Myanmar: Residents Protest Letpadaung Copper Mine Resumption

The China-backed Letpadaung copper mine in northern Myanmar’s Sagaing region has resumed operations without fulfilling conditions imposed by lawmakers, residents said in a meeting with top government officials Tuesday, lodging fresh calls for a halt to the project.

The complaints were made at a meeting in Sarlingyi town with Hla Tun, a minister in President Thein Sein’s office and chair of the government committee tasked with implementing recommendations made by a parliamentary commission that reviewed the controversial project.

Operations at the mine, which had been suspended following a brutal police crackdown on local protests last year, resumed this month after a deadline for compensation offers for land confiscated for the project expired on Sept. 30.

A government-appointed commission headed by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi recommended earlier this year that the mining company resume operations after taking various safeguards and offering higher compensation for confiscated land.

But residents have continued to protest against the project, and villagers at Tuesday’s meeting said they think the project needed to be scrapped because the commission’s recommendations have not been fulfilled.

“We told them the project should be stopped [since] the implementation committee can’t carry out the recommendations in the inquiry commission’s report,” Aung Than Myo, a resident from Ton village, told RFA’s Myanmar Service after the meeting.

“But they didn’t given us a proper response on this issue,” he said, after the meeting between the authorities and some 50 residents from 33 villages.

‘Disobeying’ recommendations

Opposition lawmaker Khin San Hlaing, a member of the commission, has also hit out at the implementation committee, telling the Irrawaddy online journal that the project had been allowed to move forward without fulfilling requirements for transparency over the project.

“The mining company is obviously disobeying and going beyond what we suggested in the report by resuming their mining process without proving that they have complied with the report,” the journal quoted her as saying on Monday.

In particular, the committee has not publicly presented the results of a new environmental impact assessment and a health impact assessment, said the lawmaker, who is also a member of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party.

Requirements to compensate farmers for their land have also not been met, she said.

Compensation complaints

Aside from Hla Tun,  among other members of the implementation committee who attended the meeting were Sagaing Region Prime Minister Thar Aye, Minister of Mining Myint Aung, Forestry and Environment Minister Win Tun .

Residents also demanded higher compensation for land confiscated for the project.

The new compensation rates of 1.2 to 1.5 million kyat (about U.S. $1,200 to $1,500) per acre were still too low to make up for the loss of their farmland, they said.

“We would face difficulties with the amount of compensation they offered us.  We can’t survive on that amount,” Thet Oo, another Ton village resident.

“We asked them if we could get more compensation, but no one answered us and we told them to go ahead and confiscate our lands without any compensation if the project is really in the nation’s interest.”

No promises made

Villagers said the ministers listened to the complaints but gave no indications of any planned changes to accommodate their demands.

“They just listened to what local residents had to say and they didn’t say anything about solving the problems,” Aung Than Myo said.

Hla Tun told the meeting the committee members would meet with locals again after they discuss issues with relevant ministries.

At the same time, the committee is working on bringing electricity to the area and improving transportation in the region, he said.

Following the government commission’s report, the agreement for the mine was updated in July to give the Myanmar government 51 percent of the mine’s revenues in an apparent bid to assuage public anger by giving the nation a share of the profits.

Under the revised deal, Chinese company Myanmar Wanbao Mining Copper Limited, which operates the mine, is now entitled to 30 percent of the revenue and the Myanmar military-backed Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings (UMEHL) to 19 percent.

The new terms also stipulate that two percent of net profits from the project go toward corporate social responsibility with a focus on immediate communities.

Fence built

Tuesday’s meeting came after project authorities began building a fence around the land assigned to the mining project, blocking off residents from farming the land assigned to the project.

Last week, hundreds of residents staged a sit-in protest against the fence that resulted in a standoff with police.

Residents have protested against the project since 2012 after the start of an expansion of the mine, which was begun under Myanmar’s former military junta regime.

A brutal crackdown on protests against the mine in November last year sparked a national outcry and prompted the formation of Aung San Suu Kyi’s probe commission.