More than three months after an inquiry commission in Myanmar ruled that the controversial China-backed Letpadaung copper mine be allowed to continue despite widespread objections, operations at the facility remain suspended with protesting villagers refusing to accept compensation offers.
The Chinese Wanbao mining company, which owns the Sagaing region mine in a joint venture with a Myanmar military-owned company, says it has raised the compensation and improved infrastructure efforts in line with recommendations by the commission that was led by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
But Khin San Hlaing, a lawmaker from Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy in Sagaing and a member of the inquiry commission, said many of the guidelines have not yet been implemented and Wanbao’s actions still lack transparency.
“So far, we have seen that the company is still working without transparency and it hasn’t done anything according to the commission’s suggestions yet,” she told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“The company shouldn’t resume the project before the commission’s suggestions are implemented,” she said.
Operations at the mine have been suspended since November, when a brutal crackdown on protests against the mine prompted the government to set up the commission to look into the project’s viability.
The committee recommended in March that the project should be allowed to move ahead despite conceding that it brought only “slight" benefits to the nation.
Since then, villagers who are mostly farmers have staged regular protest against the mine, complaining that the compensation was not enough and calling for a complete halt to the project.
On Tuesday, 300 people staged protests in the area to highlight their disappointment with the compensation and the project which they say has also caused various environmental problems.
Some 15 protesters—both local residents and activists from Yangon—are wanted by the authorities over demonstrations against the mine in recent months, while three are imprisoned over their actions in the protests.
Promises not yet materialized
Last week, China’s state-run China Daily newspaper reported that Wanbao officials were “cautiously optimistic” operations at the mine would “soon be back on track,” after the company pumped millions of dollars into infrastructure projects in the area.
Wanbao has spent U.S. $5 million in compensation for villagers' land and another U.S. $6 million in building new houses and relocating temples, the paper said.
But Khin San Hlaing said local residents had complained community infrastructure projects promised by Wanbao have not yet materialized.
“The school is not built and the company officials have said they can’t do it because they don’t have a budget for it,” she said.
Promises to build a hospital in Kangone, a large village near the mine, had so far fallen through, she said.
“They laid the foundation, but they said it is not the right location for a hospital and they stopped building it, saying they will be moving it elsewhere. Since then, they haven’t done anything yet.”
The committee charged with implementing the inquiry commission’s recommendations is still working on giving compensation to farmers for their land, she said.
Most of the protesters say they are refusing to take the payments, about U.S. $1,000 per [1,000,000 kyat] household, because it’s insufficient and they would rather see a complete halt to the project.
“We can’t accept their compensation because it is just 1,000,000 kyat,” local resident May Net from We Hmay village near the mine said at Tuesday’s protest.
The mine has not created jobs for local residents, according to Khin San Hlaing, as recommended by the commission.
Villagers have said that they do not want pollution from the mine to destroy the area and that authorities have confiscated some 8,000 acres (3,000 hectares) of farmland from 26 villages to make way for the mine.
Reported by Khin Khin Ei and Yadanar Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.