Wanbao, Govt Failed To Address Mine Project Concerns: NLD

By Saw Yan Naing 25 December 2014

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — After two days of protest at the site of the Letpadaung copper mine project in Sagaing Division, the National League for Democracy (NLD) issued a statement on Wednesday criticizing Burmese authorities and the Chinese company behind the mine for failing to address the social and environmental impacts of the project.

On Monday, Khin Win, a 56-year-old woman, was shot dead by police during a protest against the copper mine project—a joint venture between Myanmar Wanbao Mining Copper Limited and the Burma Army-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings.

On Tuesday, several more villagers were injured in confrontations with police near the project site, including at least three who were shot with rubber bullets.

A parliamentary commission headed by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi reviewed the controversial project in early 2013 and recommended that it continue, provided the company adequately address the mine’s social and environmental impact.

In March 2013, President Thein Sein formed a committee to implement the findings of the parliamentary commission’s report. The NLD said in its statement on Wednesday that authorities had failed to heed the commission’s recommendations.

Khin San Hlaing, an NLD MP and a member of the Suu Kyi-led commission, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that Thar Aye, Chief Minister of Sagaing Division, had rejected the NLD’s claim.

“We met with the minister yesterday. We told him that the unrest on Dec. 22 broke out as the company and authorities did not follow the advice in our report,” Khin San Hlaing said. “But, the Minister didn’t admit it. He said that they are following the [recommendations of the] report and will try to complete the project.”

The project has drawn vehement opposition from local communities that have objected to the mine’s environmental impact, land confiscation and the removal of religious structures in the area.

Tensions flared between villagers and Wanbao contractors on Monday and Tuesday after the latter began clearing land with bulldozers and fencing off more than a dozen acres of farmland in Hse Tae village as part of the planned expansion of the mine.

On Wednesday, a commission was formed to investigate the clashes between protestors and police, with Thar Aye as vice-chairman. “He [Thar Aye] said he would then handle the issue based on the findings of the commission,” Khin San Hlaing said.

However, the NLD MP questioned the impartiality of the commission, as all its members were reportedly government officials.

Thar Aye said that the company would continue fencing off land in the project area, according to Khin San Hlaing.

The President’s Office said in a statement on Wednesday that 11 police and 11 protestors were injured during protests at the mine site on Monday and Tuesday. The statement claimed that villagers were armed with slingshots, knives and sticks and said that security forces had fired warning shots.

Regarding the death of Khin Win, the President’s Office said it was taking action according to the law.

In the last two years, there have been numerous confrontations between villagers and security forces as the mine’s operators attempted to extend the project’s operating area.

In Nov. 2012, dozens of protestors, many of them Buddhist monks, suffered serious injuries after police fired incendiary rounds, believed to be white phosphorous, into a protest camp near the mine.