‘Evidence of Illegal Activity’ by Chinese, Canadian Firms at Monywa: Amnesty

By Sean Gleeson 10 February 2015

RANGOON — Amnesty International has called for an investigation into two international firms over their conduct in three adjoining copper mine projects, including the controversial Letpadaung mine, the site of repeated clashes between villagers and police forces in recent months.

A new report from Amnesty has documented forcible evictions, health impacts and the excessive use of police force in quelling protests. The report also suggested that Canadian company Ivanhoe Mines deliberately circumvented economic sanctions in divesting its stake in the Sabetaung and Kyisintaung copper mines, while accusing Chinese company Wanbao, a subsidiary of China’s state-owned defense manufacturer Norinco, of directly engaging in evictions and crop destruction in collusion with authorities.

“Since its inception and throughout its various changes in ownership the Monywa project has been characterised by serious human rights abuses and a lack of transparency,” said the report, released on Tuesday. “Thousands of people have been forcibly evicted by the government with the knowledge, and in some cases the participation of foreign companies.”

Ivanhoe Mines, currently known as Turquoise Hill Resources, acquired a stake in the Monywa mines in 1996 and announced its decision to divest from the project a decade later through an independent trust. United States diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks revealed that Ivanhoe was an active participant in discussions around the sale of its Monywa assets after the trust was established, with Tay Za, a tycoon with close connections to the former Burmese military junta, enlisted to help broker a deal on the sale between Ivanhoe, Wanbao and the military-backed Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (UMEHL).

An investigation of the circumstances surrounding Ivanhoe’s divestment from Monywa has led Amnesty to conclude the trust was registered in the British Virgin Islands, potentially implicating Ivanhoe in a breach of economic sanctions leveled against UMEHL.

The Letpadaung mine, a joint venture between UMEHL and Wanbao, has been an ongoing source of conflict between local farmers, authorities and project workers for more than two years.

White phosphorous incendiary rounds were used against protesting villagers in Nov. 2012, resulting in severe burns and lifelong injuries to more than 100 people. A group of villagers and activists demanding a halt to the mines briefly abducted three Wanbao contractors in May 2014 before releasing them unharmed 24 hours later. A series of protests in December last year over Letpadaung workers fencing farmland led to the shooting death of Khin Win, a 56-year-old villager, during a police confrontation.

“The Letpadaung mine is increasingly being perceived as a test case of the government’s commitment to its own reform process,” said Meghna Abraham, Amnesty’s deputy director of global thematic issues, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday. “Despite considerable national and international criticism of the brutal attack on monks and protesters in November 2012, the government has not taken the crucial steps that are necessary to correct past abuses linked to Letpadaung and prevent further abuses.”

Amnesty has called for an investigation by the Chinese and Canadian governments into the conduct of Ivanhoe Mines and Wanbao in Burma, an investigation of whether Ivanhoe breached economic sanctions in Canada and the UK, and an immediate halt to the construction of the Letpadaung mine until human rights concerns are addressed.

Additional reporting by Saw Yan Naing in Chiang Mai, Thailand.