Copper Mine Dispute Discussed at Conference

By Zarni Mann 19 October 2012

A conference at the Letpadaung mountain range, organized by copper mine protesters and civil society groups, has been discussing how to close the excavation project as well as ending ongoing conflicts in Kachin and Arakan (Rakhine) states.

Hundreds of farmers and locals were joined by Buddhist monks, environmental activists, students, civil society groups from around the country as well as representatives from Kachin, Rakhine, Karen, Shan and Kayah ethnic groups. The two-day event began at Sae Tae Village, Latpadung mining area, Sarlingyi Township, Sagaing Division, central Burma, on Thursday.

“Our main focus is how to preserve Letpadaung mountain range and to urge the closure of the mining project in the area. If this mountain range is decimated, the flora and fauna of the area will be destroyed and this will become a threat our climate,” said Sai Kyaw Aye, from the Tree Lovers environmental activist group.

He explained that witnessing the nearby Sabae Mountain being decimated due to mining and surrounding farmland destroyed by waste water from the project demonstrates the need for early action.

“There is no longer Sabae Mountain but just enormous holes,” added Sai Kyaw Aye. “If they mine for copper in Letpadaung Mountain again, there will be no Letpadaung mountain range in 10 years time. Conservation of the environment is the most important matter.”

At the conference, Thwae Thwae Win, Phyu Phyu Win and Aye Net—the “iron ladies” of Wat Hmae Village—sung traditional Burmese Thangyat while the work of famous poet Dagon Tara was read as well as verses especially composed for the conservation of Letpadaung mountain range.

Apart from the conservation of the area and the conflicts in Kachin and Arakan states, land confiscations, rights for farmers and labors and the rule of law were also on the conference agenda.

“There are many suffering refuges because of the war in Kachin State. We would like for the end of the war and help for the refugees. In Rakhine State as well, the conflict will not end if there is no rule of law and if there is weak border security,” said Han Win Aung, from the Rangoon Civil Society Network.

“After the conference, we will submit a statement to the public and government as well, which will include our demands to stop the copper mining project, end the war in Kachin State, maintain the rule of law and peace in Rakhine State and investigate injustice in every sector,” he added.

Conference organizers said that the township administration office delivered a notice which states that holding the event was illegal.

“Our main purpose is to let people speak out about their suffering without fear. We believe this is our right. If we are really going down the road of democracy, one cannot be arrested for expressing their freedom of speech. We will sue Sarlingyi Township administration for threatening us,” he said.

Letpadaung is situated in a watershed area nearby the confluence of two of Burma’s most important rivers, the Irrawaddy and the Chindwin, around 15 miles west of Monywa. The farmers of this area began airing their complaints and demands for adequate compensation and the return of farmland on July 2.

More than 7,800 acres of land from 26 surrounding villages were confiscated in 2011 for the copper mining project, which is jointly run by the military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. and China’s Wan Bao Company.

Tensions were raised in August as more villagers joined the farmers’ protests. Later it began to focus on the closure of copper mining in the area by highlighting the decimation of nearby Sabae and Kyay Sin mountains due to similar projects in the past as well as farmland polluted by waste products from the worksite.

Civil society groups from as far afield as the former capital Rangoon have since become involved, actively publicizing the preservation of Letpadaung mountain range and conservation of the local ecosystem.

Copper mining in the area started in 1980 with joint ventures between former Burmese Ministry of Mining-1 and various investors, including Canada-based Ivanhoe Mines.