Letpadaung Mine Project Resumes but Fails to Meet Lawmakers’ Requirements

By Zarni Mann 14 October 2013

MANDALAY — The Letpadaung copper mining project has resumed operations in northwest Burma without meeting requirements set by lawmakers, according to a member of a parliamentary commission that set the requirements.

Khin San Hlaing was part of a commission led by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi that investigated the suspended project earlier this year and filed a report with a list of conditions for its resumption. The project restarted earlier this month, but she says it has not met requirements for transparency, specifically in relation to its impact on public health and the environment.

“The mining company is obviously disobeying and going beyond what we suggested in the report by resuming their mining process without proving that they have complied with the report,” said the lawmaker, who is part of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party.

“We have still not heard about the new contract, or whether the process is moving forward with approval for the EIA [environmental impact assessment] and the HIA [health impact assessment]. We keep asking them to present the documents and facts to the public, but they are still silent, which means there is no full transparency. Problems with the farmers will continue unless they work transparently.”

She added that requirements have also not been met to compensate farmers for lost land.

The mining project in Sagaing Division—a joint venture between China’s Wanbao and a Burmese military-backed company—was suspended in November after a brutal police crackdown on protesters. Suu Kyi’s commission investigated the project after the crackdown and recommended that the mining company resume operations only after taking steps to ease the adverse educational, social and environmental effects on local residents.

Under a new contract signed this year, the Burma government took a 51 percent stake in the mining project, while the military-backed Union of Myanmar Economic Holding Ltd (UMEHL) accepted a 30 percent stake and Wanbao a 19 percent stake.

Despite continuing protests, the mining project resumed earlier this month, with a fence being erected around disputed land that bars farmers and their flocks of animals from entering. The fence starts in Tone village and reaches the base of the Leik Kun Mountain, and farmers say it has destroyed over 100 acres of land they were using to grow sesame and other crops.

Earlier this month, hundreds of farmers near the mine site went to a liaison office opened by the parliamentary commission’s implementation committee, located at New Hse Tae and Zee Taw village, to urge the mining company not to resume work. They met with the divisional minister for forestry and mining, Than Htike.

Last week, as operations continued despite the complaints, farmers marched out to the disputed land to stop the fencing.

“When we met recently with Minister Than Htike at the liaison office, he assured us that the mining company would not work yet on our land, for which we have not yet received compensation,” Win Htay, a farmer from Hse Tae village, said with a cry. “But now the company has initiated a fencing process and our land has been taken. They are liars and they take us as illiterates.”

Compensation has been offered to the farmers, but many have refused it.

“We have not taken the compensation because this money will soon be gone, and it will not secure our future,” said Daw Nwae, another farmer from Hse Tae. “They said they would give us jobs at the project, but how can we depend on that low salary? We surely will not receive a high-ranking job, but rather very basic work that we are unfamiliar with. We know nothing apart from planting crops.”

She added, “If compensation has changed someone’s life, why don’t they show that person as an example? It [compensation] is just a PR attempt by the mining company.”

Khin San Hlaing of the parliamentary commission said authorities were concerned about the refusal of some farmers to accept compensation.

“There are a lot of questions about why these farmers are not taking compensation,” she said. “The mining company and the authorities need to think about providing long-term assurances for the livelihoods of farmers who lost the land which they have worked on for generations.

“Since there’s no transparency from the mining companies and the authorities, plans for the livelihoods of farmers are still unknown. As they have not been assured, the farmers refused to take the compensation. If the mining company really understood and really cared about the lives of the locals and the farmers, they would not move forward like this.”