Amnesty International Urges Govt to Suspend Letpadaung Copper Mine

By Nyein Nyein, Rik Glauert 10 February 2017

RANGOON — Amnesty International urged Burmese authorities to halt operations at Sagaing Division’s Letpadaung copper mine and properly regulate large investment projects while stressing that foreign states have a duty to ensure their companies do not commit human rights abuses in Burma.

The report titled Mountain of Trouble: Human Rights Abuses Continue at Myanmar’s Letpadaung Mine details ongoing land grabs, environmental damage, and human rights infringements by Burmese authorities.

“The government needs to intervene and suspend operations until all human rights and environmental concerns are properly investigated and addressed,” said Mark Dummett, Amnesty International’s researcher on business and human rights.

Some 141 families living in four villages facing forced evictions as the mine expands by 2,000 acres have not been given details of relocation, despite mine operator Chinese company Wanbao Mining claims that it has conducted consultations.

The authors of the report accuse Wanbao Mining of being more interested in public relations than ensuring the rights of the local community.

Some 6,700 acres were developed for the Letpadaung cooper mine and 26 villages were told to relocate, although some—such as Tse Tae, Moegyopyin and Thone—refused to do so.

A monk from Tse Tae village named Ashin Nanda Sa Ra told The Irrawaddy that since the project began, both Wanbao Mining and the government have failed to protect the health of local people and complained of air pollution and dust from trucks dumping waste soil in the summer.

“We do not want the locals to suffer—their socioeconomic situation should be supported,” he said. “Their desire to stay in the land of the forefathers should be respected and they deserve proper compensation.”

The report also revealed a waste leak from the mine in November 2015 that ran into fields in Wet Hme village. Soil samples from the area of the leak were tested by a UK laboratory and found to contain arsenic, copper and lead.

A resident of Wet Hme village Ma Thwet Thwet Win said that villagers had lost 10 acres of crops due to contaminated water but numerous complaints to the relevant government departments since January 2016 had gone unanswered.

Ma Thwet Thwet Win said they later told the Salingyi constituency member of parliament that contaminated water from the mine entered the villages of Tse Tae, Wet Hmae and Shwe Hlay during the rainy season.

“Our villages usually flood from the Chindwin River in rainy season, but in the last few years the water flowing into our farms has been very red and dirty,” said Ma Thwet Thwet Win.

We know it is very different water from our main water source [the Chindwin River], which leaves us with the alluvial soils to be able to grow our crops,” said Ma Thwet Thwet Win.

Amnesty International warned that Wanbao had not conducted an adequate environmental assessment and that the mine’s position near the Chindwin River meant flooding or earthquakes could unleash large-scale environmental damage.

The report denounces a “slew of draconian laws” used by authorities to block peaceful protests of the mine and notes that to date no officials have been held accountable for the use of incendiary white phosphorus munitions against peaceful protestors in November 2012 nor the case of a female protestor shot dead by police in 2014.

Local protests against the Letpadaung copper mine have eased since the National League for Democracy government took office nearly a year ago and local people said they hoped that solving issues through the correct authorities and parliamentary representatives would be the best way to show their support to the civilian government.

“But we expect the government to find better approaches to the project that do not affect the environment and local people’s lives,” said Ma Thwet Thwet Win.