to the religious buildings, including the historic ordination hall, in the copper mine area [in the six months] while parliament discusses the issue; to allow people to pray at the buildings during this period; and not to take action against us protesters who marched to protect our historic and religious buildings," an activist named Sithu told RFA's Myanmar Service.

"The [Sagaing] division [authorities] demanded that we not carry out any illegal actions while the people visit and pray at the historical area. We put these four points together in an agreement and each side signed it."

The agreement was mediated by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) and members of the government-backed National Head Monks Association.

It was signed by Tin Win, the Sagaing religious affairs minister, and Than Htike, the region's minister of power and energy, as well as by two leading monks from the group of protestors.

Ba Myint, a protest leader, said the protesters agreed to return to Mandalay after the authorities agreed to their demands.

"We don't want the ordination hall destroyed or moved," Ba Myint said.

"According to our religious culture, an ordination hall shouldn't be destroyed. Lete Abbot's books and the ordination hall ar e very famous and important to our history."

Ba Myint said that authorities had agreed to allow a maximum of five people to gather at any one time in the area where the buildings are located and that they would have to apply for a permit three days in advance of a visit.

Myint Naing, chairman of the NLD in Sagaing and a member of parliament, said the two sides signed the agreement to ensure that neither went back on their word.

"The protestors and authorities discussed first and came to a verbal agreement. After that, the people asked to sign a written agreement so that neither would be able to easily break their promise," he said.

"A copy of the agreement will be given to the protestors. The authorities said they will help the people if they abide by the law."

Also on Monday, the public relations manager for Wan Bao, the Chinese company that operates the Letpadaung copper mine, told reporters through a transla tor that his company would work to appease area residents on the issue of the historic and religious buildings.

"We will move the buildings to other locations or construct new ones," the public relations manager, surnamed Kico, told reporters during a briefing at Wan Bao's office near the mine site.

"We will do anything [the public] ask[s]."

Addressing grievances

Earlier this month, president's office minister Hla Htun told RFA that authorities would address local grievances over the copper mining project and were "going to work on moving [Lete Abbot's] monastery, a religious building, and a pagoda from the mine area."

Hla Htun said that the government would also compensate villagers who have lost their land to the mine, work on social and economic development in the region, and address environmental concerns related to the project's impact.

Last week, around 400 villagers marched against the mine saying they fear a harsh government crackdown after a Sept. 30 deadline for them to accept financial compensation for giving up their land for the project.

Local authorities are pressuring villagers to accept the compensation offers, but some 60 percent are holding out, according to activists, prompting fears of a confrontation with police.

A brutal police crackdown on protests against the mine last November provoked a national outcry and prompted a government probe that set in motion a revised plan for the mine including higher compensation for local residents.

Residents have protested since 2012 after the start of an expansion of the mine, which was begun under Myanmar's former military junta regime, saying their land was confiscated illegally.

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

Reported by Yadanar Oo for RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.


Myanmar's Jade Trade, A Lucrative But Deadly, HIV-ridden Industry

By Sophie Song - International Business Times

27 September 2013

Myanmar is the world's primary source of top-grade jade, but the jade mining industry in the Southeast Asian nation remains mired in a humanitarian catastrophe two years after the reform government took over control -- tens of thousands of workers are exploited and heroin is abused on an unprecedented scale, creating the world's largest HIV-infected community.

Earlier this year, President Obama let most American trade sanctions against Myanmar expire as the nation has made great humanitarian strides -- but maintained the ban on Burmese jade and ruby, speaking to the seriousness of the abuse that occurs in the mines in the northern state of Kachin.

The state is torn by a powerful independence movement -- the 8,000-strong rebel Kachin Independence Army (KIA), is home to criminal empires and sits close to China, which has strong interests in the area, according to the Australian Financial Review, meaning ownership of the jade mines in the state is at best opaque, and is often the object of military contention between the central government and regional interests.

Workers, lured by the prospect of a fortune in mining, are exposed daily to harsh and unsafe conditions. Disappearances and deaths are common and serve as a warning to those thinking of stealing. For most, the work becomes sufficiently unbearable that they take solace in the heroin-shooting galleries that exists alongside the mining district.

For less than the price of a beer, an injectionist administers the drug directly into the vein of a miner, delivering as many as 800 separate injections from the same dirty needle. Large quantities of the drug are provided by the mine owners, who pay their addicted workers with a daily fix.

An estimated 500,000 miners are paid this way, some consuming as much as 10 grams of pure heroin every day. On top of the unsanitary injections, workers also routinely have unsafe sex with prostitutes, creating an HIV pandemic in the region and giving Myanmar the highest rate of HIV infection among drug users in the world -- nine out of 10 addicted workers are HIV positive.

The trade, however, is a lucrative one. The exploitation of the trade yields billions of dollars each year. Both China and Myanmar governments, and the KIA struggle, stand in the way of assistance that NGOs, the United Nations and the World Health Organization can offer to the region, according to the Australian Financial Review.

To effectively change the situation, the Myanmar government will need to develop economic, legislative and social reforms to counteract the mining practices. Transparency is needed as in other industries in the country so that the operations can be regulated. Even so, the problem will not be an easy one to tackle.

"Myanmar's mining industry will gain more traction in 2014 as reforms to the 1994 mining law will ease restrictions on ownership, and policies to the government puts itself on a track to observe the Extraction Industries Transparency Initiative," said Christian Lewis, a researcher for the Eurasia Group, an economic and political risk consultancy, in an email to the International Business Times. "However, mining will remain one of the highest-risk enterprises in Myanmar due to unresolved ethnic conflicts in the northern and eastern peripheral ethnic states, which are among the most resource-rich."

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