Chinese mining firm Wanbao has expressed “deep concerns” in response to threats from resistance groups fighting Myanmar’s military regime.
In partnership with the military-owned Myanma Economic Holdings Ltd, Wanbao and its two subsidiaries, Myanmar Wanbao Mining Copper Ltd. and Myanmar Yang Tse Copper Ltd. run three copper mines – Letpadaung, Sabetaung and Kyesintaung – in Salingyi Township, Sagaing Region.
Sixteen resistance groups from Salingyi and neighboring Yinmarbin in April warned the mines to halt operations and called on miners to down tools and join the civil disobedience movement (CDM) by May 5.
Following the warning, the regime has increased security at the mines and imposed tighter restrictions on residents.
Wanbao is a subsidiary of the Chinese state-owned defense firm China North Industries Corporation. In July 2021, the US sanctioned Wanbao Mining and its entities for supporting Myanmar’s regime and has also banned the trade of copper from the mines on the London Metal Exchange.
In a May 5 statement signed by deputy general manager Dong Shiyong of the copper mines, the company said it is closely monitoring the situation for the safety of staff, their families, contractors and the community.
“Many rumors, false assumptions and baseless accusations regarding our projects have emerged recently and we are deeply concerned about the threats to our staff and their families,” the statement said.
As Wanbao is attempting to resume mining after output has been restricted by striking employees since last year’s coup, resistance groups said they will attack all sources of funding for the dictatorship by any means.
Junta soldiers were reportedly killed on May 4 when resistance groups carried out a mine attack on three junta vehicles traveling to copper mines to enhance security.
This month, 558 revolutionary organizations sent an open letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping, asking Beijing to respect the wishes of Myanmar’s people and not to support the regime.
The letter warns that China’s continued support for the regime will prompt revolutionary groups to target Chinese businesses in Myanmar while fueling anti-China sentiment.
“Those copper mines fund the regime to buy bullets to suppress the people. The projects provide some of the largest sources of income for the regime. We have urged them not to cooperate with the regime and if they continue they will become the primary target of revolutionary groups,” said a leader of the strike committee in Monywa.
Wanbo in its statement says it has paid staff while the projects are suspended and has spent large sums on health, education and environmental conservation in the region.
Those mines have long been a source of public fury for destroying the environment and seizing people’s land. For many years, the Letpadaung copper mine has made headlines due to land disputes and a series of violent crackdowns against anti-mine protesters.
“Residents have long opposed those projects. The Chinese company always says it is taking measures to protect the environment. Wanbao cooperates with the regime and [the mines] are a joint venture between Wanbao and the regime. Those mines make it possible for the regime to commit violence against the people. So we will continue to work to crush any business partnering with the regime,” said a leading member of the Monywa Strike Committee.
A report by Publish What You Pay Australia — a coalition of 30 organizations campaigning for transparency and accountability in the extractive industries — said Chinese-backed mines were financially propping up the junta.
The report, How Chinese Mining Investment Funds Myanmar Military, released in November last year, said the Chinese-run Letpadaung, Sabetaung, Kyesintaung and Tagaung Taung mines in Sagaing paid an estimated US$725 million to the military during the 2020-21 financial year.
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