MANDALAY — A government committee tasked with implementing parliamentary recommendations for resolving problems with the Letpadaung copper mine has rejected criticism that it has mishandled the project and contributed to recent unrest in Sagaing Division.
The committee’s secretary Tin Myint told Burmese-language state media outlets that it had properly implemented the recommendations of the parliamentary committee chaired by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who presented a report on the Chinese-backed copper mine in early 2013.
“It is not true that the committee is poorly implementing the report’s recommendations. The committee has implemented the report and is also working for the development of the region and the locals,” he was quoted as saying by Myanma Alin newspaper on Friday.
The official went on to blame “outsiders” for the ongoing unrest near the mine.
“We are trying to investigate who are these outsiders, organizations and activists that are inciting the villagers; the authorities are preparing a lawsuit against them. The recent incident at Letpadaung was caused by these outsiders,” Tin Myint claimed.
On Dec. 22, violence flared up near the mine when protesting farmers tried to stop company workers and police from seizing and fencing off farmlands. A 56-year-old woman named Khin Win was shot dead by police.
Last week, Suu Kyi criticized the committee for failing to properly implement her report’s recommendations, saying, “The committee did carry out some recommendations, but it has not fully implemented the recommendations. It has not followed the recommendations to the letter.”
Following a violent raid by police on a protest camp in November 2012, Suu Kyi’s committee recommended that China’s Wanbao and authorities ensure adequate compensation for villagers, address environmental impacts of the project and increase benefits for local communities and the Burmese government.
Wanbao then drew up a new agreement with the government and the Burmese military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holding Ltd (UMEHL) to match the report’s recommendations and greatly increase government revenues from the mine.
However, the mining project—a joint venture between Wanbao and UMEHL—remains a source of conflict between farmers and the firm, whose operations are being protected by local authorities. Hundreds of farmers have rejected compensation offers for their land and have been angered by forced land seizures and the removal of a Buddhist monastery.
Tin Myint, who spoke during a press conference in Naypyidaw on Thursday, said the land seizures had been legal and that adequate compensation had been offered to villagers.
“Whether [people] take the compensation or not, this land is project land that was lawfully obtained through an industrial land leasing permit,” he said, adding that 6,782 acres had been confiscated since the project began in 2011.
Tensions remain high near the mine in Salingyi Township and villagers said on Friday that land seizures and protests were ongoing.
Win Htay from Hse Tae village denied that outside organizations were inciting villagers to protest. “What they [the committee] said are lies. We are on our own to fight for our rights. There’s no one behind us or stirring up the problem,” he said.
Dozens of local villagers are facing charges in relation to the recent violence and their resistance against the mine’s expansion, according to the Burma Lawyers’ Network, which is providing legal counsel to local communities affected by the project.
“Locals were charged with stealing barbed wire and undermining [Wanbao’s] interests. The complaint was filed against 50 people,” lawyer Thein Than Oo said, adding that only one of the accused had so far been officially informed of the charges.
Thein Than Oo said the family of the victim of the recent unrest was still waiting to hear whether the police would begin an investigation into her death. The family of Khin Win filed a first information report to the Salingyi Police Station on Jan. 3.
Additional reporting by Thuzar.