Regional Government in Myanmar’s Sagaing Rethinks Support For Chinese Copper Mine

The Sagaing regional government in northwestern Myanmar on Monday cancelled permission for a Chinese company to conduct inspections for a new copper mine project following a protest by local residents in the capital Monywa.

Hundreds of local residents staged a morning protest opposing the granting of permission for Chinese company Myanmar Yang Tse Copper Ltd. to do ground studies for a proposed project in the Wazeintaung area of Yinmabin township.

Chinese-operated copper mine projects in the resource-rich region have generated controversy among locals, especially in the town of Letpadaung where China’s Wanbao Mining Copper Ltd. and the Myanmar military-owned conglomerate, Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. (UMEHL), operate a large mine.

Letpadaung residents and farmers have accused the Chinese operators of appropriating their land without providing adequate compensation and damaging the environment.

The Sagaing government informed the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation in Naypyidaw that it did not object to the company’s conduct a ground inspection for the new mining project.

Soe Oo, Sagaing’s minister for planning and finance, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that officials held an emergency meeting on the issue amid the protest.

We can only make comments [recommendations], and the Union government has to make the decisions, he said Now we have reported to the Union-level minister that we have withdrawn our [previous] comment that we have no objections in accordance with the people’s wishes. We issued our position immediately after calling for an emergency meeting.

Protesters highlighted five points during the protest, one of which was that the company had already conducted feasible studies for the project and that the regional government had issued recommendations without the public’s consent.

Hla Min Naing of the Wazeintaung Watchdog Committee said the company completed exploration work without consulting with local residents.

It’s very likely the project will begin once the studies are concluded, he said. There were a lot of problems at Letpadaung [copper mine] and betel farms. Compensation for the land was less than the current value there, so the protesters are worried.

Protester Myint Aung, who is a member of the Letpadaung Protection Committee, said residents have already borne the brunt of having to give up land without adequate payment and deal with environmental consequences of two other mines in the region.

People have already suffered a lot from the Kyaezintaung and Sabaetaung [mining projects], he said. It will be much worse if this Wazeintaung [project] is allowed.

We’re not saying don’t extract minerals, but we need to protect the environment and local populations.

‘Objection was ignored’

Wazeintaung is adjacent to the Kyaezintaung and Sabaetaung mine projects where Myanmar Yang Tse Copper Ltd., a subsidiary of Wanbao Mining Copper Ltd., is currently working.

The Chinese concern has proposed the project be built on nearly 113,000 acres of land in Yinmabin, Salingyi, and Kani townships in an area that is more than 100 times larger than that of the Letpadaung project, locals said.

Lawmakers said the proposed areas include farmlands and residential and religiously significant areas totaling more than 80,000 acres.

Sagaing’s minister for resources and the environment earlier reported to the central government that regional officials had no objection to the project if it covered only 20,000 acres.

The [local government] had replied to the Union government which sought our opinion that it had ‘no objections’ if the project was carried out in inhabitated areas, said Lar Htaung Htan, Sagaing’s minister of Chin ethnic affairs.

Testing in vacant lands would not harm the environment, and it could create job opportunities for the locals, he said, explaining the Sagaing’s government’s rationale.

Residents objected to the project during a July 3 public meeting with the local government officials and lawmakers.

The development, security affairs, and Chin affairs ministers met with local residents at the Dhama Center in Ohbo village, said Aung Soe, an upper house lawmaker from Yinmabin township.

All of them objected to the project, but the objection was clearly ignored, he said.

Regional lawmaker Thein Naing from Salingyi township, who attended the meeting, told RFA the new copper mine would have been a long-term project in which the central government would have a 51-percent share, the Sagaing government a 19-percent share, and the company a 30-percent share, if the venture proved feasible.

Two percent of the Sagaing government’s share would be set aside to finance local development, he added.

Legislators say parliamentarians representing the three townships that would be affected by the proposed project will report their positions on the issue to top officials, including State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi.

Representatives for the Myanmar Yang Tse Copper Ltd., were not unavailable for comment.

A Sept. 18 post on a social media account associated with the company said that the concern and the UMEHL were providing residents with free health care services and photos as a promotional attempt to win them over.

The Myanmar Yang Tse Copper Ltd. company planned to invest U.S. $6 million-U.S. $10 million in the ground inspection expected to take about five years to complete, the online journal The Irrawaddy reported.

The inspection would affect more than 80,000 residents in over 120 villages, the report said.

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