Copper Mine Protest Earns Nationwide Support

NLD MP Khin San Hlaing, of Sagaing Division’s Palae constituency, meets with protestors in Monywa Monastery on Wednesday. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

Protesters at Monywa’s Letpadaung mountain range have been joined by activists from Rangoon and Mandalay plus members of the 88 Generation Students group in their bid to halt copper mining in the area.

More than 300 residents from 12 villages in Letpadaung held a public meeting on Wednesday to demand the closure of the copper mine which they claim has led to environmental destruction, forced relocations and illegal land confiscations.

On Tuesday, 20 students from Mandalay City joined a march of around 1,500 people to demand the release of three female activists who were detained at prayer meeting at Monywa’s Sutaungpyae Pagoda on Monday. Twelve protesters were originally arrested with nine released later the same day, but three women from Wat Hmay Village remain in Monywa Prison in Sagaing Division.

Members of the 88 Generations Students group arrived on Wednesday to negotiate between the authorities and villagers.

Jimmy, one of the 88 Generation Students leaders, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that the local security forces dispersed after the group met Sagaing Region Chief Minister Thar Aye on Wednesday evening.

“Chief Minister Thar Aye promised not to make any charges against the protesters, mostly from Wat Hmay Village, so they can go back home peacefully, and that the detainees will be released although it will take time as the arrests are in accordance with the law,” said Jimmy.

The 88 Generation told The Irrawaddy that the protesters had three demands—the release of current detainees, no more detention of protesters and the postponement of the copper project until some level of agreement has been reached.

But Thar Aye told the 88 Generation Students that the demand to postpone the copper mine must be brought up to Union-level government because State-level negotiators did not have the required authority. Jimmy is still in Monywa awaiting the release of the detainees.

Security has tightened in the area where the movement of villagers and activists is being watched by security forces, claim residents. NLD MP Khin San Hlaing, of Sagaing Division’s Palae constituency, met protestors in Monywa Monastery on Wednesday.

“Letpadaung copper mine will cause the contamination of Chindwin river water, destruction of religious heritage, environmental loss around the area and nearby Monywa, which is just 15 miles west of the mine. Therefore, the project must stop,” said a statement released by the protesters on Wednesday.

Phoe Kyaung, a farmer from Hse Te whose 15 acres of land were confiscated for the project a year ago, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that, “We also demand the withdrawal of the curfew which was issued two months ago and also not to be detained unlawfully.”

“Even though some farmers have taken compensation and left the region, those who remain fear the mountains will be destroyed due to the copper mine,” said Han Win Aung, another rights activist. “So they fear this environmental loss as they have started losing crops in their village.”

Students in Monywa joined protesters from Wat Hmay for a “mountain gazing” protest over the weekend to symbolically remember the Letpadaung range which they fear will soon disappeared due to the copper mine.

Activists point to the examples of nearby Sabae and Kyay Sin mountains which have been decimated by copper mining with nearby farmland polluted by waste products from the worksite.

Tensions have risen since last month after the project—a joint venture between Chinese Wan Bao Mining Company and military-owned Union of Myanmar Economics Holding Ltd—brought in the security police to protect the project which covers almost 8,000 acres of land along the mountain range.

Villagers recently stood in front of the company’s bulldozers—used to destroy land near Wat Hmay, Hse Te, Tone Taw Kyaung and Zeedaw villages in Sarlingyi Township—to stop them from continuing project construction.

Earlier this year, villagers brought up the impact of waste from the mining into their fields. No settlement has been agreed between the company and residents to date.

9 Responses to Copper Mine Protest Earns Nationwide Support

  1. The Chinese Wan Bao Mining Company and military-owned Union of Myanmar Economics Holding Ltd do not care about the people or the country. The unscrupulous elements in the Government and parliment are supporting them because they have already received something.

  2. The Burmese Freedom Fighter

    It has to be People first, people before the profit and people before anything else. Shout out really loud until someone in power aware of what actual damage has been done and would be.

    “The people united, we’ll never be defeated!”

    Shame on those cronies and Chinese company! They always put the profit before the interest of the people. As Burmese conventional wisdom said: “there is no free ride; nor anyone can do for your due, you have to earn it for yourself.” Your cause is the right cause. Fight back and take a stand against all these injustices placed upon you. Your right cause will prevail only if you hold your ground and fight back at all cause.

    The Burmese Freedom Fighter

  3. The remains from Than Shwe’s dictatorial government is still piling up everywhere in Myanmar. That’s why the public is trying to clean it up. People from every corner must rise up and clean it. Other than that Thein Sein will never do his job. He just talks and talks and talks. His words do not match with his actions. Than Shwe’s crooks are Thein Sein’s crooks too. Do not believe what he says. Now, he is trying to get advice from his boss China before he visits USA. People who received unfair treatments in the past will come out and fight this eveil and fake democratic government.

  4. Now it seems everyone who has access to the internet in Burma and around the world for Burma related groups has only one aim. To be rich like the Thai or more and to be rapidly incorporated into the decadent world of 3-inch miniskirts, karaoka bars/ casinoes, fast broadband iPAD’s, Super-speed roads and trains, big, big airports, high rise buildings and beach houses.

    One cannot drool and keep the peaceful, quiet life at the same time. Thein Sein is doing the right thing. Sell out every thing to any buyer. Stuff these illeterate farmers and shove them somewhere unseen and unheard from and use their land and resources to buy those cool things.

    That is called PROGRESS or DEVELOPMENT every one is pining for. Hooray!!! Shove them away.New Burma will develop on their decaying corpses.

  5. The Burmese Freedom Fighter

    It has to be People first, people before the profit and people before anything else. Shout out really loud until someone in power aware of what actual damage has been done and would be.
    “The people united, we’ll never be defeated!” 
    Shame on those cronies and Chinese company! They always put the profit before the interest of the people. As Burmese conventional wisdom said: “there is no free ride; nor anyone can do for our due, we have to earn it for ourselves.”  
    Your cause is the right cause. Fight back and take a stand against all these injustices placed upon you. Your right cause will prevail only if you hold your ground and fight back at all cause. 
    The Burmese Freedom Fighter

  6. These farmers affected by copper-mining are not trash/rubbish. They are human beings like us and100% citizens of Myanmar too. They have equal human rights like Thein Sein. They must not be treated like this since day one. Land-seizure seems a big big problem in Myanmar. The law must protect the poor from unfairly treatment from the wealthy who think they can buy everything with their money. We need to teach these heartless wealthy people some lessons today that in a democratic society, the law can throw them into jail for a long long time behind bar and punish them lose everything they have today. Chinese companies do not care environmental issues and the lives of the Myanmars.

  7. Simple and comprehensive explanation of the situation of Latpadaung Taung Demolition Crisis and the country.

    Roland Watson, [email protected]


    September 16, 2012

    A large protest movement in Burma is now underway, against the joint regime/Chinese Monywa copper mining project in Sagaing Division. The motivation for the protest is the confiscation of 8,000 acres of villager land in Letpadaung, for mine expansion.

    This demonstration highlights an underlying issue that should be addressed, now that Burma is taking steps towards economic liberalization: What standards should be applied to new resource exploitation projects?

    As an environmentalist, I would of course prefer that there be no new mines, as they are inherently destructive of nature. No matter how you do it, mines destroy natural habitats, and this is generally accompanied with widespread pollution, in the land, watercourses, and atmosphere. However, I recognize that Burma has extensive mineral deposits, and that at least some of them will be mined. This therefore should occur in a way that minimizes the destruction, and communicates the benefits directly to the villagers whose land is mined, and to the country as a whole.

    Any new mines, and mine expansion, should only be done following the strictest international standards, which activists around the world have struggled for decades to achieve. The first of these is protection of the property rights of the villagers on whose land such deposits are located.

    Since the villagers own the land, they further own the mineral rights (and also the air rights above). This is a fundamental tenet of property ownership, in any society that has a functioning rule of law. This means it is their decision if the land should be mined or not. For example, they may decide to sell the mineral rights at this time, and vacate the land; or hold onto the land for sale at a future date (and hopefully a higher price); or not to sell at all. They should never be coerced to sell, or suffer an outright theft, as occurred at Letpadaung through confiscation.

    Landowners who do sell may also receive not only a one-time payment, but a residual participation from the sale of the minerals. This way they profit if the deposit proves to be larger than expected, and also if commodity prices increase over time. Again, under a functioning rule of law, all such terms are negotiated and then included in the contract that actually transfers the land title and mineral rights.

    Other standards are as follows:

    There should be an independently-prepared environmental impact assessment, before approval for the mine is even given. Indeed, such an assessment may make it clear that the project should not proceed.

    This approval (and licensing) by the government, should also be contingent on the development of strong environmental safeguards for the mine’s operations, including the treatment and disposal of tailings, water and smokestack effluent, etc.

    There must also be appropriate safety equipment and precautions for workers. Mining is an exceedingly hazardous occupation. Miners in Burma should never have to risk their lives unnecessarily, as, for example, is now the norm in China.

    Furthermore, the miners must have the ability to unionize, and to strike if such safeguards are not in place.

    Finally, and also as part of the project’s initial review and approval, a land reclamation plan must be prepared for when the mine runs out. Importantly, this requires that an escrow account be established, to which regular deposits are made during the mine’s operation, to fund the reclamation.

    No new mine or mine expansion should proceed in Burma until this development model can be followed, including the expansion at Monywa. Also, once the model is established it will set a precedent that should be applied to any new mine in the country, of whatever mineral, and more generally any large-scale development (agricultural, industrial, etc.).

    To repeat a point that I have made before, the fact that Burma has extremely limited economic development is not a weakness; rather, it is one of its greatest strengths. With patience and care, the country can be developed in a way that preserves its character, and cultural diversity, and environment. This type of development will yield benefits for decades if not centuries to come.

    An additional issue is taxation of the business’ profits. It is through these taxes that all the people of Burma will benefit, since the funds can be used for essential infrastructure and programs.

    The open questions are: (1) Overall, can this type of development model now be implemented; and (2) specifically, can such projects be organized without corruption so they are properly regulated and taxed, so the regime and its cronies are not enriched, and so the taxes are used for programs like education and health care, not just more military expenditures for the Tatmadaw? I understand that this is asking a lot, but frankly, no new projects should be built until all of these conditions can be satisfied. This in turn means that any new project should proceed at a snail’s pace, to give the country time to learn how to manage developments in this way, and to put in place both the personnel and the systems that are required for it, including for project approval and licensing procedures; taxation; other regulatory structures; new law and legal systems, especially for property transfers; and for all of these, related computer systems.

    The protests in Monywa should be expanded into a national movement, if the government refuses to follow this development paradigm.

    NB: Largest import to Burma is now BULLDOZERS!

  8. Sure, the mountain will be destroyed,  flattened and dug under, making a gigantic deep hole.
    If the local residents agree, I say only if, the mine operators may carry on destroying the landscape. But they must take the responsibility of full recovery rehabilitation of the dislocated families of the areas affected, besides taking the responsibility of restoring the landscape back to natural terrain before finishing with mining, or failing that the deep hole(s) must be refilled, landscaped and re-vegetated so that the land will be re-usable for economic, social or cultural purposes for the people around the area.
    And that is required by the existing Mining Law of 1994, the regulations of which have still not yet been distributed to mine licensees or the public, one of the many failures of previous government. Can we blame the greedy MEHL and its Chinese counterpart for negligence? Isn’t the incumbent government responsible to look into the matter and satisfy the aspirations of the local population as well as enforcement of the existing Law, not withstanding a new set of law, rules and regulations now being redrafted?
    After all, what is the economic development for? Isn’t it for the well being of the people?
    If an economic activity is bad for local population, then better scrap it until and unless some other better, more enlightened and law-abiding investors and operators come along, and the mine restarted at the consent of the local people!!!
    Everything must be in accordance with the Law.

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