Complaints Abound Over Letpadaung Implementation Committee

By Lin Thant & Zarni Mann 8 July 2013

RANGOON – Residents displaced by the controversial Letpadaung copper mine in northwest Burma say the committee tasked by the government with reducing the mining project’s negative impact on local communities has failed to perform its duties.

“They haven’t done anything pragmatic so far to ease the adverse educational, social and environmental effects on the locals,” Sanda, a leading activist against the Chinese-backed mining project in Sagaing Division, told The Irrawaddy.

She was referring to the Implementation Committee formed earlier this year after a government-commissioned investigation recommended that the mining project continue—despite widespread public objections—and that displaced residents receive compensation for their lost land.

More than 7,000 acres of farmland were confiscated in 2010 for the project, a joint venture between the Chinese Wanbao company and Burma’s military-owned Union of Myanmar Economics Holdings.

Sanda said that although some farmers had accepted the compensation, about 4,000 rejected the money because they did not want to leave their land.

She said dozens of plainclothes police officers were patrolling areas where farmers refused to give up their property.

“Some people, disguised as civilians with soot on their faces, are surrounding the villages that don’t want to sell their land,” she said.

Khin San Hlaing, a member of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party in Sagaing Division, said she had received complaint letters from the public regarding disagreements with the Implementation Committee.

She said activists were considering seeking help from lawmakers if the committee continued to neglect its duties.

“If the Implementation Committee’s performance does not satisfy the locals, if it fails to obey the points in the [investigation team’s] report, if it takes much more time than is needed to conduct its duties and fails to bring any good results, we will submit [a complaint] to Parliament,” said the NLD member, who was also part of the15-member investigation team led by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi which recommended that the residents receive compensation.

The Letpadaung copper mine made international headlines last November following a police crackdown on peaceful anti-mine protesters that left dozens of people—mostly Buddhist monks—injured.

An investigation team was formed by presidential order after the crackdown to investigate the mining project’s feasibility. It issued a report in March urging the project to continue, despite protests about adverse environmental and social effects.

The Implementation Committee was also formed in March with an order from President Thein Sein. Its members include Burma’s minister of home affairs, a minister from the President’s Office, and the officer in charge of the military-backed Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings.

Meanwhile, an activist and two farmers on Monday saw their prison sentences extended by a district court in Sagaing Division after opposing the mining project.

The three men were earlier sentenced to between six and 18 months in prison, but their prison terms were extended on Monday by between two and 10.5 years.

Their lawyer says they never received a fair trial.

“I was not allowed to appear in court and defend them,” Aung Thurein Htun said. “Only today was I allowed [inside], but because this was the last day of trial, I had no chance to defend them and could only listen to the verdict. We are going to appeal to the high court.”

The two farmers, Soe Thu and Maung San, were sentenced in June to six months in prison after illegally plowing land that had been confiscated for the mining project. The June sentences were handed down by the same district court in Sagaing Division in a suit filed by Wanbao.

The farmers’ prison terms were each extended on Monday to a total of 2.5 years after they were found guilty of separate charges, including trespassing and disturbing officials on duty, in a suit filed by the government.

Aung Soe, an activist from the Rangoon People’s Support Network, was sentenced in June by the same court to one year in prison after supporting the protesting farmers. His sentence was extended to 11.5 years in the government’s suit for violating 11 acts of the country’s penal code, including defaming Buddhism and encouraging the farmers to participate in unlawful acts.