Farmers Protest Resumption of Letpadaung Copper Mining

By Zarni Mann 5 May 2016

MANDALAY — Locals near the Letpadaung copper mining project in Sagaing Division’s Salingyi Township staged a second day of protests as mining resumed on Thursday.

Despite the presence of police stationed near the area, some 300 farmers, many of whom had land confiscated for the controversial mining venture, showed up to urge that mining be stopped and that villagers be compensated for losses incurred because of the project.

“We crossed police lines to reach the liaison office of Wanbao company,” said Sandar, a farmer from Tone village who joined the protest, referring to the Chinese firm in a joint venture with military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (UMEHL) for the mining project.

According to protesters, a letter was sent on Tuesday to National League for Democracy (NLD) chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi, who led a parliamentary committee overseeing implementation of the project under the previous government, asking that Letpadaung copper mining be stopped.

“We showed our disapproval that mining resumed without following the instructions of [Suu Kyi’s] committee,” Sandar said. “The company was supposed to compensate farmers for crops and land that had been confiscated because of the project. But it didn’t do anything about compensation or about environmental safeguards.”

Protesters said the letter was also sent to Sagaing’s divisional government and to Burma’s national government.

“We don’t want the project. We’re jobless once our land is confiscated, and many of us have to go to cities to work as construction laborers,” said Mar Cho, also from Tone village. “We’ve suffered enough. We just want our land back.”

According to the farmers, Wanbao and UMEHL have unofficially been mining in the area since 2013, despite official notice to stop after a brutal government crackdown on a protest near the site in 2012. However, Wanbao officials said mining in previous years was a trial period.

“We’re going to begin mining on a business level, starting from today,” said Hla Sein, project manager of Wanbao, on Thursday.

“And regarding compensation, we offered it [to farmers], but they wouldn’t take any. It’s all up to them. We don’t know what to do about it. We’re following every rule laid out in the report in terms of environmental matters and the development of the region,” Hla Sein said, referring to a report compiled by Suu Kyi’s parliamentary committee following its probe into the project.