MAC: Mines and Communities

Burma: Mine protests lead to another killing at Letpadaung

Published by MAC on 2014-12-26
Source: Eleven Media, Al Jazeera, Mizzima (2014-11-26)

Coal protests accelerate

Any prospect of peace descending on Burma in regions impacted by mining has been dashed in the past two months, as further villager protests against "Chinese land-grabbing" in the Letpadaung copper lease area resulted in the killng of a demonstrator.

The Karen National Union has confronted Kayin citizens in the eponymous state, who have been blockading roads used for the transport of coal.

A petition by 240 people has been submitted to the militant Shan state government, urging them to get rid of coal companies exploiting farmland, pasture and conifer forests.

Meanwhile, over 2,000 residents of Phakant in Kachin state, have demanded greater autonomy from the state government over gem resource extraction.

Villagers File Complaint Over Police Killing of Protestor at Copper Mine

By Kyah Kha

The Irrawaddy

24 December 2014
 
SALINGYI TOWNSHIP, Sagaing Division — The family of a villager shot dead by police during a protest against a copper mine project has filed an official complaint over the killing, Sagaing Division police said.

Salingyi Township Police Station chief Col. Aung Kyaw said family members of Khin Win, a 56-year-old woman who died during the unrest on Monday, had registered their complaint at the station on Tuesday evening.

“We have accepted a complaint on the case of the death,” he told Irrawaddy reporters visiting the station. “Medics will investigate the cause of death. We’ll have to wait and see the results before taking further action.”

Dr. Myint Than, who heads Monywa District Hospital, conducted a forensic examination on the body of Khin Win, a resident of Moegyobyin Village. “We’ve found no other ailments. We could confirm she was killed by a bullet as her skull was blown out,” he said on Wednesday.

Thaung Htay, the younger brother of the victim, said he had reluctantly agreed to let authorities take her body to the hospital for examination. “I have no trust in the government. What if they destroy the body?” he said.

“The government mistreats us in collaboratio n with the Chinese, let alone protects us. We have no one to rely on,” Thaung Htay said.

On Wednesday afternoon, the situation appeared to have calmed down, while staff of China’s Wanbao mining company continued to clear confiscated farmland and fence off the area. Authorities spared no efforts to secure the area for the company, as dozens of police patrolled the area and placed huge rolls of barbed wire along the perimeter of the latest land seizures.

The mining complex was being further secured by high fences and the installation of watch towers, while tailings produced by the mine are being dumped to form a barrier along the edge of the area.

Tensions flared up near the Letpadaung copper mine on Monday and Tuesday after Wanbao company workers began clearing land with bulldozers and fencing off more than a doze n acres of farmland in Hse Tae Village as part of the planned expansion of the mine.

About 60 villagers, who have refused to accept what they deem as inadequate compensation for their land, faced off with dozens of armed police accompanying the Chinese workers and clashes ensued.

A doctor from the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society has said he treated 16 villagers—mostly women—who were injured in confrontations,  including several shot with rubber bullets, while others were reportedly hit and kicked by police.

Witnesses and police confirmed that Khin Win was shot by a police officer during the clashes.

The US Embassy said on Wednesday that it was concerned over the clash near the Letpadaung mine.

“ We are alarmed by reports of violence, including the death of a female protester, and continue to monitor the situation on the ground closely,” an embassy spokesperson said.

“Resolving land and resource disputes is a major challenge all around this country. It is clear that patience, dialogue, and restraint, not the use of force, will be essential to address these issues going forward, as will be an expeditious and transparent investigation” into the incident.

Wanbao, the Chinese company constructing the Letpadaung mine in a joint venture with the Burma Army-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings (UMEHL), has called the death “senseless,” while at the same time defending the mine’s expansion plans and accompanying land seizures. It said on Monday that local communities were properly consulted and compensated over the forced land confiscations.

The mining project has already resulted in the loss of all land in four villages while another 26 will also suffer land losses. Communities have objected against the land confiscation, the mine’s environmental impact and the removal of religious structures in the area.

Wanbao struck a deal for the mega project with Burma’s former military government shortly before it handed over power to a nominally-civilian government in 2011. The project is highly controversial among the Burmese public who view it as a massive land grab by Chinese investors and the army.

In the last two years, there have been numerous confrontations between villagers and security forces as the mine’s operators attempted to extend the project’s operating area.

In Nov. 2012, authorities caused a public outcry aft er police fired incendiary rounds, believed to be white phosphorous, into a protest camp near the mine. Dozens of protestors, many of them Buddhist monks, suffered serious injuries.

Following the incident, a parliamentary committee led by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi reviewed the project in early 2013 and said it should continue if the company properly addressed the mine’s social and environmental impacts.

A new contract was drawn up between Wanbao, UMEHL and the government, in which the government’s earnings from the project greatly increased. Several million dollars were allocated to environmental and corporate social responsibility projects, while compensation amounts for farmers were increased.

Yet the deal failed to address the grievances of many of the farmers who continue to vehemently oppose the min e’s expansion.


China Expresses Concern After Protests at Copper Mine

By Megha Rajagopalan

Reuters

24 December 2014

BEIJING — China expressed concern on Wednesday about a protest against a Chinese-run copper mine in Burma in which a person was killed and some were wounded saying China urged its companies abroad to act responsibly and protect the environment.

Burma police on Monday fired on protesters near the Letpadaung mine which is at the center of a long-running land dispute, killing one person and wounding 20.

The mining company, Myanmar Wanbao, is a unit of the Chinese weapons manufacturer China North Industries Group Corp.

“We express concern and regret at the reports of casualties. We call for the relevant parties to appropriately deal with those victims’ cases,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing.

She said China and Burma were friendly neighbors and their “cooperation fits the common interests of both sides”.

“China’s government has consistently required Chinese enterprises with investments abroad to respect other countries’ laws and regulations, exercise social responsibility, and place importance on protecting the environment,” she said.

Residents have protested against the Letpadaung mine in Monywa, about 100 km (60 miles) west of Mandalay, saying thousands of acres of land have been confiscated to enable the project to proceed.

In November, human rights group Amnesty International urged the Burmese government to halt work at the site, saying land had been acquired through a flawed process and other social and environmental issues had to be resolved.

The group also said authorities had yet to be held accountable for attacks on protesters two years earlier. In November 2012, more than 100 people including at least 67 monks were hurt when riot police raided protest camps.

Twin Chinese oil and gas pipelines across Burma have also sparked controversy, as have China’s interests in hydropower schemes.

In 2011, President Thein Sein suspended the $3.6 billion, Chinese-led Myitsone dam project, some 90 percent of whose power would have gone to China, angering Beijing.

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More Villagers Injured in Letpadaung Mine Protests

By Kyaw Phyo Tha

The Irrawaddy

23 December 2014

RANGOON — Three people were injured on Tuesday morning when police used rubber bullets to quell an attempt to halt land seizures near the  Letpadaung copper mining project, the day after one woman was shot dead by police in the same village.

A doctor from the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society, who is giving medical assistance at Hse Tae village and who spoke to The Irrawaddy on condition of anonymity, said he had treated 16 people who were injured in confrontations over the last two days, including several shot with rubber bullets, while others were hit and kicked by police and Chinese employees working on the project.

“Most of them are women,” he said.

According to Hse Tae residents, more than 17 acres of farmland in the surrounding area had been bulldozed since 6:30am on Tuesday, destroying a swath of sesame, sunflower and bean crops.

“Right after the bulldozer passed, the Chinese workers planted posts to demarcate the land for fencing,” said Phyu Hnin Htwe, a Hse Tae resident who witnessed the seizure. “When the villagers attempted to stop the bulldozer, police shot them down.”

An official from Myanmar Wanbao Mining Copper Limited, the Chinese company constructing the Letpadaung mine in a joint venture with the military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings, told the Irrawaddy on Tuesday that the company will continue to fence the area.

“We will keep fencing today,” said Dong Yunfei, Wanbao’s administrative manager. “We are just doing our business on the land we leased, and there are some people who ar e not pleased with what we are doing because of instigation by some political forces.”

Dong added that the project had the approval of the majority of local villagers, and the land had been appropriated by the government in 2001 and leased to the company in 2011.

A report in state-run media on Tuesday, headlined ‘Extension of Letpadaung Copper Mine Fence Disturbed’, said that villagers attacked security forces and detained 10 workers. The article stated that 11 police and nine villagers were injured in the confrontation, in addition to the death of 56-year-old villager Khin Win.

In a press statement on Monday, Wanbao said it would extend its working area under the direction of the Burmese government in order to comply with the requirements of its investment permit granted by the Myanmar Investment Commission.

In a subsequent press release, issued on Monday after Khin Win’s death was made public, Wanbao described the death as “senseless” and expressed hope for a full police investigation, while touting the copper mine’s broad public support in the affected communities.

“91 percent of impacted villagers in 27 villages who were consulted through door to door consultations have also supported us,” the statement read. “So we have achieved great strides in our community relationships. There is a great story of hope and reconciliation […] This is what makes this senseless death even more painful and poignant. The mining project is there to help people like the lady who has passed away.”

On Tuesday the company accused protestors of using slingshots and throwing rocks at police and Wanbao staff, while vehemently denying accounts on social media that its employees had assaulted villagers and carried knives.

“These stories are hurtful and totally untrue,” read a stat ement on the Wanbao website. “If anything it has been Wanbao staff and contractors who have been at the receiving end of intimidation and beatings by activists and extremists as they carry out their work.”

The Letpadaung copper mining project has gained international notoriety since a Nov. 2012 incident in which police fired at demonstrators using incendiary rounds, believed to be white phosphorous, during a brutal crackdown at a protest camp.

In the last two years, there have been numerous confrontations between villagers and security forces as the mine’s operators attempted to extend the project’s operating area. Protests continue over the project due to loss of farmland, ecological impact and the destruction of sacred religious structures.

Four villages are being completely cleared for the mine and land around 26 other farming villagers, inhabited by more than 25,000 people, are also being acquired by the project.

Many villagers are reluctant to ta ke compensation after growing up in families that have tilled the surrounding farmlands for generations.

“We are just farmers,” said 38-year-old Hse Tae villager Yee Win, whose 14 acres of land were confiscated last year. “All we know is how to do farming. I just want my land back, as I am not sure the compensation they pay will guarantee our livelihoods.”

Win Mar, whose seven acres of crops outside Hse Tae were flattened by a bulldozer on Tuesday morning, has also refused compensation.

“We tried to prevent them but it was in vain,” she said. “We were outnumbered. There were police vans and fire engines behind them.”

“I’m very sad. They robbed me of my land. I don’t know what to do next,” she added.


Police Kill Villager in Copper Mine Standoff

By Zarni M Ann

The Irrawaddy

22 December 2014

MANDALAY — A woman was fatally shot by police on Monday as villagers attempted to prevent a land seizure near the Letpadaung copper mining project, Sagaing police confirmed.

Khin Win, 56, joined a crowd of roughly 60 villagers trying to obstruct contractors attempting to build a fence around disputed farmlands.

She died on the scene when police opened fire at the crowd after villagers threw stones and fired slingshots at the authorities. Locals said that at least 10 other villagers were injured.

“The fight began this morning, and later the police fired into the crowd. Daw Khin Win was shot in the head and died on the spot,” said farmer Ko Htwe of Hse Tae village, where the incident occurred.

Sagaing police confirmed that one woman died after being shot by an officer and at least two policemen were injured by the villagers.

The crowd gathered around 10am as contractors hired by the mine’s operator, Chinese mining firm Wanbao, attempted to fence off an area the  company had not yet legally acquired, villagers said. Some positioned themselves in front of company vehicles to physically block them.

After a tense standoff between villagers, contractors, and officers deployed to carry out project security, some villagers began throwing stones at police, who had ordered them to vacate th e area.

At around 3pm, police fired back.

Villagers told The Irrawaddy that police presence has increased over the past week as Wanbao accelerated land demarcation for the project.

“There are more than 300 police guarding the area near Hse Tae and Laikkum Mountain, together with the workers from Wanbao,” one farmer said, explaining that fights sometimes take place between company workers and locals. Just yesterday, he said, a minor altercation ended with a group of villagers and project employees punching and slapping each other in the face.

“Many more locals gathered near the area after they heard the news,” said the farmer, who wished to remain anonymous. “We were worried about what would happen next.”

The Letpadaung copper mining project, a joint venture between Wanbao and the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings (UMEH), became one of Burma’s most notorious developments in November 2012, when police fired incendiary devices against demonstrator s during a brutal crackdown at a protest camp.

Scores were injured in the early morning raid, including Buddhist monks, many with burns that have been attributed to white phosphorous. Operations were temporarily suspended, but opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi later told affected communities that the project should be allowed to resume under certain conditions.

Resistance to the development continued nonetheless, and in May this year villagers in Hse Tae kidnapped and held two Wanbao employees hostage, later releasing them without injury. Protests continue over the project due to land loss, environmental destruction and defilement of sacred religious structures.

Correction, 23/12/2014: Khin Win’s age was initially reported as 50. 


Forged Statements From NLD, President Criticize Letpadaung Protesters

By Nobel Zaw

The Irrawaddy

24 December 2014
 
RANGOON — Representatives of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and the office of President Thein Sein have refuted the authenticity of two statements which attacked the motives of villagers protesting the Letpadaung copper mining project.

A statement purportedly signed by the President said that the Chinese firm Myanmar Wanbao Mining Copper Ltd., one of the Letpadaung project’s joint venture partners, acted within the law by fencing work sites, and accused farmers of behaving unlawfully, justifying a police response which resulted in the death of 56-year-old villager Khin Win and injury to several others.

The statement said that farmers connected with Khin Win and other protestors would be charged for their “criminal activity” and concluded with an effusive apology to Wanbao and the People’s Republic of China.

The NLD statement, complete with the party’s letterhead and seal, criticized farmers for opposing government policies, and urged for farmers involved in the land dispute and protest ringleaders to be charged. Both forgeries were widely circulated over social media on Monday.

Zaw Htay, director of the President’s office, and the NLD both took to Facebook on Tuesday to announce both statements were fake. Nyan Win, a spokesman for the NLD, said that the party was still discussing the faked letter and formulating a n appropriate response.

“We are still finding out about the extent of that problem,” he told The Irrawaddy. “We are solving that problem with the committee so we can’t say anything now. If it is necessary we will issue a statement.”

This is the second time that the NLD has been the victim of a forged official statement. In the aftermath of religious riots in Mandalay last July, an anonymous social media user published a statement with the party’s logo and letterhead, stating that the NLD was “fully backing the Muslims” and would support efforts to prosecute Buddhist rioters, in an attempt to discredit the party.

Lawyer Kyee Myint told The Irrawaddy that the creator of the false statements faced a harsh punishment if caught.

“If the person who distributed the fake statements is revealed, he or she can be sentenced under Article 468 of the Penal Code with seven years’ imprisonment,” he said.


Police fire on Myanmar protesters, one dead, 20 hurt: reports

By Jared Ferrie and Aung Hla Tun

Reuters

22 December 2014

YANGON - Myanmar police fired on protesters near a mine at the center of a long-running land dispute on Monday, killing one person and wounding 20 others, media reports said, as the China-linked company announced plans to expand the project.

A Myanmar television station and website, the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), said that one person was killed during the protest near the Letpadaung copper mine in central Myanmar.

Khin San Hlaing, a parliamentarian with the opposition National League for Democracy, cited witnesses as saying a woman died after being struck in the head by a bullet.

The mining company, Myanmar Winbao, confirmed a person was killed.

"The events leading up to her death are still unclear," company spokesman Cao Desheng said in a statement. "We understand the police were at the scene, and we hope they will start investigating this event."

Local police contacted by Reuters said they had no information about the protests.

Earlier on Monday, Wanbao, which is a unit of the Chinese weapons manufacturer China North Industries Group Corp, said it would "be extending its working area in the Letpadaung copper project to comply with requirements of its investment permit".

"Construction is proceeding as a result of broad community support for the project," the company said in a statement, adding that two percent of the mine’s profits would be spent on community development.

The deadly protest comes as Myanmar’s semi-civilian government, which took power in 2011 after 49 years of military rule, faces criticism for rights abuses including cracking down on journalists and against protests.

United States President Barack Obama warned during a November visit that the country was backsliding on reforms.

Local residents have protested against the Letpadaung mine in Monywa, about 100 km (60 miles) west of Mandalay, saying thousands of acres of land have been confiscated to enable the project to proceed.

In November, Amnesty International urged the government to halt work at the site, saying land had been acquired through a flawed process and that other social and environmental issues must be resolved.

The rights group also said authorities have yet been held accountable for attacks on protesters two years earlier. In November 2012, more than 100 people including at least 67 monks were hurt when riot police raided camps set up by protesters.

(Additional reporting by Minzayar Oo in YANGON; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)


More Villagers Injured in Letpadaung Mine Protests

By Kyah Phyo Tha

The Irrawaddy

23 December 2014

RANGOON — Three people were injured on Tuesday morning when police used rubber bullets to quell an attempt to halt land seizures near the Letpadaung copper mining project, the day after one woman was shot dead by police in the same village.

A doctor from the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society, who is giving medical assistance at Hse Tae village and who spoke to The Irrawaddy on condition of anonymity, said he had treated 16 people who were injured in confrontations over the last two days, including several shot with rubber bullets, while others were hit and kicked by police and Chinese employees working on the project.

“Most of them are women,” he said.

According to Hse Tae residents, more than 17 acres of farmland in the surrounding area had been bulldozed since 6:30am on Tuesday, destroying a swath of sesame, sunflower and bean crops.

“Right after the bulldozer passed, the Chinese workers planted posts to demarcate the land for fencing,” said Phyu Hnin Htwe, a Hse Tae resident who witnessed the seizure. “When the villagers attempted to stop the bulldozer, police shot them down.”

An official from Myanmar Wanbao Mining Copper Limited, the Chinese company constructing the Letpadaung mine in a joint venture with the military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings, told the Irrawaddy on Tuesday that the company will continue to fence the area.

“We will keep fencing today,” said Dong Yunfei, Wanbao’s administrative manager. “We are just doing our business on the land we leased, and there are some people who are not pleased with what we are doing because of instigation by some political forces.”

Dong added that the project had the approval of the majority of local villagers, and the land had been appropriated by the government in 2001 and leased to the company in 2011.

A report in state-run media on Tuesday, headlined ‘Extension of Letpadaung Copper Mine Fence Disturbed’, said that villagers attacked security forces and detained 10 workers. The article stated that 11 police and nine villagers were injured in the confrontation, in addition to the death of 56-year-old villager Khin Win.

In a press statement on Monday, Wanbao said it would extend its working area under the direction of the Burmese government in order to comply with the requirements of its investment permit granted by the Myanmar Investment Commission.

In a subsequent press release, issued on Monday after Khin Win’s death was made public, Wanbao described the death as “senseless” and expressed hope for a full police investigation, while touting the copper mine’s broad public support in the affected communities.

“91 percent of impacted villagers in 27 villages who were consulted through door to door consultations have also supported us,” the statement read. “So we have achieved great strides in our community relationships. There is a great story of hope and reconciliation […] This is what makes this senseless death even more painful and poignant. The mining project is there to help people like the lady who has passed away.”

On Tuesday the company accused protestors of using slingshots and throwing rocks at police and Wanbao staff, while vehemently denying accounts on social media that its employees had assaulted villagers and carried knives.

“These stories are hurtful and totally untrue,” read a statement on the Wanbao website. “If anything it has been Wanbao staff and contractors who have been at the receiving end of intimidation and beatings by activists and extremists as they carry out their work.”

The Letpadaung copper mining project has gained international notoriety since a Nov. 2012 incident in which police fired at demonstrators using incendiary rounds, believed to be white phosphorous, during a brutal crackdown at a protest camp.

In the last two years, there have been numerous confrontations between villagers and security forces as the mine’s operators attempted to extend the project’s operating area. Protests continue over the project due to loss of farmland, ecological impact and the destruction of sacred religious structures.

Four villages are being completely cleared for the mine and land around 26 other farming villagers, inhabited by more than 25,000 people, are also being acquired by the project.

Many villagers are reluctant to take compensation after growing up in families that have tilled the surrounding farmlands for generations.

“We are just farmers,” said 38-year-old Hse Tae villager Yee Win, whose 14 acres of land were confiscated last year. “All we know is how to do farming. I just want my land back, as I am not sure the compensation they pay will guarantee our livelihoods.”

Win Mar, whose seven acres of crops outside Hse Tae were flattened by a bulldozer on Tuesday morning, has also refused compensation.

“We tried to prevent them but it was in vain,” she said. “We were outnumbered. There were police vans and fire engines behind them.”

“I’m very sad. They robbed me of my land. I don’t know what to do next,” she added.


Myanmar: Serious risk of further human rights abuses at controversial Letpadaung min

http://www.amnesty.ca/news/news-releases/myanmar-serious-risk-of-further-human-rights-abuses-at-controversial-letpadaung-m

27 November 2014

Two years after police used incendiary weapons against monks and villagers protesting a mining project in central Myanmar, no one has been held accountable, Amnesty International said ahead of the anniversary of the attack.

The organization also highlights ongoing problems with the way the Letpadaung mine is being developed and the risk of further abuses. Construction is proceeding without resolving ongoing environmental and human rights concerns. Thousands of farmers remain under the threat of forced evictions since their lands were acquired for the mine in a flawed process characterized by misinformation.

On 29 November 2012, police used white phosphorous munitions in their attack on a peaceful protest against the Letpadaung copper mine in Sagaing Region, injuring at least 99 monks and nine other protesters. Many suffered extremely painful burns and some have been left with lifelong injuries and scarring.

“Two years after this brutal attack, it is completely unacceptable that the scores of people injured while protesting are still waiting for justice and reparations. White phosphorus munitions should never be used by the police – the use of such weapons against peaceful protesters is a flagrant violation of international law,” said Audrey Gaughran, Director of Global Issues at Amnesty International.

“No police officer or official who was involved in the attack has been investigated, prosecuted or sanctioned, while the government has failed to provide victims with effective remedies and adequate reparation.”

The mining project is being developed by a subsidiary of the Chinese mining company Wanbao Mining Ltd and the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (UMEHL), the economic arm of the Myanmar military.

The underlying human rights and environmental issues have also yet to be resolved. Protests in the region continue as hundreds of families resist forced evictions from their land to make room for the Letpadaung mine.

Four villages, made up of 441 households, are supposed to be completely relocated for the Letpadaung mining project. Of these, 245 have been moved to resettlement sites, while the remaining 196 have refused to leave their homes.

Land largely used for farming, has also been acquired from 26 other villages for the project. According to the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) for the project, as of May 2014 almost half of the villagers (44 per cent) had refused to relinquish their lands.

The authorities misinformed the villagers about the acquisition process – making it appear that they were compensating them for damage to their crops – while in reality using this process to permanently acquire their land.

“The authorities should urgently set up a genuine consultation with the affected villages on the land acquisition and proposed evictions. They must guarantee that no one will be forcibly evicted,” said Audrey Gaughran.

“The construction of the Letpadaung mine must be halted immediately until a thorough environmental and social impact assessment has been carried out, which genuinely consults all the people affected.”

The ESIA – commissioned by Myanmar Wanbao Mining Copper Limited (a subsidiary of Wanbao Mining Ltd.) – for the project has critical gaps, including the failure to include the final designs of waste storage and other environmentally sensitive infrastructure.

The assessment also ignores community concerns about the nearby, existing Sabetaung and Kyisintaung copper mine, operated by another subsidiary of Wanbao, and the Moe Gyo Sulphuric Acid Factory, owned by UMEHL, which supplies acid to the mine.

“More than 25,000 people live in 26 villages in the five kilometre distance between the two mines, with the sulphuric acid factory also in close proximity. People who may be affected by pollution need more information on how cumulative risks from all three projects will be managed,” said Audrey Gaughran.

Amnesty International is investigating past and current human rights issues around the Letpadaung mine, and the Sabetaung and Kyisintaung copper mine as well as the Moe Gyo Sulphuric Acid Factory. The findings will be presented in a report due to be released early in 2015.

Background

Myanmar Yang Tse Copper Limited (a wholly owned subsidiary of Wanbao Mining Ltd.) started operating the Sabetaung and Kyisintaung copper mine from 2011.

Under the current production sharing contract for the Letpadaung mine, Myanmar Wanbao Mining Copper Ltd. and the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited retain 49 per cent of the profits and the remaining 51 per cent are given to the Government of Myanmar.

For further information contact Elizabeth Berton-Hunter, Media Relations
(416)363-9933 #332 bberton-hunter@amnesty.ca


KNU defends coal mining project despite local opposition

Eleven Media (Myanmar)

20 November 2014
 
Despite local opposition, the Karen National Union has deployed its staff to secure the area in Dawei Township, Taninthayi Region, where the Banchaung mining project is located, according to locals.
 
On November 15, ethnic Kayin locals from Thabyuchaung, Kyaukhtoo, Kahtaungni and Kunchaungyi attempted to block the roads – Kunchaungyi Amara Road and Dawei-Myeik Union Road – which are used as transportation routes for the project.
 
“Locals do not approve of the project at all. They voiced their objections at the company’s meeting last month. Nonetheless, the company keeps going. Therefore, the locals blocked two roads that link the project to surrounding towns. However, KNU soldiers cleared the path that leads to Thailand for coal transport. The KNU continues to provide security for the project,” said Naw Pi Tha Law, a member of a group working for the social welfare for Kayin people.
 
“The KNU was established to defend ethnic Kayin people, and now Kayin people are protesting this mining project to protect their own interest. It is questionable why the KNU is not protecting its own people. We are sorry to see where KNU is standing. It would be worth knowing whether the KNU receives any benefits from the project,” Naw Pi Tha Law continued.
 
Last month, Myat Ko, the chief minister of Kayin State, said in a meeting concerning mining project that the government will remove the mining block located close to Kahtaungni village. The rest of the project, he said, is under the control of the KNU.
 
The mining project is a joint venture between Thailand’s East Star Company and local company May Flower Mining Enterprises.


Kachin protesters demand slice of mining wealth

Eleven Media (Myanmar)

22 November 2014

More than 2,000 residents joined a protest on November 20 in Phakant, Kachin State, demanding greater autonomy for the state government to enable it to administer resource extraction in the state and improve security and living standards.

The protest is said to be connected with the death of a resident who was killed while solo gem mining on October 31 in Phakant with protesters saying that commercial mining provides no benefit for residents.  

Lamaunglataung, a local clergyman, said: "We feel that we have no security for our lives here. The companies came back here recently. The man was killed with a backhoe digger. Phakant will soon disappear without any benefit to the local people if they use such big machinery to mine. They are useless for the area. Every company is connected with an army general. The Chinese are also behind them. Indonesia spends 70 percent of the profits from resources extracted in Aceh in the region. What are the benefits for Kachin State from resource extraction? That's why we staged the protest." 

The protest ended peacefully with protesters holding prayers. 

Taukpathawkyel Co, which was responsible for the death, said it had already paid Ks 40 million in compensation.  


Myanmar's jade curse

Al Jazeera

25 November 2014

Gold is valuable but jade is priceless, so goes a Chinese saying. For centuries, the Chinese consider jade an imperial stone with mystical properties. Today it is coveted all over China as a status symbol, a collectible and an investment.
 
Demand from increasingly wealthy Chinese drives the value of jade through the roof. At this year's Shanghai World Jewellery Expo, auctioneers put the opening bid for top grade jade items at more than $160 a gram, exceeding four times the price of gold.
 
Intricately designed pieces, made from top grade jade known as jadeite, are viewed as attractive investments despite the lack of scientific valuation methods. In recent years, jadeite has provided better returns than real e state.
 
But the imperial stone delivers a death sentence to treasure hunters in Myanmar, where China's jadeite comes from.
 
Most of Myanmar's raw jade enters a murky black market. Its official revenue from jade exports over from 2011 to 2014 was $1.3bn. But Harvard University's Ash Center estimates total jade sales  -  including through unofficial channels - were $8bn in 2011 alone, suggesting most of the revenue does not go into government coffers.
 
The Myanmar government will not speak to us on camera. But our investigations reveal a corrupt senior government official who works with businessmen in the illegal trade of raw jade, including helping to falsify tax documents.
 
In northern Kachin state, we follow jade smugglers to the remote Hpakant mining town, the source of the world's best jade. The men are part of the government's border guard force. The officer in charge tells us how he pays off army and police comma nders along the smuggling trail to China.
 
Hpakant is out of bounds to foreigners and no foreign journalists have been known to make it there for years. Large mining companies suspended operations here in 2012 after the Kachin Independence Army and the Myanmar government went to war the preceding year, ending a 17-year ceasefire. With peace talks stalling, most companies have yet to resume excavation.
 
Despite the tension, tens of thousands of small time jade pickers have flooded Hpakant to sift through mine tailings, risking life and limb to toil in harsh conditions, hoping to strike jackpot. Some work alone, others in groups supported by businessmen. Their findings often go straight into the black market, forming the unregulated bedrock of the industry today.
 
A dark force fuels their labour. Jade picker Aik San estimates 75 percent of the miners have become drug addicts. They get their daily dose of heroin or yama - a type of methamphet amine - from drug dens around town. It numbs them from their backbreaking labour and helps them work longer hours in the harsh weather. With hidden cameras, we obtain shocking footage from the drug dens, revealing the scale of drug abuse that infests the underbelly of the jade trade. We also find a drug rehabilitation centre in Kachin state with more than 50 recovering addicts from the mining town. One of them, Aung Kyaw Moe, painfully shares how his employer paid him and fellow workers with heroin to get them hooked so they would work harder for their next dose.
 
As the hammer goes down in major Chinese cities for more glitzy jade items auctioned off at record levels, wealthy collectors celebrate yet another treasure possessed. It offers stark contrast to the wretched lives of mine pickers at the bottom of the supply chain, in a land far away.


Petitioners ask Shan armed group for help in halting coal mine

Shan Herald Agency for News via Mizzima

18 November 2014

A petition letter signed by 11 monks and 229 other local people was sent to the Restoration Council of Shan State or RCSS ethnic armed group on November 12 asking them to help close down all the coal mining projects in Mong Kung Township in central Shan State, according to the Shan Herald Agency for News on November 18.

Over 500 acres of pasture, farmland and conifer forests in Wamt-Hwayt and Wamt-Yet village-tracts in the southern part of Mong Kung Township were confiscated by the government and given to the coal mining companies.

The locals want the RCSS to help them get rid of the coal companies, hence the petition letter to the RCSS in Taung Gyi Township.

Sai Khae Lai, a leader of the movement to stop the coalmining companies said: “This area is the watershed for the Nam Tane Stream. Since the coalmine project started here pasture and conifer forestland have already disappeared. Wild animals, cattle and people who rely on Nam Tane Stream will be affected by the chemical poison coming from the coalmines. That is why we monks and the people have organized ourselves into a protest group.”

In addition to the RCSS forces, who are active in the area, the protest group has also brought the matter to the attention of U Sai Pan, a state parliament representative and they will also later bring it to the attention of the State and Union governments, he added.

Sai Haw Sine, a spokesperson from the Shan Social Organisation said: “Our country is not stable yet, so the government should not allow any project that will be harmful to the people. Also the ethnic armed groups must stop this kind of behaviour because it does not benefit local people.”

Details of how the coal mine will cause deterioration of water resources and how the inhabitants of at least two village-tracts could lose their livelihoods due to the loss and destruction of pasture, farmland, conifer forests and mountains were included in the petition letter sent to the RCSS by the Mong Kung residents.

The letter also po ints out that wild animals, cattle and aquatic organisms could be killed as waste materials from coal mining could permeate into the soil and waterways affecting the lives of people who rely on Nam Tane Stream living in Mong Kung, Laihka, Nam Sang, Kengtung, Mongpan and Lingkhe townships.

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