MAC: Mines and Communities

Burma, oh Burma!

Published by MAC on 2015-01-17
Source: The Irrawaddy, Mizzima News, Reuters, Global Times (2015-01-12)

There's no sign of amy resolution to the ongoing battle over the Letpadaung copper mine, between local people, national organisations, a Chinese mining company, and the Burmese government.

On 9 January, another protestor - a woman - was killed in clashes between "security" forces and residents.

As citizens still await a new mining law, conflicts elsewhere in the country continue failing to convince investors that Burma is a "safe" destination for their money.

Women’s groups call for justice over slain copper mine protester

Mizzima News

11 January 20i5

Ten Myanmar women’s groups Friday called for justice for the woman who was killed in clashes between security forces and residents at the controversial copper mine in central Myanmar.

Daw Khin Win, 56, was shot dead on December 22 as she took part in a protest against fencing being put up on farmers’ land by workers of the Letpadaung copper mine project.

Wanbao company, a joint Chinese-Myanmar mining venture, issued a message of condolence to Daw Khin Win’s family in the wake of her death.

The statement by the women’s groups said this brutal attack was a breach of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, of which Myanmar is a member, accusing the government of failing to protect the rights of women and negligence over the treaty. It also called for action by the investigation commission led by opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the implementation committee for the commission led by President’s Office Minister U Hla Tun, the rule of law committee and the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission.

The 10 women’s advocacy groups in this campaign are the Women’s Organization Network, Women’s League of Burma, Phandee Eain, Akha Yar, Gender Equality Network, Triangle Women Support Group, Kachin Women Peace Network, Women’s Initiative Network for Peace, Women Can Do It and NGO Gender Group.

Protest over the killing and the violent suppression of the protesters spread to major cities, including Yangon where protesters tried to pass through a security line near the Chinese embassy to lay a wreath, leading to the eventual arrest of protest leaders U Nay Myo Zin and Daw Naw Ohn Hla on December 30.


Meeting set to tackle Letpadaung mine problem

Mizzima News

12 January 2015

Efforts to resolve the standoff between protesters and the Letpadaung copper mining company will get underway at a tripartite meeting on January 14.

Ma Moe Moe Tun, joint-secretary of the Sein Lan Pyin Oo Lwin non-profit organization, told Mizzima on January 11 that the tripartite discussions involving government representatives, the mining company and civil society organizations is scheduled to be held in Nay Pyi Taw.

The meeting will be attended by Union Minster U Soe Thane, Deputy Minister of Finance Dr Maung Maung Thein, members of the implementation committee for the investigation commission involved in the project, representatives of Myanmar Economic Holdings and Myanmar Wanbao Mining Copper Limited, and NGOs.

In the wake of recent violent clashes between local residents and police and company workers at the mine, NGOs suggested to the deputy finance minister and the Myanmar Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative office that oversees mining in the country that a meeting was needed.

Ma Moe Moe Tun said she had heard that all the relevant participants will be involved.

“We will call on [representatives of] the Myanmar Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative to see what they can suggest,” she said.

A total of nine representatives from NGOs, such as the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society, Sein Lan Pyin Oo Lwin and Sein Yaung So, will take part in the discussions.

At least one person has died and dozens have been injured in demonstrations over the last two years over the work of the Chinese-run mining company, which critics claim has been stealing farmers’ land and polluting the environment.


Government denies failing to implement Suu Kyi’s Letpadaung report-

Zarni Mann

The Irrawaddy

9 January 2015

A government committee tasked with implementing parliamentary recommendations for resolving problems with the Letpadaung copper mine has rejected criticism that it has mishandled the project and contributed to recent unrest in Sagaing Division.

The committee’s secretary Tin Myint told Burmese-language state media outlets that it had properly implemented the recommendations of the parliamentary committee chaired by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who presented a report on the Chinese-backed copper mine in early 2013.

“It is not true that the committee is poorly implementing the report’s recommendations. The committee has implemented the report and is also working for the development of the region and the locals,” he was quoted as saying by Myanma Alin newspaper on Friday.

The official went on to blame “outsiders” for the ongoing unrest near the mine.

“We are trying to investigate who are these outsiders, organizations and activists that are inciting the villagers; the authorities are preparing a lawsuit against them. The recent incident at Letpadaung was caused by these outsiders,” Tin Myint claimed.

On Dec. 22, violence flared up near the mine when protesting farmers tried to stop company workers and police from seizing and fencing off farmlands. A 56-year-old woman named Khin Win was shot dead by police.

Last week, Suu Kyi criticized the committee for failing to properly implement her report’s recommendations, saying, “The committee did carry out some recommendations, but it has not fully implemented the recommendations. It has not followed the recommendations to the letter.”

Following a violent raid by police on a protest camp in November 2012, Suu Kyi’s committee recommended that China’s Wanbao and authorities ensure adequate compensation for villagers, address environmental impacts of the project and increase benefits for local communities and the Burmese government.

Wanbao then drew up a new agreement with the government and the Burmese military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holding Ltd (UMEHL) to match the report’s recommendations and greatly increase government revenues from the mine.

However, the mining project—a joint venture between Wanbao and UMEHL—remains a source of conflict between farmers and the firm, whose operations are being protected by local authorities. Hundreds of farmers have rejected compensation offers for their land and have been angered by forced land seizures and the removal of a Buddhist monastery.

Tin Myint, who spoke during a press conference in Naypyidaw on Thursday,
said the land seizures had been legal and that adequate compensation had been offered to villagers.

“Whether [people] take the compensation or not, this land is project land that was lawfully obtained through an industrial land leasing permit,” he said, adding that 6,782 acres had been confiscated since the project began in 2011.

Tensions remain high near the mine in Salingyi Township and villagers said on Friday that land seizures and protests were ongoing.

Win Htay from Hse Tae village denied that outside organizations were
inciting villagers to protest. “What they [the committee] said are lies. We are on our own to fight for our rights. There’s no one behind us or stirring up the problem,” he said.

Dozens of local villagers are facing charges in relation to the recent violence and their resistance against the mine’s expansion, according to the Burma Lawyers’ Network, which is providing legal counsel to local communities affected by the project.

“Locals were charged with stealing barbed wire and undermining [Wanbao’s] interests. The complaint was filed against 50 people,” lawyer Thein Than Oo said, adding that only one of the accused had so far been officially informed of the charges.

Thein Than Oo said the family of the victim of the recent unrest was still waiting to hear whether the police would begin an investigation into her death. The family of Khin Win filed a first information report to the Salingyi Police Station on Jan. 3.


Locals condemn Letpadaung committee claims on compensation, police conduct

Yen Snaing

The Irrawaddy

6 January 2015

Activists have criticized the Letpadaung report implementation committee for failing to provide a workable land compensation scheme for villagers affected by the copper mine and for justifying the actions of police forces during a recent skirmish at the project site.

The committee, established by the Union Parliament to address problems facing the troubled project after riots in 2012, said in a statement on Monday that all land confiscated for the project was done in accordance with the Farmlands Law, with compensation paid at 20 times the land tax valuation of the affected properties. The statement also said that joint venture operator Wanbao’s recent fencing of farmland was necessary because of government restrictions on unlawful assembly.

Khin San Hlaing, a National League for Democracy lawmaker from Sagaing Division and a member of the 15-person parliamentary investigation team which recommended compensation for villagers, said the committee is reiterating claims from previous statements, which do not address the desire of some villagers around the Letpadaung site to remain on their land.

“What they are doing is unacceptable to the public,” she said. “As far as we know, there are residents who own over 1,000 acres of land that haven’t taken compensation. That’s why they should clearly state how much land has been compensated and how much hasn’t, and why people did and didn’t accept compensation.”

Khin San Hlaing’s comments were echoed by Han Shin Win, a law advisor from the Myanmar Alliance for Transparency and Accountability who is assisting Letpadaung locals with the land compensation process, who said he questioned whether the compensation is adequate for those landowners to be displaced from the area and whether it would guarantee their livelihood into the future.

The statement did not confirm how many acres and how many villagers had agreed to compensation, but said

Villagers clashed with police and Wanbao employees on Dec. 22, as the company attempted to fence off disputed lands. Locals who claimed they had not agreed to a compensation scheme with the company tried to block the workers.

The implementation committee’s statement yesterday repeated claims made earlier in Wanbao press releases, saying that locals had been incited by outside organizations to protest the mining project and were using sticks, knives and slingshots. The statement said that security forces acted in accordance with existing laws and procedures to subdue the protests, which ultimately resulted in the shooting death of 56-year-old protester Khin Win and nine other injuries.

Khin San Hlaing told The Irrawaddy that there should be a transparent investigation into the death.

“The police forces have been trained by the European Union in how to handle conflict at an international standard,” he said. “Shooting defenseless members of the public, knowing that weapon could injure or kill a person, and then issuing a statement of apology—the public would not be satisfied with that. It’s important to know who is taking responsibility, and it is important that the exact truth is investigated.”

The statement claimed that the implementation committee had notified locals in advance that the area under dispute would be fenced, ostensibly to protect local residents and animals from heavy machinery, and that villagers raising crops in the cordoned off area would be compensated with current market prices.

But Thwe Thwe Win, a farmer and activist from Letpadaung, said that neither advance notice nor compensation for lost crops was forthcoming, and that police attacked farmers trying to halt the fencing without warning.

“They are fencing an area where people have not accepted compensation,” he said. “We are losing our land. The police shoot at us and I even called Sagaing Police Col. Nay Htun to ask him to control the police force there. He told me he couldn’t.”


Mandalay woman sent to prison after public prayer service

The Irrawaddy

8 January 2015

Tin Mar Ye, a Mandalay woman involved in a prayer service held in support of a detained activist, has been sent to prison under Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Law.

The 51-year-old participated in a public prayer with 50 other people at the Maha Myat Muni Pagoda in Mandalay last September, calling for the release of Phyu Hnin Htwe, a member of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions who was at that time detained under accusations of involvement in the kidnapping of two Chinese contractors working at the controversial Letpadaung copper mine site.

Phyu Hnin Htwe, 20, was released in October following a month’s detention in Monywa, Sagiang Division, after Wanbao, the joint venture company operating the Letpadaung project, declined to press charges. Tin Mar Ye, meanwhile, has been sentenced to a month’s imprisonment by the Chanmyathazi Township court for her involvement in the public show of support for the student activist, according to her lawyer Thein Than Oo.

Of the 50 people who prayed at the Maha Myat Muni Pagoda in September, only Tin Mar Ye was charged under Article 18, which carries a maximum sentence of six months in prison and a 30,000 kyats (US$29) fine for public demonstrators who fail to adhere to onerous permission and behavior requirements.

Phyu Hnin Htwe, lending her support to Tin Mar Ye on Thursday, was scathing of the court’s verdict.

“She only prayed for my release in the pagoda, yet she was charged with Article 18 and sent to prison for one month while I was released,” she said. “I think the justice system in Myanmar is ridiculous.”

Wai Wai Tun, one of the people involved in the prayer demonstration, said that the participants simply involved walking to and from the pagoda, stopping to pray and carrying a single placard demanding the release Phyu Hnin Htwe, which was carried by a young woman unrelated to Tin Mar Ye. In light of the restraint and the location of the public prayer, Wai Wai Tun and Thein Than Oo both told The Irrawaddy that it would be misleading even to characterize the event as a demonstration.

“If we really wanted to protest, we would not go to the pagoda,” she said.

Wai Wai Tun added that 50 people are planning to sit outside Oh Bo Prison on Saturday, where Tin Mar Ye is being held.


Conflict at the Chinese copper mine in Myanmar resulted in one death;

Chinese company: “We are against violence and support communication”

Global Times

26 December 2014

(unofficial translation)

The expansion plan of the China-Myanmar joint venture in the Letpadaung mine elicited public demonstrations on December 21. Myanmar police clashed with the demonstrators, leading eventually to the death of one villager and the injury of twenty.

The event has brought wide attention from the international community.

Some western media have used the opportunity to increase tension, using strong language such as “suppression” and “police abuse of power” to exaggerate the story. On the afternoon of the 23rd, Wanbao Mining Corporation, the Chinese partner in the project, sent Global Times a statement regarding the event. The statement emphasized that Wanbao Mining is against any violence not conducive to conflict resolution; dialogue and communication are the best means of resolving differences.

Some radical villagers stirred up and led the trouble, vowing that they would kill the Chinese.

According to Chinese language media in Myanmar “The Golden Phoenix”, the Letpadaung copper mine project, which had been suspended for two years, began its expansion work on the 22nd with the support of the majority of villagers, although a minority still opposed the project. On that day, the standoff between local villagers and the police led to serious conflict. One woman died from a shot in the head and twenty more were wounded.

The report stated that on December 22nd, the copper mine project started its expansion work by constructing fences with the support of the Myanmar government. Most of the workers were Chinese staff and contractors.

However, during their operation, a handful of radicals encouraged about 100 villagers to surround and attack the Chinese staff, interrupting their work and interfering with the police safeguarding the location. Their actions made it very difficult to construct the fences. The radicals led the villagers in attacking the police and workers with slingshots, rocks and spring arrows. Some villagers swung machetes and sickles, aiming to kill the Chinese. When they surrounded and attempted to hold the Chinese, the Chinese staff broke out with the help of the police.

The police were on the defensive during the conflict. The deceased was a woman in her 50’s.

During the whole process, the police were on the defensive and lost control of the situation several times. Many Chinese were hit by rocks.

Two Chinese and several Myanmar police were injured. A 50-year-old woman from Moe Kyo Pyin village was shot in the head and died. Her name was Daw Khin Win. It has been learned that her husband had passed away and her children now live in Mandalay. She was one of the radical villagers who had consistently fought the project, participating in protests and demonstrations.

The Golden Phoenix claimed that upon the death of the villager, the company released a statement on its website and responded to requests for phone and email interviews from Reuters, BBC, Wall Street Journal, Ming Pao and DVB, as well as other international and local media. In the statement, the company expressed condolences for the unfortunate death of the villager and claimed that the company had nothing to do with the event; furthermore, the company does not endorse any violent resolution of differences. The project company, the Myanmar government, and other parties have communicated with each other to ensure proper funeral arrangements and expressions of sympathy to her relatives.

The Project has made multiple concessions for environmental protection and compensation. Villagers who lost their land enjoy rich benefits

The report pointed out that the Letpadaung copper mine project has been delayed for as long as two years. According to recommendations in the report by the Letpadaung Copper Mine Investigative Commission led by Aung San Suu Kyi in March 2013, the company has made improvements on issues such as land compensation, environmental protection, relocation of pagodas and community support to meet development requirements. On land compensation, in March 2013 and February 2014, the company doubled the compensation.

In July 2014, the company introduced unemployment compensation for the villagers who lost their land so that they would enjoy stable income during the cycle of the project. These measures have far exceeded the legal and contractual requirements. On environmental protection, the company hired Australian consulting company Knight Piesold to produce the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment Report. The report is in its final review stage and concludes that because the environmental and social risks of the project are within acceptable and controllable range, the project should therefore proceed.

As for relocation of the hill pagodas, the company and partners held the completion ceremony for the new pagodas on August 18, 2014, signifying the successful completion of the pagoda relocation. As for community support, in 2013 the company invested 1.8 billion dollars in community support, far more than the 1 million dollar input committed during the construction of the project. In 2014, it will implement at least another one million dollars’ worth of community support projects. The report says that these measures have won positive reviews from the local villagers.

Statement on the Death of the Moe Kyo Pyin Villager by the Wanbo Mining Ltd:

On the afternoon of December 22, a villager from Moe Kyo Pyin village, located near the Letpadaung copper mine project, was injured and died in a law enforcement conflict with police. We express our deep regret about this event. As a member of the Letpadaung copper mine community, we wish to express our deep condolences and sympathy to the family of the deceased. We are not yet clear about the details of this unfortunate incident, but believe that the local police will conduct further investigation into the event. We wish to reiterate that we oppose any violence that is not conducive to conflict resolution and that we believe dialogue and communication are the best way to resolve differences.

In the past two years, we have made great efforts to improve relations with the community, which have achieved good results. Most of the villagers support development of the project and believe that it will be conducive to development of the whole region and improve the living conditions of the local population. Nevertheless, a small group of activists has been encouraging a minority of the villagers to disrupt the normal development of the project. This has resulted in repeated construction delays and the project thus has yet to embark on its normal development track.

The Letpadaung copper mine is a key cooperation project between China and Myanmar. The smooth development of the project is not only conducive to national and regional development, but also benefits the local people. We believe that with joint support from the two governments and the majority of the people, the project can development step by step and become a shining example of bilateral cooperation.


As Burma opens up, miners weigh potential versus risk

Reuters

7 January 2015

With abundant mineral wealth from jade and rubies to copper and coal, Burma ought to be looking forward to a mining boom as it opens up its economy. But long-running insurgencies and a murky regulatory framework are holding back all but the intrepid.

Foreign investment in the Southeast Asian country as well as home-grown development were held back by 49 years of military rule that ended when a quasi-civilian, reformist government took office in 2011 and started courting investors.

The security and regulatory risks remain daunting, however, and although 69 foreign firms have registered to work in Burma’s mining sector, only 11 are operating.

One of them, Asia Pacific Mining Ltd (APML), has been granted an exploration license covering 650 square km (250 square miles) in restive Shan State, where it hopes to find deposits of lead, zinc and silver.

On Jan. 5, APML announced that its first month of exploration had yielded “significant discoveries of massive sulfide silver-lead-zinc mineralization” and said it expected to start exploratory drilling by April.

APML’s concession surrounds the Bawdwin mine, which CEO Andrew Mooney said was the world’s largest source of lead and zinc in the 1930s.

Despite its prospects, Burma’s risks will probably deter big firms from investing any time soon, Mooney told Reuters.

“[Myanmar's] been off the radar since the 1960s,” he said.

“In Southeast Asia, Indonesia is the major mining powerhouse. I think Myanmar has the potential to overtake it.”

A tumble in commodity prices may also deter some. Silver has lost two-thirds of its value since 2011 and zinc has shed almost 20 percent since then.

Wildcats

Burma’s government cannot put a precise figure on its potential mineral wealth and is unable to provide data on the sector’s worth before 1989.

Isolation under military rule plus international sanctions hampered exploration work.

With US$2.86 billion in foreign investment since 1989—an annual average of just $114 million—its mining sector is tiny compared to that of Indonesia, where coal exports alone generate revenue of over $25 billion a year, even at current low prices.

The limited surveying work done suggests large resources. “Judging by the size of its mineral deposits, you would expect a bonanza,” the Oxford Business Group, an investment and economic consultancy, said in its 2014 report on Burma.

Yet for now, Burma is the domain of small, wildcat companies specializing in high-risk frontier investment.

Conflicts between the military and numerous ethnic minority armies have flared since the 1950s and much of the mineral wealth is in areas controlled by insurgents keen to get a share of the spoils under any peace deals.

Underlining the risks, fighting was reported near APML’s concession area three days after it announced its license in October.

And earlier this month, a woman was killed and about a dozen other people were wounded when police and villagers clashed in central Burma during a protest over the expansion of a copper mine owned by a Chinese firm and a Burma company controlled by the military.

Legal hurdles are a problem, too: a new mining law has been held up in Parliament for more than a year. The bill in its initial form did not inspire confidence among investors.

It lacks guarantees for firms to develop and exploit minerals found through exploration, said Vicky Bowman, a former Rio Tinto executive who is now director of the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business.

“The law has got stuck in Parliament. It’s been through various committees,” she said. “But I think now people are realizing that the current draft, if adopted, would mean an opportunity to bring the sector up to international standards had been wasted.”


 

 

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