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President’s Office Minister Aung Min called on activists to respect China and warned against shutting down the Latpadaung Copper Mine following demands from activists who called for the cancellation of the project.
“We have to be respectful of China,” said Aung Min on Friday during negotiations with protestors at the mine in Sagaing division’s Monywa district.
“When our country was in shambles after 1988 and we had nothing to eat, [food] was imported from China through the Muse [border trade route] allowing us to survive. And we have to show gratitude for that.”
Aung Min’s statements follow calls from protesters earlier in the day to abandon the mining project in order to restore locals’ livelihoods and to avoid further environmental destruction in the area.
“We are making a union-level demand to bring the project to a complete stop,” said All-Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) member Ye Yint Kyaw.
He said the protestors had chosen to call on President Thein Sein to act after local officials failed to help forge a solution.
“We made this decision because both the Regional Chief Minister and those from the Chinese company said they do not have authority to make a decision on the matter so we had to find any way possible to save the Latpadaung Hill and the Revered Lete Abbot’s Ordination Hall,” said Ye Yint Kyaw.
The Latpadaung Copper Mining project is a joint venture between China’s Wangbao and military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings. The project has led to the confiscation of about 7,800 acres of farmland in total and forced farmers from 66 villages in the area to relocate.
The protests have made international headlines and highlighted the rise in land grabs in the country. Legal experts say Burma’s shaky legal infrastructure allows forced relocation and appropriations to continue.
According to Aung Min, if the project is cancelled then due compensation would have to paid to the mine’s investors.
“This project has been going for a long time ago and if it’s abandoned during our government’s rule, there would be a lot of compensation and other things that would need to be paid according to the contract,” said Aung Min.
In response to the ongoing protests at the mine, the Union Parliament passed a motion last Friday that would allow for the formation of an independent commission that will examine whether a planned expansion of the mining project would be allowed to go ahead.
“The commission aims to make assessments concerning environmental damage and threats to the locals’ livelihood,” said Lower House MP Ye Htun.
Locals claimed one of the hills in area has been destroyed during the early stages of the project and now another hill where the Lete Abbot’s Ordination Hall is located is also under threat of being demolished by the project.
“Although we are addressing this as a religious cause, this is also a general cause and we are determined to fight for this,” said a monk from Magwe division’s Pakokku town who was participating in the protest.
Later this week, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is set to visit the mine and meet with protest leaders.
According to a report in Mizzima, Suu Kyi recently called for greater transparency in government projects before they are implemented.
However the opposition leader warned: “if we unilaterally break off ongoing projects, we stand to lose international trust.”
–Aye Nai contributed to this report.