By SEAN GLEESON | FRONTIER
YANGON — Hundreds of people will be forced to move if a plan to expand the notorious Letpadaung copper mine proceeds, according to a damning new report from Amnesty International.
Four villages in the mine’s vicinity are facing relocation under Myanmar Wanbao’s proposal to expand the site’s perimeter by 2,000 acres.
Released on Friday, the report – the latest in a series on the mine from the London-based rights group – also alleges that the project’s principal backer dishonestly claimed it had consulted with those most at risk of future eviction.
Anti-mine campaigners have long suspected that the consultation plan outlined by Myanmar Wanbao in its Environmental and Social Impact Assessment was never carried out.
It had pledged to conduct door-to-door consultations with every household affected by the expansion, but residents of at least two of the communities slated for relocation said that no representatives from Myanmar Wanbao had ever set foot in their villages.
“Myanmar Wanbao continues to make claims about how it has consulted all affected people, but our research found that these claims are simply not true,” said Amnesty researcher Mark Dummett.
“The company seems to be more interested in public relations than in genuinely ensuring that the rights of the neighbouring communities are respected.”
Amnesty’s research also documented instances of contaminated wastewater seeping from the mine into nearby farmland and poisoning crops, and documented how the company was continuing to prosecute those trying to protest near the mine site.
Myanmar Wanbao did not respond to requests for comment on the Amnesty report. Frontier spoke to a representative of the firm’s Yangon office, who claimed not to be aware of the report’s findings.
The Letpadaung mine, together with the nearby Sabetaung and Kyisintaung (S&K) mine established by Canadian firm Ivanhoe, have been a lightning rod for discontent over both Chinese foreign investment and forced evictions since Wanbao acquired a stake in the projects back in 2010.
Police attacked a protest camp at the Letpadaung site in November 2012, injuring scores of demonstrators and leaving some with disfiguring and painful burns.
A subsequent report into the assault found that security forces had used white phosphorous, the use of which an anti-personnel weapon is illegal under United Nations conventions on chemical weapons.
In December 2014, police fatally shot 56-year-old Daw Khin Win, who had joined a protest against the erection of a border fence around farmland seized by the mine.
The following week, nearly 100 protesters were blocked from laying wreaths for the deceased farmer at the Chinese embassy, leading to clashes with police officers.
Five of the protesters were arrested the following day and given long prison sentences but were later pardoned by the new government.
Wanbao, a subsidiary of state-owned Chinese defence manufacturer Norinco, operates the mines in a joint venture with military conglomerate Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. and the state-owned Mining Enterprise 1.