The Myanmar government on Thursday rejected suggestions by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi that it had ignored recommendations by a parliamentary inquiry panel she had chaired on improving conditions at a controversial China-backed copper mine project vehemently opposed by villagers.
The head of a government panel entrusted with implementing the recommendations said it had acted above and beyond the suggestions of the Inquiry Commission, and suggested ongoing protests at the Letpadaung mine site in Sagaing division had been stirred up by activist agitators.
“The chair of the Letpadaung Inquiry Commission [Aung San Suu Kyi] said we didn’t follow the recommendations of its report, but we are doing everything the report called for—in fact, we are doing more than what it recommended,” Tin Myint, secretary of the Implementation Committee, told a press conference in the capital Naypyidaw.
“We compensated farmers for the confiscated land and those who understood our stance accepted the compensation … [however], some of them didn’t accept it. That doesn’t mean we didn’t follow the Inquiry Commission’s recommendations.”
Aung San Suu Kyi said late last month that Tin Myint’s panel had failed to implement her inquiry committee’s recommendations.
The recommendations called for more transparency in the project’s land appropriation process and for police riot control training in the wake of a violent raid on protesters at the mine site in 2012.
Tin Myint said that recent protests at the site, including a Dec. 22 clash between villagers and police in which a female protester was shot dead after Chinese mine operator Myanmar Wanbao Mining Copper Ltd. erected a fence on disputed land, were caused by groups “who want problems between us and local residents.”
“Some groups and individuals … have agitated local residents, but none of them were injured when the violence erupted—it was only local residents who were hurt,” he said.
The violent response by security forces to last month’s demonstration prompted protests in Yangon and Mandalay, calling for the mine expansion to be halted and for justice for those killed and injured.
Tin Myint said Myanmar stands to benefit financially from the mine and said the project would continue according to international standards.
“We will do as much as we can to prevent further problems with local residents who don’t understand the project by holding dialogue with them,” he said.
“We will take action against those people who have agitated the local residents, according to law.”
Compensation and impact
On Thursday, NLD lawmaker and Letpadaung Inquiry Commission member Khin San Hlaing echoed Aung San Suu Kyi’s concerns, saying Wanbao had offered residents inadequate compensation and had failed to undergo an impact assessment at the site before proceeding with the project.
“There are 96 recommendations in the report, but the Implementation Commission only worked on compensation, building schools and wells and relocating religious buildings,” she told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“For example, we said the project shouldn’t proceed without an environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA), but they did it without one. It is clear they didn’t follow the inquiry commission’s recommendations.”
Khin San Hlaing said Wanbao did not offer local residents compensation at market value for their land.
“Although they said they compensated a lot to the farmers, the important thing is it should be what the farmers want,” she said.
“The commission shouldn’t continue taking responsibility for the project if they can’t implement everything we recommended.”
A farmer named Thwe Thwe Win, who lives near the mine site, also claimed that Wanbao had lowballed area residents.
“They should compensate local residents at current market rates for their land. If they compensate us with money that only allows us to buy snacks, nobody will accept it,” he said.
Thwe Thwe Win said that while Implementation Committee chairman Hla Tun has claimed to have held monthly meetings with local residents, they were “not real farmers.”
“They are simply the people who the committee appointed [as representatives],” he said.
“They can’t bring any development to the people and then they want to do business by killing [the livelihoods of the] local people.”
Wanbao last month claimed to have abided by the Inquiry Commission’s report “to the letter” and said it had recently started to expand the mine project only after receiving government permission to do so.
Meanwhile, civil society groups trying to resolve the conflict over expansion of the mine told the Mizzima news agency that a meeting including government, operator, and villager representatives will be held Jan. 15-16 to discuss the issue.
Last month, NGOs proposed that Union Minister Soe Thein, Deputy Finance Minister Maung Maung Thein, members of the Implementation Committee, Wanbao officials and civil society groups attend the meeting.
Mizzima quoted Ma Moe Moe Tun, joint secretary of the group Sein Lan Pyin Oo Lwin, as saying Wednesday that government representatives invited by local nongovernment organizations had confirmed their attendance by phone, though no official confirmation letter had been received.
Nine representatives from civil society organizations including the 88 Generation Students movement, Sein Lan Pyin Oo Lwin and Sein Yaung So will also attend the meeting, the report said.
Reported by Win Naung Toe, Khin Pyae Sone and Khin Khin Ei. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.