Local Protesters Block Road to Letpadaung Copper Mine

By Zarni Mann 22 February 2017

MANDALAY – The Sagaing Division chief minister will likely visit the controversial Letpadaung copper mine later this week after protesters prevented vehicles from leaving the compound on Tuesday and demanded the mine cease operations.

“We blocked five trucks carrying copper from leaving the mine,” U Pho La Pyae, a farmer from Moe Gyo Pyin village, told The Irrawaddy.

He claimed that the mine’s operators— China’s Wanbao Mining Co.—had not kept promises made to local residents in 2013.

A National League for Democracy Sagaing Division parliamentarian met with protesters on Tuesday evening and told them that authorities would negotiate with Wanbao and that the Chief Minister would visit this Saturday, according to protesters.

The roadblock was started by Moe Gyo Pyin village farmers, but dozens of farmers from Tone, Hse Tae, Zeetaw, and Wat Hmae villages quickly joined. It remained in place on Wednesday, according to those involved.

“As [mine operators] still fail to compensate locals for confiscated land, we don’t want them to continue to mine in the region anymore,” said Daw Khin Mar Win, another protesting farmer.

“They are going against Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s parliamentary committee,” she said, adding that the company offered no positive development for the region and alleged that it did not care about environmental impact of the mining venture.

The project—a joint venture between China’s Wanbao Mining Co., military-controlled Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited and the Burma government—has seen ongoing tensions between the mine’s operators and local residents.

On Nov. 29, 2012, over 70 monks and around 10 persons peacefully protesting the mine were injured when security forces used white phosphorus munitions against them. In 2014, a female protester was shot dead by police.

U Thein Sein’s government formed an investigation commission led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

The commission launched an inquiry and the agreement was amended and signed in July 2013. Local residents, however, complain that Wanbao is not abiding by the agreement.

“Just take a look at the library which they developed for the local community—it is always locked and no one is allowed inside, said U Pho La Pyae.

“No one trusts this company,” he added. “We will only re-open the road when they stop mining and leave.”

Earlier this month, Amnesty International urged authorities to halt operations at the mine and detailed ongoing land grabs, environmental damage, and human rights infringements by Burmese security forces at Letpadaung.

“The government needs to intervene and suspend operations until all human rights and environmental concerns are properly investigated and addressed,” said Mark Dummett, Amnesty International’s researcher on business and human rights.