Burma: Legal protests and kidnappings in mining strugglesPublished by MAC on 2014-05-27
Source: The Irrawaddy, Reuters
Previous article on MAC: Burma's mining is far from conflict-free - on the contrary
Lawsuit Against Heinda Mine Accepted by Dawei Court
By Yen Snaing
19 May 2014
RANGOON - A civil suit by villagers in Tenasserim Division has been accepted by a local court, with plaintiffs claiming to have suffered years of negative environmental impacts from the activities of a Thai company and a Burmese government firm operating in the area.
The tort is seeking compensation for damages to houses and farmlands allegedly caused by wastewater from the Heinda tin mine, and the legal action was accepted this month by the Dawei District Court, according to Tin Tin Thet, a lawyer representing the complainants.
"We filed the case on the 9th [of May] and they accepted on the 14th. The defendants, Myanmar Pongpipat Company and Mining Enterprise 2, are asked to appear [in court] on the coming 29th [of May]," Tin Tin Thet told The Irrawaddy on Monday.
The hearing will convene next week, involving the Thai firm Pongpipat and Burma's state-owned Mining Enterprise 2, which falls under the Ministry of Mining.
Mi Gan, one of 10 plaintiffs and a resident from the affected village of Myaung Pyo, said they filed the lawsuit because the companies had failed to address their complaints concerning damages cause by wastewater over the past several years.
"Our houses are not livable anymore. We are losing farmlands and gardens," Mi Gan told The Irrawaddy. "Plants in gardens and farmlands have died. Betel [nut], mango, long-term plants have died. Water comes in during rainy seasons and floods underneath the houses. All the plants we have are dead because water is always there, since 2011."
Mi Gan said she was asking for 39.9 million kyats (US$41,000) in compensation for damages to her home and crops, located on two acres of land in the village. Her request lies on the upper end of villagers' demands, with others asking for compensation ranging from 10 million to 30 million kyats.
She said she had lost a monthly income of about 80,000 to 100,000 kyats since more than 200 poles of betel nut plants died out due to mining wastewater that flooded her crops in 2011. Mi Gan also claimed that although the whole village had suffered varying degrees of damage, some residents were scared to file the lawsuit. "[Drinking and cooking] water is not usable during the rainy season. We have to get water from others' houses. It has become oily water, yellowish and reddish in color-sometimes black."
The Thai firm Pongpipat signed a production-sharing contract with Mining Enterprise 2 in 1999 and reportedly holds rights to 65 percent of the tin and tungsten produced at Heinda, which is transported to neighboring Thailand for processing.
Thant Zin, a coordinator with the Dawei Development Association (DDA), a local NGO that supports community rights initiatives in Dawei, said that although mining in the area had been carried out since British colonial times, the most severe environmental degradation has been inflicted relatively recently. The Myanmar Pongpipat Company took over the project in 1999, but locals say the most severe environmental degradation began some years later, starting in 2006.
"Gardens, farmlands, wells, houses were destroyed because of the mining. A creek [Myung Pyo creek] next to the village completely dried up. The rainy season in 2012 was the worst; the waste sediment in the creek came into the village along with rainwater, burying about three to four feet," Thant Zin said.
"Heinda is the largest mining project in the region. Generally speaking, mining projects are quite weak in respecting human rights and environmental rights in the region. This [lawsuit] could be a force and warning for coming companies who are going to do projects here, and for current companies, to follow better norms and standards.
"We can't say the case will win or lose with certainty, based on our current judicial system," he added, noting the judiciary's notoriously corrupt reputation. "The villagers, however, are doing what they can, problem-solving by legal means rather than other ways, which is expected to produce a better result."
Myaung Pyo is said to be the worst affected among some 10 villages that have suffered directly from the environmental impacts of the huge tin-ore mining operation, which sits about 25 kms east of the city of Dawei in Myitta Township.
The village of about 100 families, numbering some 500 people, is located in the Tenasserim Hills and mining operations at Heinda, about two kilometers away, have produced a continuous run-off of mud-filled water that flows into a stream passing by Myaung Pyo village.
The Myanmar Pongpipat Company extended its five-year license to continue mining on May 8, local media reported on Monday.
Ex-Official Says Heinda Miners Neglecting Environmental Obligations
By Yen Snaing
27 May 2014
RANGOON - A former government official has accused operators of the Heinda mine in Tenasserim Division of ignoring Burma's existing law on mines, and has urged those responsible for alleged environmental destruction due to mining activities to step up and address locals' grievances.
"[The mine operators are] leaving the law behind and it is time they need to face up to it," Sein Myint, a retired deputy director of the Department of Mines under Burma's Ministry of Mines, told The Irrawaddy. The former government official said he supported a lawsuit brought by local villagers seeking judicial resolution to their complaints concerning the Heinda tin mine, which is jointly owned by the Thai firm Myanmar Pongpipat Company and Burma's state-owned Mining Enterprise 2.
Sein Myint said he was with the department from 1990 to 2006, and claimed that the negative impacts of the mining did not become severe until after he left government in 2006.
In a statement released on Sunday, the Dawei Development Association, a local NGO that supports community rights in Tennasserim Division, called for the Myanmar Pongpipat Company and Mining Enterprise 2 "to address impacts caused by the Heinda tin mine on villagers from Myaung Pyo," a village some two kilometers downstream from Heinda.
The Heinda project has also affected many of the 30 villages downstream from the mine and Myaung Pyo, according to the Dawei Development Association. The NGO said sedimentation and contamination of the Tenasserim River had resulted from the mine, which is located on the upper banks of the river.
A civil suit brought by nine Myaung Pyo villagers in Tenasserim Division was accepted by the Dawei District Court earlier this month, with the plaintiffs claiming to have suffered years of negative environmental impacts from mining activities in the area. The tort is seeking compensation for damages to houses and farmlands allegedly caused by wastewater from the Heinda mine.
The first court hearing is slated for Thursday of this week.
Two out of three well water samples taken from Myaung Pyo were found to be unsuitable for drinking due to levels of arsenic and lead that exceeded the World Health Organization's maximum permissible limits, the Dawei Development Association said in its statement on Sunday.
"The level of arsenic at Heinda is eight times higher than WHO recommends," said Saw Myo Myint, a mining consultant for the environmental NGO Green Network. "The level of lead is too much and is dangerous for humans-which can harm reproduction, causing underdeveloped organs at child birth."
According to the Dawei Development Association, instances of severe flooding during the monsoon season have plagued Myaung Pyo since 2005 because "water is no longer able to drain into the river effectively, due to increased sedimentation from the mining project."
The Pongpipat manager of the Heinda project could not be reached by The Irrawaddy on Monday, with a staffer at the firm saying the manager was unavailable because he was conducting a visit to the mining site. The government official in charge of mining in Tenasserim Division was also out of the office when contacted by The Irrawaddy on Monday.
Burma's 1994 Mining Law-a revision of which is expected this year-contains only vague provisions pertaining to environmental protection.
"It is questionable whether the Department of Mines and Mining Enterprise 2 have acted or not acted according to the environmental issue [clauses] stated in the Mining Law," Sein Myint said.
"However, the company is responsible for acting in accordance with environment conservation guidelines. When there are complaints, the Mining Enterprise 2 has to take care of it on behalf of the Ministry of Mines. If they can't resolve it, they will seek resolution in cooperation with the Ministry of Mines, which will submit input," he said, adding that the Heinda case before the Dawei District Court would be a good test of the judiciary's independence.
In addition to environmental concerns, some villagers have said they can no longer receive land titles from the local government, claiming "the Thai company has requested that they not issue land titles to villagers anymore."
Daw Tin Hla, a resident of Myaung Pyo, at the press conference on Sunday in Rangoon questioned "whether Myaung Pyo village is under the sovereignty of Thailand or Burma."
"On my 80-by-300-feet [plot] of farmland, I had betel plants and coconuts, which died out in 2007-08. When the manager of the [mining] project came to check, they saw seven dead betel plants and 12 coconut plants standing in the field. They said they would give 3,000 kyats [US$3] for the remaining betel plants and 6,000 kyats for the coconut plants and the rest, which died out, were not their concern."
Villagers' complaints concerning damages, and requests for compensation, have been ignored by both of the mine's stakeholders, according to the Dawei Development Association.
"The villagers are the ones who have actually faced damages. The village has existed since before the Pongpipat Company arrived," Sein Myint said.
Chinese workers abducted from Myanmar mine freed
19 May 2014
YANGON - Community activists on Monday evening freed two contractors working for a Chinese company operating a copper mine in central Myanmar that is the subject of a long-running land dispute.
The two Chinese were abducted on Sunday by a group calling itself the "Student Network of Mandalay", which demanded that Myanmar Wanbao, a unit of the Chinese weapons manufacturer China North Industries Group Corp, halt its expansion work on the mine.
"We are happy to advise that our two Chinese colleagues have been released and they came back to camp at 7:15 p.m. local time," said Cao Desheng, a spokesman for Myanmar Wanbao.
The Letpadaung mine in Monywa, about 100 km (60 miles) west of Mandalay, has faced protests from residents of the area who say thousands of acres of land were confiscated illegally to allow it to expand.
In November 2012, riot police raided camps set up by protesters, injuring more than 100 people including at least 67 monks.
The incident was a public relations disaster for the quasi-civilian government that had taken over from a long-ruling military junta in March 2011.
The government later renegotiated the original contract so that the state now takes 51 percent of the profit, and set aside $3 million for social projects. Myanmar Wanbao gets 30 percent of the profit and Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (UMEHL), owned by Myanmar's military, 19 percent.
Under the original contract, UMEHL got 45 percent and Myanmar Wanbao 51 percent.
Sporadic protests have continued despite Myanmar Wanbao's promises of community development.
Cao Desheng said the company had asked police not to launch any rescue operation while village elders attempted to secure the captives' release.
An activist who spoke on condition of anonymity said the workers were released after negotiations between the kidnappers and local authorities.
In return for their release, villagers will be allowed to graze cattle on land owned by the mine and will be compensated for confiscated land, he said.
Government spokesman Ye Htut said in a post to his Facebook page on Monday that two policemen were injured when residents of Seidei village, who he said had kidnapped the workers, attacked a nearby police post with stones, catapults and torches. (Additional reporting by Soe Zeya Tun in Monywa; Editing by Kevin Liffey)