Sunday, August 20, 2017

Wanbao prepares to re-start Letpadaung

Preparations are going forward on the ground for the resumption of operations at the controversial copper mine at Letpadaung, the site of repeated clashes between local residents and activists and government troops and police.

U Myint Thein, manager of the Yangon office of Myanmar Wanbao Company, told The Myanmar Times that work was already under way on the site, in Salingyi township, Monywa district, Sagaing Region, with a completion date for construction of May 4.

The company is building a processing factory and warehouses to store copper, explosives and other mining-related equipment, he said. “Once construction is complete, we will resume copper production.”

According to the agreement signed by the Ministry of Mines, Union of Myanmar Economic Holding Limited (UMEHL) and Myanmar Wanbao in 2013, the government will get 51 percent of profit, and Wanbao will get 30pc, with UMEHL receiving 19pc.

The announcement, first reported by AFP, is expected to send shockwaves through the local community, which blames the mining operations for land-grabs and environmental degradation. In November 2012, monks demonstrating against the project were attacked with white phosphorous, and in December 2014 Daw Khin Win, of Moe Kyo Pyin middle village, was shot dead, apparently by police.

A 2013 investigation led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi recommended that construction should continue.

The company has adopted an environmental conservation plan drawn up by an Australian company, in accordance with international standards, said U Myint Thein. “Mining entails environmental impact, but we will reduce the harm as much as possible. We will sink many small mines rather than one single large shaft. We will use technology to reduce vibration,” he said, adding that measures would be taken to avoid the spillage of acid used in mining.

Wanbao will also compensate farmers whose land has been taken, with money and job opportunities. Those who refuse to accept work will receive a monthly grant of US$70, $120 or $160 a month over a 30-year period. The company says 80pc of those affected have already accepted the offer.

However, Ma Lei, who lives in the nearby village of Tone, said more than 100 farmers have refused compensation and a meeting with Wanbao to discuss compensation for this year’s harvest has not yet taken place.

“We’re not satisfied. They’ve done nothing in terms of village development, or job opportunities,” she said.

The resumption of the project is shaping up to be a potential headache for the incoming National League for Democracy government, as anti-Chinese sentiment arising from the controversy has spread far beyond Letpadaung.

Dong Yun Fei, Myanmar spokesperson for Wanbao told AFP, “We will start production under the new government and I hope for a better future with them”, adding that there are “still some problems with local people”.

“Some of them protest sometimes. The question of how to handle this problem is the business of the government. Only they can solve it,” he said.

Translation by Khine Thazin Han and Thiri Min Tun