Nearly 200 villagers in the copper mining area of northwestern Myanmar’s Sagaing region staged a protest on Monday against a Chinese-backed company that they claim has not paid them reasonable compensation after seizing their farmland for a mining project, locals said.
Residents of Kankone village in Salingyi township marched from their community to the entrance of a compound owned by Myanmar Yang Tse Copper Ltd. and demanded payment for more than 2,000 acres of land and the right to use water from the Chindwin River, they said.
The residents say the company has confiscated farmland near two mountains for its Sabetaung and Kyisintaung (S&K) mining operations and has restricted public access to the Chindwin River since the military-backed government under former president Thein Sein (2011-2015).
“We have been promised that we would receive compensation for the farmland since 2015,” said protest organizer Tint Aung Soe.
“The company also issued an official notice,” he said. “They have agreed to pay compensation, and the government said it is ready to help. If they don’t give us the compensation as they have stated, we will keep holding protests across the region.”
Though the company has agreed to pay local residents, it is not willing to compensate them at the rate they demand, which has delayed the resolution of the issue, he said.
Kankone resident Aye Than meanwhile said she and others need access to water from the Chindwin River.
“We try to consume the water from the streams, but it’s not OK. That’s why we want access to the water [in the river],” she told RFA.
“They [the company] initially said they would give us access to the river,” she said. “We have been waiting for many years. The water we are using now contains salt sediment in the containers we keep it in.”
RFA could not reach officials from the Myanmar Yang Tse Copper for comment.
Villagers said that the committee that oversees land compensation plans to issue payments of 1.2 million-1.4 million kyats (U.S. $794-$926) per acre, while residents have demanded 1.5 million-2.5 million kyats (U.S. $992-$1,653) per acre.
Regional lawmaker Thein Naing from Salingyi township, suggested that the company’s failure to fence off the land it confiscated has complicated the issue.
“The authorities didn’t put fences around the land it confiscated, so the people who have been farming the land assumed it belonged to them,” he said.
“If the government had put barriers around the confiscated land according to the law, it would have made it very clear,” Thein Naing said. “The company had already said that it would not pay compensation until the fencing around the land has been completed.”
“So this issue will not be resolved — not in 2020 — until the regional government gets involved and makes a decision,” he added.
With regards to the villagers’ demand for access to water from the Chindwin River, Thein Naing said residents can continue to use water from nearby streams, and that the company may offer help if they experience any serious difficulties.
Khin Hnin Yee, a lawmaker from Sagaing’s Yinmabin township told RFA that she either will submit questions about the compensation issue in the regional parliament or will send an inquiry to the region’s chief minister to get clear responses on the issue.
Myanmar Yang Tse Copper was founded in 2011 and is now mining copper on 7,800 acres of land for its S&K operations. It is a subsidiary of China’s Wanbao Mining Ltd., and operates the mine as a joint venture with the Myanmar military conglomerate Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. (UMEHL).
Myanmar Wanbao Copper Mining Ltd., another subsidiary of the Chinese mining giant, operates the controversial Letpadaung copper mine and other mines in Sagaing region as joint ventures with UMEHL.
The various mines are opposed by local residents who say they have been shortchanged on land they had to give up and who point to the projects’ detrimental environmental impacts.
Myanmar Yang Tse Copper is planning to expand its mining activities in the Warsein Mountain area of Yinmabin township and has submitted a bid to the Myanmar Investment Commission, a government-appointed body that verifies and approves investment proposals. The company also faces similar protests in that area.
Reported by Khaymani Win for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.