Wanbao Welcomes Inquiry Commission’s Verdict

By Kyaw Phyo Tha 13 March 2013

RANGOON — The Chinese mining company behind the controversial Letpadaung copper mine in Sagaing Division has welcomed the final report of a parliamentary commission that advises going ahead with the project despite continuing demands from local people for its complete shutdown.

In a press release signed by the company’s managing director, Geng Yi, Myanmar Wanbao Mining Ltd, a subsidiary of Chinese state-owned arms manufacturer Norinco, said on Tuesday that it welcomes the decision of the report, and would heed its call to listen to the needs of the local community.

“Wanbao will continue contributing to the sustainable development of our local community and of Myanmar as a whole,” the press release concludes.

Since last year, the mining project has sparked a public outcry from protesters who say that it has caused environmental destruction and resulted in forced relocation and illegal land confiscation.

Outrage over the project grew after more than 100 people, mostly Buddhist monks, were injured in a pre-dawn raid on a protest camp by local police on Nov. 29. Many of the victims of that attack suffered severe burns caused by incendiary devices, which the commission’s report said contained phosphorus.

Burmese President Thein Sein formed an inquiry commission chaired by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in the wake of the crackdown to probe the incident and assess whether or not the Letpadaung project should continue. The commission submitted its findings and recommendations to the president on Monday.

Chit Khin, a Monywa resident and the head of the campaign group Save Letpadaung Mountain Committee, said it rejected the commission’s report. “We request a total shutdown of the project. We will do whatever it takes to help the Letpadaung residents until the project is closed completely,” he said.

The Letpadaung mine is part of the company’s Monywa copper mine project, which consists of four copper deposits at Sabe, Kyeesin and Letpadaung mountain in the Monywa region of Sagaing Division.

The mine is a joint venture between Wanbao and the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (UMEHL), a Burmese military-owned conglomerate. Both parties signed production-sharing contracts in 2010 and 2011 in front of leaders of the two countries.

The UMEHL also issued an announcement on Tuesday saying that it would follow the commission’s suggestions, which include compensating local people for the loss of their land.

According to Dong Yunfei, Wanbao’s administrative manager, the company has so far invested more than US $600 million in the project.

“According to the contract, the Burmese government gets the lion’s share of the profit: more than 17 percent. We get only 12. UMEHL gets around 13. They rest—more than 50 percent—goes to production costs. Wanbao has contributed 100 percent investment in the project,” he told The Irrawaddy during a recent interview.

On Monday, Thein Sein formed a 15-member committee to implement the findings of the inquiry commission. The implementation committee is supervised by a President’s Office minister, with directors from UMEHL and Wanbao as members.

Meanwhile, Suu Kyi is traveling to Monywa on Wednesday to personally explain the commission’s findings to local people.