Families fight copper mine eviction

Nearly 50 families living in an area earmarked for copper mining in northern Burma have refused relocation, despite repeated attempts by government officials to force them out.

A resident of one of the four villages near Letpandaung mountain in Sagaing division that could be displaced by the project said that the families “have been here since our ancestors’ time, and we are determined not to move”.

The mine forms part of the massive Monywa venture, led by one of China’s biggest weapons’ companies, Norinco. The deal for the Letpandaung section took shape following a visit to Burma by Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao in June 2010.

Inhabitants of the villages – Kan Taw, Wet Hmay, Sae Teh, See Taw – had been given until December last year to move out. Officials said they would be relocated close to the highway connecting Monywa to the town of Bassein, but they complain it will leave them destitute.

The majority of people there rely on income from small-scale farming, such as tamarind, says Ma Way. Already struggling to make ends meet, she fears a forced relocation could worsen their situation.

A letter from the local government prior to the 9 December deadline said that if they continued to refuse the relocation, “heads of families would be held responsible”. The letter did not elaborate on what consequences the villagers would face.

The villagers have lodged an appeal to with President Thein Sein, as well as the government-backed National Human Rights Commission, although it appears no response has yet been given.

The Monywa mine is Burma’s largest copper mine, and until recently had been operated by Canada’s Ivanhoe Mines. Controversy however remains over whether Ivanhoe has fully withdrawn from the project, which has been plagued by allegations of abuse of civilians.

Norinco, often referred to by its official name of China North Industries Corporation, reportedly sold howitzer cannons to Burma prior to the agreement being made in June last year. The move was seen by campaigners as a sweetener for the deal.

Financial details of the Monywa deal have been vague, but at its peak the mine had been producing some 39,000 tonnes of copper per year, and was among Burma’s most profitable assets.

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