MAC: Mines and Communities

Burmese good intentions aren't matched by deeds

Published by MAC on 2016-05-27
Source: Statements, Mining.com, Reuters, Myanmar Times (2016-05-24)

More die at Hpakant

Pledges have been made by a Burmese government committee to ensure that purloined is land returned to local communities.

But, as pointed out by Global Witness: "[W]hile the role of government ministries, state-owned and private companies was mentioned, reference to the military [is] worryingly absent".

Certainly president Obama doesn't seem reassured by the new government's rhetoric. He's just confirmed a continuation of the 1997 Executive Order prohibiting US investment - including in mining - in the country.

China is by far the largest overseas investor in Burmese extractive industries. In response to militant local protests against the Letpadaung copper mine - jointly owned by the Burmese mililtary and Wanbao - the Chinese foreign ministry has called on Chinese companies to "fulfil their responsibility and obligation to society, including paying attention to protecting the environment”

See also: Burma: no end to resource curses 

In yet another massive pit wall collapse at the Hpakant jade mines, thirteen or more people have been declared killed - bringing the total of fatalities since November last year to at least 126.

Myanmar’s efforts to tackle land grabbing crisis must address the role of the military in perpetuating theft and violence

https://globalwitness.org/en/press-releases/myanmars-efforts-tackle-land-grabbing-crisis-must-address-role-military-perpetuating-theft-and-violence/

11 May 2016

A decision by Myanmar’s new government to ramp up efforts to tackle land grabbing is a positive step, but must address the role of the military in perpetuating the country’s land crisis, which is at the heart of one of the longest ongoing civil wars in modern history.

Shortly after Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide election victory in late 2015, the government announced that it would prioritise bringing an end to the prolific and violent spate of land seizures that blighted rural life in Myanmar during decades of military rule.

The NLD now appears to be putting this pledge into action. It has announced the formation of a new committee to investigate conflicts between communities and companies, and oversee the return of land to its rightful owners. The government is also suggesting a freeze on the sale of new land until disputes are settled – a move which will be welcomed by rural communities across the country. But while the role of government ministries, state-owned and private companies was mentioned, reference to the military was worryingly absent.

“For more than five decades Myanmar’s military junta has seized land and sold it to investors at a huge personal profit, leaving rural communities landless and often destitute,” said Ali Hines of Global Witness. “This is not simply a legacy issue – the military still wields considerable power on the ground and continues to grab yet more land from ethnic minority communities. The new government has set the right tone by encouraging a freeze on further land investments, but must ban all further land acquisitions – including by the military – if it is serious about preventing further conflict.”

By 2013, 5.3 million acres of land - 35 times the size of Myanmar’s capital Yangon - had been leased for agriculture, mostly to local crony companies with close connections to government and military officials. These land grabs have devastated livelihoods and fuelled further conflict in a country in the throes of one of the longest ongoing civil wars in living memory.

“Without land, and with little or no compensation for it, communities have struggled to make a living and feed their families. The threat of military force has meant that many have been scared to speak out, and many of those who do have met with attacks, incarceration or at worst, execution,” said Hines. “Access to land is at the heart of Myanmar’s civil conflict and must be addressed locally as well as nationally if we are to see peace and stability in the country anytime soon.”

Global Witness is calling on the government and the new Central Review Committee on Confiscated Farmlands to:

For briefings or additional information please contact:

Ali Hines, Land Campaigner; ahines@globalwitness.org; + 44 (0)7738 712955

Alice Harrison, Communications Adviser; aharrison@globalwitness.org; +44(0)7841 338792

/ ENDS


Notice -- Continuation of the National Emergency with Respect to Burma

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary

17 May 2016

On May 20, 1997, the President issued Executive Order 13047, certifying to the Congress under section 570(b) of the Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 1997 (Public Law 104-208), that the Government of Burma had committed large-scale repression of the democratic opposition in Burma after September 30, 1996, thereby invoking the prohibition on new investment in Burma by United States persons contained in that section. The President also declared a national emergency pursuant to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, 50 U.S.C. 1701-1706, to deal with the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States constituted by the actions and policies of the Government of Burma.

The actions and policies of the Government of Burma continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States. For this reason, the national emergency declared on May 20, 1997, and the measures adopted to deal with that emergency in Executive Orders 13047 of May 20, 1997; 13310 of July 28, 2003; 13448 of October 18, 2007; 13464 of April 30, 2008; 13619 of

July 11, 2012; and 13651 of August 6, 2013, must continue in effect beyond May 20, 2016. Therefore, in accordance with section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1622(d)), I am continuing for 1 year the national emergency with respect to Burma declared in Executive Order 13047. This notice shall be published in the Federal Register and transmitted to the Congress.

BARACK OBAMA

THE WHITE HOUSE,
May 17, 2016


Pit collapse at jade mine in Myanmar leaves at least 13 dead

Cecilia Jamasmie

http://www.mining.com/pit-collapse-at-jade-mine-in-myanmar-leaves-at-least-13-dead/

24 May 2016

At least 13 people have been confirmed dead and two are missing after a wall pit collapsed at an illegal jade mine in Myanmar’s Hpakant, in the Kachin state, the heart of the country’s lucrative greenstone industry.

The accident occurred Monday evening, following heavy rain that lasted all day, Reuters reports.

It is the latest in a series of deadly accidents in recent months to hit Hpakant, where as much as 90% of the world's jade is mined.
"Deadly accidents are, unfortunately, not unusual in Hpakant, where as much as 90% of the world's jade is mined."

Miners work under extremely dangerous conditions, particularly those who pick through churned up material from large-scale machinery on unstable hillsides.

Jade mining, which has been in the hands of Myanmar's military and elites during the final years of junta rule, is not only a dangerous sector to work in.

A report last year by rights group Global Witness showed the business remains a key driver of conflict between the government and ethnic Kachin rebels, funding both sides in a war that has killed thousands and displaced around 100,000 since 2011.

Most of the jade extracted in Myanmar, which remains under US sanctions, is smuggled into China, where the so-called "stone of heaven" is considered a symbol of virtue and power, and it is believed to ward off evil spirits and improve health.

Earlier this month, 13 workers died because of a similar accident. And in November last year, more than 100 were killed in major landslide after a man-made mountain of earth excavated from mines gave way. That accident is considered the worst one to hit the jade-mining area in recent memory.


Villagers demand an end to coal mining in Hsipaw Township

By BNI - http://www.mizzima.com/news-domestic/villagers-demand-end-coal-mining-hsipaw-township

24 May 2016

Residents living near large scale coal mining operations in northern Shan State have called on the firm, Ngwe Yi Pale Mining Co. Ltd, to stop coal mining in Hsipaw Township due to the serious environmental consequences the mining has inflicted on the area.

The firm is part of the Ngwe Yi Pale group, one of the largest sugar, cement and coal producers in Myanmar. Ngwe Yi Pale Mining started their operation in Hsipaw Township in 2004, with mining sites at Peng Zai, Parng Ngar and Nar Goon villages.

On April 1, 2016, over 250 villagers gathered at the Nam Ma temple to discuss problems caused by coal mining in their area.

Long Sai, an elder from Nam Ma village, told the Shan Herald that before the company operated in Peng Zai village, there was a small rice mill that provided electricity for the temple. Tea and rice grew well in the area, he explained.

“If the company continued digging the coal in the Ho Nar Fa area, over 100 acres of rice fields will be destroyed,” Long Sai explained. “The villagers will then have to move out from their homes.”

“We will not allow them to dig for coal in the Ho Nar Fa area,” he added. “We totally disagree with their operation. We want them to stop immediately and get out of the area.”

In 2010, residents in Nam Ma staged a protest against the coal mining, calling for the operation to permanently stop. However, this did not happen and the company continued to dig for coal.

“They do not care about local people who belong to the area,” said Sai Kyaw Jing, one of Nam Ma village leaders.

Over a 10 year period from 2005 to 2015 the company dug many holes throughout the Township. The holes appear to be part of an exploration study conducted by the firm. Villagers tell SHAN that they worry that people or livestock will fall into the numerous holes which the company has left in many places.

“We requested them to fill up the holes but they refused to this”, said Sai Kyaw Jing.

Earlier this year, residents of Nong Khio Township which is also in northern Shan State, reported serious problems with contamination in their area due to the company’s sugar production operations.

“Even though we met with their representatives to find a solution, they never did anything,” said a frustrated villager, Sai Zaw Moe. He reports that the firm continues to dump sugar production related waste into a nearby river.

The recently released, Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) report for Myanmar shows that 43.55% of Ngwe Yi Pale Mining, is owned U Thein Myint, also known as Chaung Hpin. Another individual listed as U Myint Shein, owns 29.20% of the firm.


After Burma protests, China says companies should respect laws

Reuters

10 May 2016

China has consistently demanded its companies operating abroad respect local laws, China’s Foreign Ministry said on Monday after hundreds of villagers in Burma protested against the resumption of operations at a Chinese-backed copper mine.

The protests have gathered momentum since last Wednesday when some people broke through police barriers protecting the mine, operated by Myanmar Wanbao, a unit of a Chinese weapons maker, in one of the first tests for the new government’s ability to deal with public anger.

Myanmar Wanbao runs the Letpadaung mine in a joint venture with a conglomerate controlled by the Myanmar military, Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. Villagers say their land has been unlawfully confiscated to expand the mine.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang, asked about the protests, said China and Myanmar are traditional friends whose cooperation accords with the interests of both countries.

“The Chinese government has consistently demanded that Chinese companies investing abroad respect the laws and rules of the host nation, and fulfil their responsibility and obligation to society, including paying attention to protecting the environment,” Lu told a daily news briefing in Beijing.

“China is willing to work hard with Myanmar to properly implement these mutually beneficial cooperation projects, to promote local socio-economic development, to better benefit both countries and their peoples,” he added.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Burma last month, where he said China was confident it could resolve business disagreements with Burma through friendly talks, amid pressure from China to resume a stalled US$3.6-billion dam project.

Lu said China was confident it could continue to have win-win cooperation with the country.

After big protests in 2012 and 2013 against the mine, when riot police raided a protest camp injuring more than 100 people, then opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi led an inquiry that recommended compensating the residents and minimizing environmental damage.

Suu Kyi led her party to a sweeping election victory last year and now oversees the government.

Work at the mine, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) west of the city of Mandalay, was suspended after the 2012/13 protests. The company has recently tried to show it can reduce the impact of mining and improve livelihoods.

China has made a big push to assert its business and political interests since Suu Kyi’s party took over in April.

In 2012, police threw white phosphorus grenades at protesters, inflicting serious burns on scores. In 2014, a protester was shot dead.


Protesters decry restart to Letpadaung copper mine as police phalanx builds

Chan Mya Htwe and Khin Su Wai

Myanmar Times

6 May 2016

Hundreds of police were deployed yesterday in response to a swelling protest column at the controversial Letpadaung copper mine in Sagaing Region. Villagers are raging at the government for failing to prevent the internationally crticised project from restarting.

Wanbao Mining Company, which is jointly operating the mine along with military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd, had officially announced that operations would resume yesterday.

In response, between 200 and 300 villagers slammed the project for violating recommendations made by a parliamen tary commission spearheaded by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The residents of eight villages near the mine took to the street on May 4.

The protest expanded yesterday, threatening to reignite the violence of past Letpadaung clashes when protesters broke through the police phalanxes and three fences – including a galvanised iron blockade – guarding the entrance to the mine area.

“This is a murderous and land-grabbing project. Our residents are against this project because it breached the investigation report written by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. We totally disagree with restarting the project,” said Letpadaung resident and protester Daw Sandar.

The project has been dogged by clashes, bloody police crackdowns and accusations of environmental degradation. In 2012, police responded to a protest of the mine by using white phosphorous, an internationally prohibited chemical weapon. Scores of protesters, including monks, were left with disfiguring burns.

A 2013 parliamentary inquiry into the attack led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi recommended that construction should continue if certain conditions were met, such as better transparency and an environmental impact plan.

In 2014, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi accused the government of ignoring the commission’s recommendations to improve the mine, and blamed such lack of oversight for the re-emergence of clashes when locals tried to prevent Wanao from fencing off the land.

NLD spokesperson U Nyan Win had told RFA in February that Letpadaung could resume operations “only after complete implementation of the recommendations of the inquiry commission”.

Daw Sandar said Wanbao has failed to abide by the recommendations on all fronts – including by not providing crop compensation despite a promise to reimburse farmers for their land.

The company restarted the project without public consent, she said.

With the assistance of police, Wanbao initially blocked the protesters from reaching the site by posting barbed wire and gates.

“The police have posted barricades but we broke through and now we are in the company’s area,” said Daw Mar Cho from Tone village.

The villagers pushed their way even further into the compound yesterday, and vowed to keep fighting the company off their land even if it means legal charges.

“We will continue to fight them. We will shut down the Letpadaung project,” said Daw Mar Cho.

Daw Sandar said the villagers were willing to continue the stand-off for as long as it takes.

Daw Yee Win, a protester from Sede village, said the villagers have submitted a complaint, urging the government to intervene in the project.

“The investigation commission said that 1900 acres of land would be returned to the farmers. But the farmers have not been given anything,” she said. “They make many promises, but then they do as they please.”

Daw Sandar said even if compensation is offered, she will not accept anything less than the cancellation of the project. She added that in April, local residents were made ill by chemicals the company began spraying in the area.

“The project has no accountability, no EIA and no SIA. We do not agree to sell our land to them,” she said, referring to the environmental and social impact assessments.

The Letpadaung copper mine is one of several large Chinese ventures that has stirred controversy and angered locals, and that will test bilateral relations under the NLD.


Military accused of enlisting locals as guides in blast-wracked Hpakant

Zarni Mann

The Irrawaddy

11 May 2016

Residents of the jade-mining town of Hpakant in northern Kachin State say they are living in fear after soldiers from nearby military posts siezed several local men, reportedly conscripting them as guides in ongoing hostilities with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

Tight security, including a 9pm curfew, has been introduced in the Hpakant area following a series of unexplained explosions this week.

Locals Taraw Kon, Laban Htu, Ban Htwee and another unnamed man from the Hpakant and Lone Kin vicinities are said to have been detained since Saturday by local army battalion Nos. 423 and 425.

The Burma Army and the KIA have clashed in Hpakant Township in recent days. The area has seen recurrent conflict after a 17-year bilateral ceasefire with the government broke down in 2011. It is fiercely contested because of its hugely lucrative jade mines, in which the Burma Army, the KIA and several other armed gro ups hold stakes.

“They took my son, saying they needed him as a guide to approach the Kachin Independence Army’s Battalion No. 6. They said it would be just for a little while. But he has not returned since,” said the mother of Ban Htwee.

The family said they went to the local Burma Army base to inquire about Ban Htwee but received only a minimal response.

“They just said my son would be home soon. But I’m so worried that my son is going into a battle-torn area,” the mother of Ban Htwee said.

Family members of the other missing men said they had also been conscripted by the Burma Army to work as guides in skirmishes with the KIA.

According to local authorities, there have been 20 explosions across Hpakant Township since Monday. The Irrawaddy previously reported that at least six explosions had occurred in the township on Sunday.

On Monday night, hand grenades were reportedly thrown from motorcycles at a po lice station and Uru Yadana Kyauk Sein Bridge in Hpakant’s Sai Taung quarter. A police officers’ barracks on the compound burned down in the attack.

On Tuesday morning, police patrolling the Maw Wun area of Hpakant were attacked by hand grenades thrown by motorcyclists. The police fired back, causing local residents to flee in panic.

On Tuesday evening, hand grenades were thrown again near the Sai Taung police station. No causalities were reported.

In response, tight security measures have been introduced in Hpakant, including a strict 9pm curfew.

“We have deployed heavy security at each entrance into town and motorcyclists are stopped at checkpoints. We are also patrolling the whole area to ensure the safety of local people,” said a police officer from Sai Taung police station.

“After 9pm, it is like a ghost town,” said Nau Lat, a local jade miner. “No one dares go out. We can hear gun and artillery fire in the distan ce. We are now living in fear that the fighting could enter the town, because of the explosions, and are worried about how our livelihoods will be affected.”

“We are also worried that the army could take us as porters or guides into the battle zone,” Nau Lat said. “We feel we have no security, and we receive no protection from the authorities.”


Villagers call on government to intervene in dispute with Delco mines

Nang Mya Nadi

Democratic Voice of Burma

11 May 2016

Residents of Tenasserim Division’s Yebyu Township on Monday presented a letter to the regional government calling on it to mediate in their dispute with Delco Ltd, a Burmese-owned mining company whose tin and tungsten mines have been blamed for causing damage to the environment a nd local livelihoods in the area.

The letter, signed by residents of 10 villages in Yebyu, accused the company of sullying local creeks by dumping excavated soil and also hoarding water from a nearby lake that villagers depended on for their daily use.

“That company has been conducting mining operations in our region for the past six years, silting up and polluting local creeks and posing challenges to our fishery and farm work,” said Khin Soe, a resident of Kanbauk, one of the affected villages.

“They are also hoarding water from the local lake which was our main source of water by building a reservoir around it, and they’ve also built roads in the area without listening to the opinions of local people.”

He said about 10 villages in the area, including Kanbauk, Pyingyi, Paya, Mongan, Migyaungai, Kwemapaw and Zadi, were suffering negative consequences of the mining project.

Last year, the embankment of a tailing pond operated by Delco Ltd in Kanbauk collapsed, causing a massive landslide that left one child dead and around 300 people displaced.

The company was awarded a 10-year contract, from 2010 to 2020, for mining operations in the area.

The mining projects also faced opposition during the administration of former President Thein Sein, with locals reglarly staging protests to call on the government to intervene in their disputes with the company. They said they are hoping the new government under Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party will enact laws to protect local interests and the environment.

The letter was sent to the Tenasserim Division government’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment Conservation.

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