Villagers Accept Compensation, but Some Still Refuse

By Thet Swe Aye 19 March 2013

RANGOON — For the first time in two years, a number of landowners in the Letpadaung project area have accepted compensation and agreed to give up their land for the controversial copper mine, while others have continued to refuse to willingly hand over their land.

On Saturday, in Salingyi Township in Monywa region, 69 landowners accepted payments ranging from 700,000 to 1.5 million kyat (US $810-1,735) per acre, depending of the quality of their farmland, according to the stated-owned newspaper Kyemon. That is up from the maximum payment of just over 500,000 kyat ($580) that was given in the last round of compensation in 2011.

A total of 224 million kyat ($259,000) was handed out by government officials. More deals have followed since, although details have yet to emerge.

But many locals say the compensation for the project—a joint venture between China’s Wanbao and the army-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd—is still far too low and they are refusing to part with their land.

San Nu Wai, a farmer from the village of Sel Tel village, said a recent land deal between neighbors had seen just 0.6 acres sell for 8 million kyat ($9,250)—over nine times the government’s maximum compensation.

“We won’t accept compensation from the authorities however much they give,” she added.

In nearby Wetmae village, only four families accepted compensation this weekend. Aye Net, a protest leader from the village, said they only accepted because waste from the copper mine project had already been dumped on their farmland and nothing could grow there.

There were also complaints that farmers were being made to sign away their land forever. That contradicts the recommendations of the Letpadaung parliamentary commission, chaired by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, which suggested in last week’s report that farmers should only give up their land for 60 years.

“The villagers will not take the compensation as they will rely on their farms for generations. Even if the compensation is three, four or five million kyat, they will still oppose it,” said U Pyinnyavonsa, the abbot of the village monastery in Sel Tel.

Myint Win, a member of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy from Nyaung Bin Gyi village, said many of those who accepted the compensation this weekend came from relocation camps, rather than protest areas.