Activist Calls for 'Total Shutdown' of Letpadaung Mine

By Kyaw Phyo Tha 19 February 2013

RANGOON — A leading activist lobbying for the cancellation of a controversial Chinese-backed copper mine in Upper Burma said “a total shutdown” of the project would be in the best interests of all parties involved, including the Burmese government, local people and the Chinese government.

During the opening ceremony of “Letpadaung as an Artwork,” an art and photo exhibition on the Letpadaung mountain range near Monywa in Sagaing Division, where the mining project is situated, Ant Maung, the poet and patron of the Committee for Protecting Letpadaung Mountain, said a complete closure of the project is the ultimate goal of local people.

The veteran poet warned that continuation of the project could damage the government’s ongoing efforts to improve its image among the country’s people, and as well as harm Sino-Burmese relations.

“The government says it always listens to people’s voices. If the government lets the project go ahead, they ruin its ‘people-centered government’ image,” he said.

“At the same time, there will be mounting anti-Chinese sentiment among the Burmese, because the mining company is a Chinese-backed one. So China has little to gain from the project, and a lot to lose,” he added.

The mine is a joint venture between China’s Wan Bao mining company—a subsidiary of Norinco, a weapons manufacturer—and the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd, a Burmese military-owned conglomerate.

The project has come under heavy criticism since last year, especially after the government’s crackdown on protesters demanding its closure, citing environmental destruction, forced relocation and illegal land confiscation.

A pre-dawn raid on a protest camp on Nov. 29 left more than 100 people injured, including Buddhist monks who suffered severe burns caused by the government’s use of incendiary devices.

The resulting outcry led to the formation of a government commission led by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, which will investigate whether the project should go ahead. The findings of the commission have not yet been released.

“I hope the commission says no to continuing the project, because that’s what the people want,” said Myo Thant of the 88 Generation Students group, who is actively involved in the Letpadaung campaign.

“That doesn’t mean we are saying no to foreign investment, but we only want investment that takes the interests of local residents into consideration,” he added.

For Ant Maung, a total shutdown is the only solution.

“Even people who have different political views from us want the cancellation of the project,” said the poet.

“A complete closure will not only be good for the people, but also for the government. For China, it can surely maintain our long-time relationship, too. If the project goes ahead, there will be a huge loss for all of us. So, let the government choose.”