Letpadaung Mine Provides Little Benefit to Locals, NGO Says

Security forces move in to stop protesters plowing fields near the Letpadaung copper mine, April 25, 2013.
RFA

Updated at 6:25 p.m. ET on 2014-06-02

A controversial Chinese-backed copper mine in northern Myanmar is bringing little benefit to local residents, a local non-profit organization said Monday, as area villagers complained that authorities had reneged on a promise to discuss their grievances.

Villagers displaced from their farmland by the Letpadaung copper mine in Sagaing region have not been provided with enough new economic opportunities, Myanmar NGO the Pandita Development Institute said in report.

Based on a survey of 57 households in five villages in the mine area, Pandita found residents were not benefiting from the project despite commitments made by the mine operators to provide jobs and infrastructure in the community.

“What we see is that there are no benefits for local residents because of this project,” Pandita officer Pyay Nyein Kyaw told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

“They are having trouble because of the project.”

The group urged the mine’s joint venture operators, China’s Wanbao Mining and the Myanmar military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings, to contribute more to local residents’ livelihoods through loans and job training. 

“We have recommended in the report that [the companies need to] support small businesses, vocational training, and small loans for local residents.” 

Pandita will share the findings from its report with the Myanmar Human Rights Commission, relevant government authorities, civil society groups, and members of parliament, Pyay Nyein Kyaw said.

Protests

The report follows protests by residents angry over confiscated land and low wage offers at the mine, which underwent a government review last year following a national outcry over a crackdown on protests against it. 

Locals and activists have relentlessly demanded closure of the Letpadaung mine since 2012, citing environmental destruction, forced relocation, and illegal land confiscation, with some refusing to accept compensation offered in exchange for farmland taken over for the project.

Last month, local residents kidnapped two Chinese contractors for Wanbao who had been carrying out a land survey in the area, holding them for 30 hours and clashing violently with police who came to rescue the two, according to local officials and activists.

Villagers said Monday that authorities had gone back on a promise made in the course of negotiations for the hostages’ release to discuss residents’ complaints about fences put up around confiscated land.

Residents say Wanbao has put up fences around 250 acres of farmland belonging to 37 people who have resisted the confiscation and refused compensation offers for the land.

Failure to meet

Sagaing region authorities had promised on May 19 to resolve villagers’ complaints about the fences “soon,” and at a fresh protest over farmland last week, local authorities agreed to meet on Monday afternoon to listen to villagers’ concerns about the fences, residents said.

But when villagers marched to the project’s local liaison office on Monday, authorities failed to show up as promised, they said.

“On Friday we had gone to cultivate our land in areas where they had been fenced in. We saw the authorities and they asked us to come to their communication office on Monday, promising they will solve the problem then,” activist Htay Htay Win from Sete village near the mine told RFA.

“We went to their office at around 1:00 p.m. today and waited for them until 4:30 p.m., but no one showed up,” he said Monday.

In addition to protests over the farmland, in recent weeks residents have also staged protests over wages offered to local employees, complaining they are far lower than those for Wanbao’s Chinese employees, the Myanmar Eleven news outlet reported.

The protesters including trainee staff called for monthly wages of U.S. $240, instead of the U.S. $120 employees are currently eligible for after completing a training period, but Wanbao officials have refused their demands, the report said.

Wanbao claims it is creating more than 4,000 jobs in the area during the project's construction and operation phases, according to the company's website.

A brutal police crackdown on protests against the mine in November 2012 provoked a national outcry and prompted a government probe into the project, which had been initiated under Myanmar’s former military junta regime.

Following the probe, the project’s contract was updated in July last year to give the Myanmar government 51 percent of the mine’s revenues in an apparent bid to assuage public anger.

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

Reported by Tin Aung Khine for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.

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