Groups Urge Creation of Committee to Handle Letpadaung Disputes

By Nobel Zaw 2 January 2015

RANGOON — More than 50 organizations and political parties this week issued a statement condemning the government for an incident last month in which police clashed with protestors at the Letpadaung copper mine, killing a 56-year-old woman, with the groups calling for the creation of a committee to resolve the long-running dispute at the project site.

Tun Win Nyein, a communications officer from the Sayar Gyi Takhin Ko Taw Mine Peace Network, told The Irrawaddy that the groups are urging the government “to establish a committee that includes local people, professionals, the Letpadaung report implementation committee, Wanbao and UMEHL companies to find a solution. If not, the demonstrations will not stop, they will happen again and again.”

The Chinese firm Wanbao and the Burma Army-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holding Ltd (UMEHL) are responsible for operations at the mining site. The Letpadaung report implementation committee refers to a body that was created to carry out recommendations made by a parliamentary committee tasked with finding solutions to the problems that have plagued the mining project, which is located in Sagaing Division.

The 58 organizations on Tuesday called for a suspension of project activities until durable solutions are found.

Last week, Aung San Suu Kyi, who chaired the parliamentary committee on Letpadaung, accused the government of failing to act on the recommendations of the report.

Tun Win Nyein said that because Wanbao had signed its project contract with UMEHL, he considered UMEHL to be primarily responsible for resolving outstanding contentions.

Wanbao has made attempts to address affected residents’ complaints about the project, including an agreement to put 2 percent of profits toward corporate social responsibility projects and spend $2 million each year on environmental protection.

The groups this week also called for an investigation and that charges be brought against those responsible for the deadly incident on Dec. 22, and are advocating for full implementation of the parliamentary committee’s report.

Sitt Myaing, secretary of Burma’s National Human Rights Commission, told The Irrawaddy on Friday that an investigation into the incident was launched by the commission this week.

The 58 organizations and political parties include the Sayar Gyi Takhin Ko Taw Mine Network, Kayan New Land Party (KNLP), the Karenni Nationalities People’s Liberation Front (KNPLF), the Farmers Union and the Karen Women’s Organization.

Maj. Saw Lwin, an associate secretary of the KNLP, told The Irrawaddy that they would stand behind the farmers affected by the Letpadaung mine.

“The people who cruelly shot and killed the farmer Khin Win continue to operate beyond the rule of law, but Naw Ohn Hla and other people who protest against the unfair event are arrested and sent to Insein Prison and we also condemn this,” he said, referring to the arrest of activists this week in Rangoon.

The 58 groups’ statement follows a similar denunciation by more than 200 civil society organizations, including CSOs in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).

On Dec. 22, Wanbao began fencing in disputed land, leading to clashes between police and locals that resulted in the death of Khin Win. Several others involved in the protest were also injured.