The commission that will determine the future of a controversial China-backed copper mine project in northern Burma’s Sagaing division met for the first time on Tuesday, following a reduction in its membership and the scope of its investigation.
The commission’s members, which on Monday were reduced to 16 from 30, met in the Burmese capital Naypyidaw to begin investigating the feasibility of the mine near Monywa city in the Letpadaung hills, where a brutal crackdown on anti-mine protesters last week prompted a national outcry.
Khin San Hlaing, a parliamentary representative for Sagaing’s Pale township and member of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), said the commission was ready to begin its work.
“We are going to start today or tomorrow. We have to start the investigation as soon as possible,” she told RFA’s Burmese service.
Local villagers at the mine site have accused the mine developers of illegally confiscating farmland without providing adequate compensation and say they do not want pollution from the mine to destroy the area.
The head of the commission, opposition NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi has said that Burma must honor any international obligations it is bound to under contracts made for the mine, which is a joint venture between the Burmese military’s Union of Myanmar Economic Holding Ltd. (UMEHL) and North China Industries Corp. (Norinco), China’s top arms manufacturer.
She has also called for a government apology for the brutal crackdown on the project site last Thursday, in which scores were injured.
No longer investigating crackdown
But the raid is no longer under the purview of the commission’s inquiry, according to a notice issued Monday by the office of President Thein Sein.
The notice did not include a decision to review “control of protests and injuries to members of the Sangha,” or members of the Buddhist community, as stated in a previous document.
Instead, the commission is now only charged with assessing the “true situation” of the project, including whether it adheres to international standards, what kind of social and environmental impact it will have, and whether the project is beneficial to the people and the state.
But it is also tasked with examining any issues that “should be under investigation [as] deemed by the commission,” according to the notice.
The revamped commission consists of five members of parliament, three residents of Sarligyi township where the mining project is located, and officials from the ministries of mines, agriculture and irrigation, environmental conservation and forestry, home affairs, health, and defense.
The commission is expected to submit its first report by the end of January 2013.
The lower house of Burma’s parliament had approved an independent commission to investigate the project on Nov. 23.
Reported by RFA’s Burmese Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.