Myanmar Protesters Force Sagaing Govt to Block Chinese Copper Mine

By Zarni Mann 30 September 2019

MANDALAY – Sagaing Region’s government says it has scrapped permission for a Chinese company to do studies for a new mine after a series of protests by residents.

Myanmar Yang Tse Copper Limited, a subsidiary of Beijing-based Wanbao Mining Limited, which is already running a controversial mine in Salingyi Township, had sought permission for preliminary ground inspections for another mine in Salingyi, Yinmabin and Kani townships.

The proposed mine would span 40,000 hectares with Myanmar Yang Tse first requesting permission in 2018.

The regional government posted the announcement on Facebook on Monday afternoon after a protest.

Dr. Myint Naing, the chief minister of Sagaing Region, told The Irrawaddy: “We canceled it to conform with public opinion. We will report the decision to the Union government.”

The regional government on Sept. 13 told the minister of natural resources and environmental conservation in Naypyitaw that it had no reason to reject the inspection.

However, the Monday announcement said the regional cabinet agreed to scrap an earlier decision that there was “no reason to reject the inspection”.

Earlier on Monday, the protesters said they had been sending their complaints about the second mine to the Sagaing government, claiming it lacked any transparency.

“We are afraid that allowing the inspection will lead to permission for another mine, because the government has no transparency and is ignoring our complaints,” said Ko Hla Min Naing of the Wazeintaung Watch Committee.

Prior to the authorities’ latest announcement, the protesters said they had heard from the regional government that Myanmar Yang Tse Copper Limited had already received the green light for a preliminary ground inspection.

“Our parliamentarians told the government several times not to allow the ground inspection because it will later result in permission to allow mining,” Ko Hla Min Naing explained.

“But the government did not listen to us and allowed the ground inspection. We want the Union government to review the case and call off the permission for inspection and allow no more mining in the region,” he added.

Parliamentarians said they had gathered signatures and would send them to the president, State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Sagaing government and parliament and the Union minister of natural resources.

“We want the government to know residents oppose this project. I don’t want our region to face more mayhem. Letpadaung has shown us what to avoid,” said U Aung Soe, a Yinmabin Upper House parliamentarian.

The company had been due to invest between US$6 million and US$10 million in the inspection which is due to take about five years, covering more than 120 villages, 86 schools, 139 monasteries and affecting more than 80,000 residents.

The first public meeting between the regional government and the residents was held in July, and protesters began shouting slogans against the project.

“Residents experienced many tragic and undemocratic experiences in the past, where they have to move out from their villages, and their friends and families were jailed, injured and even killed, so they don’t want to repeat this,” said U Ngwe Lin, a central committee member of the Democratic Party for a New Society (DPNS).

“The lessons of Letpadaung mean the regional and Union governments should handle the situation in a democratic way with full transparency to protect residents,” he added.

Letpadaung is a joint venture between the military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited and Wanbao Mining launched in 2010.

About 3,200 hectares in Salingyi were confiscated, sparking serious protests over poor compensation and environmental safeguards, in which a protester was killed.

Ko Hla Min Naing greeted the government’s cancellation with suspicion.

“We thank the government for its quick action. But with the general election next year, we will have to wait and see if it is genuinely carried out for the people, or for political gain,” he said.