RANGOON — Farmers in Letpadaung, Sagaing Division, whose land was confiscated to make way for a Chinese-back copper mine, are demanding that the controversial project not be restarted this month.
They say the company developing the mine—for which 7,800 acres of land in Sarlingyi Township has been confiscated—is not following the suggestions made by a parliamentary commission led by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The commission investigated the project after it was suspended in November 2012 following a brutal crackdown on protesters. The highly unpopular mine is being developed by China’s Wanbao in a joint venture with a Burmese military company.
A deadline for locals to accept compensation passed at the end of September, and, although not all residents have agreed, Chinese state media has reported that the project resumed on Oct. 1.
“Since there’s no transparency yet and the mining company is not working according to the report of the Letpadaung investigation commission, the project should not be resumed,” said Sandar, a farmer from Tone village. “The negotiations with the locals are not finished yet”.
Locals have also insisted that although major digging at the mine appeared to halt when the project was stalled, work has continued around the area.
“The mining company said they would suspend their work, but, in reality, they keep working. They are digging and dumping waste soil on the land where the landowners have not accepted compensation yet,” Sandar said.
On Sunday, about 300 farmers from 14 villages near the mine went to a liaison office opened by the parliamentary commission’s implementation committee, located at New Hse Tae and Zee Taw village, to urge the mining company not to resume work.
The farmers say fences are being erected on disputed land, and that the construction of an acid factory for processing copper is going ahead against the investigating commission’s recommendation.
“According to the report of the investigation committee, the mining company must find the solution to take care of the environment and the health of the people who live nearby,” said local resident Win Htay.
“But they have continued the construction of the acid factory since 2012. They are talking about transparency, but we know nothing about the new contract, about what they are doing or what the current status of the project is.”
Under new terms agreed on the project, the government takes a 51 percent stake in the mine. The military company Union of Myanmar Economic Holding Ltd (UMEHL) now has a 30 percent stake and Wanbao 19 percent.
Locals say they have lost land farmed by their families for generations, and are now forced to work in industries like brick manufacturing.
“They said they will give jobs to those who lost their land, but in reality, the salary we earn from working with them is not enough to feed a family,” Win Htay said. “We know nothing apart from planting crops, so that how can we get a good salary by working with them. We feel that they [the mining company] have no hearts.”
The farmers say they are also in the dark about the future of ancient religious buildings in the mining area that it is feared could be demolished. Last month, about 50 farmers and activists marched from Mandalay to Sagaing to call for the protection of a Buddhist ordination hall and temple established by influential monk Letti Sayadaw.