Canada asked to probe driver’s disappearance

Canadian mining giant Ivanhoe Mines should be investigated by the Canadian government over the mysterious disappearance of a driver who chauffeured a senior Ivanhoe employee to Aung San Suu Kyi’s house in 2003.

The call came from Khun Myin Tun, MP-elect and labour minister of the now-defunct National League for Democracy (NLD), who sent a letter to Ottawa yesterday. In it he says that “we are very concerned about Ko Thet Lwin”, who hasn’t been heard from since 2008.

The driver was arrested along with Andrew Mitchell, one of Ivanhoe’s most senior employees during their operations in Burma, as they approached Suu Kyi’s house-cum-prison in Rangoon on 17 December 2003.

Mr Mitchell believed his senior position in a company working under the auspices of the Burmese junta would enable him access to Suu Kyi’s house, where she has been held under house arrest for 15 of the past 20 years. This it did not, but it did enable his release from detention a few days later. Ko Thet Lwin however was sentenced to seven years and accused of ‘kidnapping’ Mitchell.

When approached by Burmese activists in Canada, Ivanhoe categorically denied that Ko Thet Lwin had ever worked for the company, despite the Burmese state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper confirming in a 28 July 2004 edition that he did.

According to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP), Ko Thet Lwin was first sent to a labour camp in eastern Mon state before being transferred to the notorious Insein prison in Rangoon. He was last heard of in 2008, and his current whereabouts are not known. The Canadian Friends of Burma (CFOB) campaigning group and AAPP suspect that he could have died during cyclone Nargis that year, as the cyclone battered the prison and panicked guards into opening fire on inmates, killing 36.

In the letter sent by Khun Myint Tun, he also spoke of the recent controversy surrounding the Monywa cooper mine in southern Sagaing division, whose operations are soon to be taken over by Chinese weapons manufacturer Norinco. Ivanhoe had part-operated the lucrative mine until 2007, at which point they claim to have transferred their 50 percent stake to an independent ‘blind trust’. CFOB claims however that the trust has merely “taken responsibility” for their stake, and may be violating Canadian sanctions on Burma.

“We are deeply concerned by the very credible reports that Ivanhoe’s ‘independent trust’ violated Canadian sanctions and we find it extremely troubling that Ivanhoe has so far refused to disclose the individuals who operate or oversee the ‘independent trust’” Khun Myint Tun said.

The company has denied it is breaking sanctions on Burma, while the Canadian government is yet to investigate whether its laws had been broken. Canada’s ambassador to the country, Ron Hoffman responded to a question earlier from DVB about Ivanhoe’s presence in the country by saying: “I can’t say it’s not the case; it has not come across my desk”.

Khun Myint Tun, a trained geologist, also expressed concern over the environmental impact of the copper mine. “Farmland surrounding the Monywa mine has been severely contaminated by the toxic chemicals that Ivanhoe used,” he said.

“Many of the farmers cannot grow food on their land because of the pollution from the mine and they have been forced to earn a living by sifting through the mining waste leftover from Ivanhoe’s operations; a very dangerous practice that has reportedly caused several deaths and made many people very sick.”

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