Locals Condemn Letpadaung Committee Claims on Compensation, Police Conduct

By Yen Saning 6 January 2015

RANGOON — Activists have criticized the Letpadaung report implementation committee for failing to provide a workable land compensation scheme for villagers affected by the copper mine and for justifying the actions of police forces during a recent skirmish at the project site.

The committee, established by the Union Parliament to address problems facing the troubled project after riots in 2012, said in a statement on Monday that all land confiscated for the project was done in accordance with the Farmlands Law, with compensation paid at 20 times the land tax valuation of the affected properties. The statement also said that joint venture operator Wanbao’s recent fencing of farmland was necessary because of government restrictions on unlawful assembly.

Khin San Hlaing, a National League for Democracy lawmaker from Sagaing Division and a member of the 15-person parliamentary investigation team which recommended compensation for villagers, said the committee is reiterating claims from previous statements, which do not address the desire of some villagers around the Letpadaung site to remain on their land.

“What they are doing is unacceptable to the public,” she said. “As far as we know, there are residents who own over 1,000 acres of land that haven’t taken compensation. That’s why they should clearly state how much land has been compensated and how much hasn’t, and why people did and didn’t accept compensation.”

Khin San Hlaing’s comments were echoed by Han Shin Win, a law advisor from the Myanmar Alliance for Transparency and Accountability who is assisting Letpadaung locals with the land compensation process, who said he questioned whether the compensation is adequate for those landowners to be displaced from the area and whether it would guarantee their livelihood into the future.

Villagers clashed with police and Wanbao employees on Dec. 22, as the company attempted to fence off disputed lands. Locals who claimed they had not agreed to a compensation scheme with the company tried to block the workers.

The implementation committee’s statement yesterday repeated claims made earlier in Wanbao press releases, saying that locals had been incited by outside organizations to protest the mining project and were using sticks, knives and slingshots. The statement said that security forces acted in accordance with existing laws and procedures to subdue the protests, which ultimately resulted in the shooting death of 56-year-old protester Khin Win and nine other injuries.

Khin San Hlaing told The Irrawaddy that there should be a transparent investigation into the death.

“The police forces have been trained by the European Union in how to handle conflict at an international standard,” he said. “Shooting defenseless members of the public, knowing that weapon could injure or kill a person, and then issuing a statement of apology—the public would not be satisfied with that. It’s important to know who is taking responsibility, and it is important that the exact truth is investigated.”

The statement claimed that the implementation committee had notified locals in advance that the area under dispute would be fenced, ostensibly to protect local residents and animals from heavy machinery, and that villagers raising crops in the cordoned off area would be compensated with current market prices.

But Thwe Thwe Win, a farmer and activist from Letpadaung, said that neither advance notice nor compensation for lost crops was forthcoming, and that police attacked farmers trying to halt the fencing without warning.

“They are fencing an area where people have not accepted compensation,” he said. “We are losing our land. The police shoot at us and I even called Sagaing Police Col. Nay Htun to ask him to control the police force there. He told me he couldn’t.”