Hundreds of villagers in northern Burma protested on Wednesday against a parliamentary commission’s decision to allow a controversial China-backed copper mine to continue operations, saying they would reject any offers of compensation suggested by the panel.
Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who led the commission, met with villagers living near the mine in Sagaing division’s Salingyi towship to convince them to accept the decision, but many of them were against the project which they say has harmed the environment and their health and affected their livelihood.
Several hundred residents staged a protest march from Ton village to the headquarters of developer Wan Bao Co., a subsidiary of state-owned Chinese arms manufacturer North China Industries Corp. (Norinco), which jointly owns the project with the Burmese military’s Union of Myanmar Economic Holding Ltd.
The protesters, from 26 villages in the Letpadaung area, carried signboards calling for a complete halt to the mine, rejecting the recommendations issued on Tuesday by the parliamentary panel, formed following a brutal crackdown on anti-mine protesters in November.
“We are very angry,” activist Ma Sanda said at the march. “We don’t accept the inquiry commission’s report.”
The panel suggested local farmers deserved better compensation for their land, but said the mining project’s expansion should be allowed to continue. It also acknowledged that the mine lacks strong environmental protection measures and will not create more jobs.
"All local residents won't accept it if Wan Bao Company compensates for our lands, even at the current rate, because we just want the project to be stopped,” a local woman told RFA’s Burmese Service.
The panel’s report found that compensation that had been offered to the villagers was at between 5 and 80 kyat (up to U.S. $.09) per acre which it said was based an out-of-date law approved in 1984, while the current rate for land in the area is around 1.5 million kyat (U.S. $1,730) per acre.
Stopping the project 'not beneficial'
Speaking to local villagers, Aung San Suu Kyi defended the mine project, saying Burma should not back out of the project, as it would send a bad message to foreign investors.
She said the commission had considered three options: to continue with the project, to stop it, or to continue with changes. The commission adopted the third option.
"If we stopped it completely, where would we get money to heal the current environmental destruction?” she asked, according to the Associated Press.
“If we break the agreement made with another country, the countries of the world will suppose that Myanmar is financially unreliable," Aung San Suu Kyi said.
“Stopping this project will not be beneficial to local people or to the country,” she said, according to Agence France-Presse.
Aung San Suu Kyi, who will is spending two days in the area, also visited the mine construction site and a nearby sulfuric acid factory owned by UMEHL.
The panel also found that police had used smoke bombs “containing phosphorus”—a highly flammable chemical—to break up protests against the copper mine project in November last year but failed to hold any official accountable.
Posters the protesters carried on Wednesday also demanded action against those who ordered the use of the smoke bombs containing phosphorus in the crackdown, as well as the abolition of Section 144 of the Criminal Code—a controversial provision used to control and arrest protesters.
The commission confirmed that “dozens of people, including monks” had been injured in the incident. Earlier estimates had put the number as high as 100 monks and 11 others who had suffered severe burns.
Reported by Ei Ei Khaine and Yardar Oo for RFA’s Burmese Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.